The Renoir Wars and the slow death of an Urban Dream

Sitting along a dilapidated pedestrian mall and hidden between bushes rests an original Renoir. Yes, Fresno has an original Renoir! And, it is the only one in the world you can touch without the glare of a security guard.

The magnificent Grande laveuse is widely considered Renoir’s sculptural masterpiece. In his frail final years Renoir created a series of sculptures with the help of an assistant, Richard Guino. Designed to be a companion piece to an equally large Le Forgeron, the Grande laveuse was inspired by the abstract notion of elemental opposites.

The humble figures–“a simple blacksmith heating the iron, a simple washerwoman scrubbing the laundry”– illustrate the dichotomy of fire and water. Cast as a man and a woman, the two figures compose a symbol of a virtually endless series of oppositions.

Though the assistant Guino completed some sketches for Le Forgeron Renoir soon grew weary of this partnership and the work was never completed. The Grande laveuse persists as testament to the ambitious project, and the peak of Renoir’s sculptural work.

Renoir could not have dreamt how much unpleasantness would erupt over his own final works, years after his death. Today, the descendants of Renoir and Guino are locked in a messy battle of ownership, copyright and authenticity that is known as The Renoir Wars.

We visit the grand dame, Grande laveuse, a symbol of endless oppositions, on the next Urban Taste Adventure this Saturday, May 23rd. Likely the last time to enjoy another artists vision on the Fulton Mall; Garrett Eckbo.  Eckbo’s own vision for a 20th Century landscape from Fresno Mall Revisited Landscape Architecture 1959:

“The plentitude of quiet and moving waters, and of shade and greenery from trees and arbors, symbolizes the bursting vitality of irrigated agriculture in the hot interior valley of the arid west”

This weekends tour may be one of the last times to enjoy this historic and influential space where the grand dame sits. Fulton Mall will be removed soon to restore vehicle traffic; in opposition of Eckbo’s vision yet fulfilling Renoir’s symbol of a virtually endless series of oppositions.

Join us! (Advance tickets needed)

More History to be Destroyed?

It was around 1890 that Andrew Mattei, an Italian immigrant by way of Switzerland, Continue reading More History to be Destroyed?

Land of Sunshine and Flowers

Unlike other California cities, Fresno did not get its start during the gold rush, as prospectors simply passed through the area on the way to the Sierras. After the gold rush land was used for cattle grazing. 002

Along came Anthony Easterby in 1867, purchasing land bounded by present day streets Chestnut, Belmont, Clovis and California avenues. Unable to grow wheat for lack of water, he hired Moses J. Church to build an irrigation canal. And on our little patch of California a community developed.

In 1872 when the railroad staked a claim along the edge of Easterby’s property; the town of Fresno was born. Our name is derived from the Spanish word for ash trees, native to the Central Valley. With the coming railroad all were provided the economic push needed to start a town in the frontier lands of the Old West. 1882 Fresno

The bright prospects held forth by the fertile valleys of California allured many an ambitious young man to the land of sunshine and flowers.

Those who contributed to the establishment of our city were drawn to Fresno following the Civil War and brought with them talent and experience in the lumber industry, railroads and agriculture.

Church’s ditch and irrigation transformed us from dry desert into one of the most fertile and agriculturally diverse regions that produces most of the world’s supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. Fresno’s history is as rich and diverse as the people who live here, with over 30 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, Fresno’s urban core is again drawing interest as it re awakens in a new wave of business boom. Why not take a closer look on Saturday morning (2/2/13) when we step out on the next Urban Taste walking adventure?
There are some delicious tastes ready for us along with the great art, all found downtown.
Tickets available at

Historical Source: California History & Genealogy Room, Fresno County Library

Perception is NOT Reality

Have you ever heard someone say, “No one goes to the Fulton Mall”? Well, the data is in, and we can finally lay that one to rest.

Celebrating local band Fierce Creatures’ new album titled Catacomb Party, nine other bands joined them as well as about 1,000 friends. The crowd filled in the block of the Fulton Mall between Fresno and Merced streets, in front of Fresno Brewing Co.

It was a huge community event unseen here at Fulton Mall since the sixties.

The big story here, though, is the gap between public perception and reality on the Mall.

Last year the Downtown Association commissioned a study of pedestrians on the Mall. During the weeks after the count, the association sponsored a ‘Guess the Pedestrians’ contest in which the public was invited to guess the number of pedestrians who passed by a set location on the Mall.

The guessers vastly underestimated the number of pedestrians on the Mall:
Average guess: 1041
Median guess: 625
Lowest daily guess: 55
Highest daily guess: 7000
Interestingly, however, the wildly optimistic guesser estimated pedestrians on Saturday at only 600, implying that even this person was very pessimistic about pedestrian activity on the Mall on weekends.

The recent catacomb party also demonstrates the Mall is far from over. Evaluating the success or failure of the Fulton Mall is a complex thing. The issues are up for debate, but, make no mistake about the numbers: each day, over four or five thousand people walk the Fulton Mall. And this party rocked!

And for an in-depth look at the Mall and the surrounding area About Town Taste adventures sets foot there Saturday morning (before it gets too hot!) Advance tickets are being offered at a huge discount….Go to

Bridal Creations

A family owned business, Luftenburg’s Bridal has been downtown on the Fulton Mall for 69 years.
From the basement of a small lingerie store in 1941, the company later became known as Neil’s Silk Shop and fabric store, just a few doors down from where Luftenburg’s are now located. Rapid growth soon caused a need to expand into a larger building; one they occupy today, once known as Walter Smith.

Later, the McCutchen’s son, Bennett and his wife Vivian, started the bridal portion of the store in 1964 actively operating it until recently selling the business to a former employee.
Delores Sulenta and her husband Walter have been friends of the McCutchen’s since the 70’s when Luftenburg’s Bridal did their own wedding 36 years ago.

Today Luftenberg’s is noted as California’s largest Bridal Salon carrying many exclusive designers.

Luftenberg’s bridal creations are found on the Fulton Mall. Join us next weekend as we explore the mall and more of our urban center along with the world-class art and even a few tasty bites on the Urban Taste adventure!
Book in advance and save $19!