Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Crown Jewel

We stayed in Visalia (CA) because it was close to Sequoia National Park, but we found several reasons to linger in town.

We began our tour of the city at one of the most artistic, colorful transit centers imaginable. The wide checkerboard driveway and red brick walkways provide a starting point for a number of bus routes and four trolley routes around the city.

The Visalia Towne Trolley covered downtown routes and until last month had been free. It now costs $0.25 to ride it. However, for a city of 120,000, there were surprisingly few riders during our weekday visit.

Visalia is the oldest town between San Francisco and Los Angeles and indeed is often identified as "the Crown Jewel of the San Joaquin Valley."

It was named after Nathaniel Vise's ancestral home, Visalia, Kentucky. Vise was one of the first inhabitants of a fort built by the settlers and was responsible for surveying the new settlement. Early growth in Visalia can be attributed in part to the gold rush along the Kern River. The gold fever brought many transient miners through Visalia along the way and when the lure of gold failed to materialize, many returned to Visalia to live their lives and raise families.

Downtown Visalia consists of tree-lined streets that invite leisurely window-shopping. Stores look well-maintained with no boarded storefronts.

There were several instances of people taking advantage of the opportunities to linger, enjoying coffee or people-watching.

Benches seemed to be available at just the right spots downtown--near trolley stops, restaurants, or high-traffic businesses or governmental buildings.

The colorful Times Place building housed several shops, boutiques, and offices. We had the impression that it was new, and if so, it seems to have attracted more businesses to downtown Visalia.

Then, in the heart of the downtown, we came upon the Fox Theatre. We later learned that it opened in 1930. Most distinctive and what was to become the theater’s unofficial logo was its tower standing 75 feet “high in the air like a lighthouse above a seaport” (Vidalia Times-Delta).

During the restoration work in the 1990s, the tower was painted "roasted pepper" and "soaring white," colors closest to the original ones.

The tower housed a huge three-way clock, six feet in diameter. In 1998, Frank Kiler, 89, repaired the clock--the clock that he had repaired on an earlier occasion--in 1949.

On the banner hanging from the street lamp (left in the photo on the right) is the image of the theater's tower, indicating that the Fox is the symbol of the downtown and its revitalization.

We were eager to see the interior of our most recent discovery of a restored theater.

Fortunately, we met Lance Martin.

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