Designate Armenian Town as a Historic District

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This petition is to urge the City of Fresno to designate Armenian Town as a Historic District.

Benefit: Preservation of these resources as a Historic District will not only honor a rich segment of Fresno's early ethnic history, but will also serve to provide greater visibility for the potential of cultural heritage tourism. Designated neighborhood historic districts provide for protection of the character-defining features of the District, compatible infill through design and building permit review, use of more flexible California Historical Building Cod as well as some perks through the City's Zoning Ordinance. Most importantly, historic districts add to a sense of place and community pride and usually lead to enhanced property values. Designated non-residential buildings may also qualify for federal tax credits. It exemplifies or reflects special elements of the City's cultural, social, economic, political, aesthetic, engineering, or architectural heritage.

Boundary Description: The proposed boundary includes those parcels and resources "north" of SR 41 and which are clustered nearest to the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church complex. The freeway cut a swath through the heart of Armenian Town many years back, but several cottages (one of these already a designed resource) are located on M Street on the south side of the freeway; there is thus a visual connection. Two houses west of the cluster located on Van Ness have also been included upon request of the property owners. The current proposed boundary includes those existing resources located near to the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church as well as several cottages further south along M Street and Van Ness Avenue.

The non-contiguous District appears to be significant under the following criteria:

1. It is identified with a person or group that contributed significantly to the culture and development of the city.
2. It embodies distinctive characteristics of a style, type, period or method of construction, or is a valuable example of the use of indigenous materials or craftsmanship. 
3. It exemplifies or reflects special elements of the City's cultural, social, economic, political, aesthetic, engineering, or architectural heritage.

"The designation of Old Armenian Town as a Historic District has been proposed for over a decade, and all the legwork, approvals and paperwork has been done, yet, the Planning Dept. will not take it to the City Council for approval (City Council must vote on all historic designations--even though the Historic Preservation Commission has overwhelmingly supported the designation.) Designation as a historic district can have positive economic, social, tourism and even psychological benefits--for all of the Valley. After working on this for years, I have NO idea why the City of Fresno refuses to follow through on the historic designation. This article further illustrates the value of this project (which has already been the focus of a lawsuit which the City lost.)" -Don Simmons, Commissioner, Historic Preservation Commission; Former Chair

"When the public asks "Vice Chair, why has this not made it to Council for a vote yet? It's seems like something that is only positives for our community", it is difficult because we agreed and approved it as the HPC, yet even we don't have an explanation of what the status is and why it has not moved forward. When we as a body approve it to move forward, it is suppose to go, or at least have a known reasonable explanation from the City what is delaying it. Today, 7 months later, we don't have that." -Jason Hatwig, Vice Chair, Historic Preservation Commission

"Heritage Fresno has become aware of both the unquestioned historical significance of that portion of Fresno known as Old Armenian Town. It is equally desirable to enhance and advertise such districts for the purpose of promoting heritage tourism. We have a project to build an Armenian Cultural Conservancy in the area. Together, we will create an historic district attraction which will not only preserve the story of these stoic and valuable people for the education of the community at large, but will attract persons from outside the Fresno metropolitan area for extended visitation and enjoyment, to the benefit of our local economy." - Charles Barrett, Co-Chairman of Heritage Fresno


History: By the First World War 10,000 Armenians had settled in Fresno, refugees from the genocide that occurred in Turkey and Armenia. A 60-block "Armenian Town" developed here between the two World Wars, due in part to the restrictive covenants that precluded settlement in other parts of the city. 

Armenian Town Historic District: Although State Route 41 cut a swath through the heart of this community, numerous buildings, including five houses restored by the RDA for the Armenian Town Project, the Valley Lahvosh Bakery (1921), the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church (1914) and several other early cottages (1902) and business buildings still exist. 

Buildings to be included in the Historic District:

Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church Complex (1914)- located at 2226 Ventura Street. (HP# 019/National Register of Historic Places). Four separate buildings are located on this parcel at the southwest corner of Ventura and M Streets. The Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church faces onto Ventura (1914) and was designed by an Armenian-born architect, L.J. Condrajian. The church itself is on both Fresno's Local Register of Historic Resources as well as the National Register of Historic Places. A social hall (with kitchen and stage) is adjacent to the church and was built in 1958 with additions in 1962. A Sunday School/Youth Activity Building to the "south" of this social hall was designed by local Armenian-American architect Robby Antoyan in 1999. Most recently a two-story infill for additional offices was added in 2012 with a small gated courtyard wedged between the church and the social hall. This building was also designed by Antoyan.

Valley Lahvosh Baking Company (1921)- located at 502 "M" Street and 2319 Santa Clara Street. (HP# 237) Two buildings are located on this one parcel, the retail building for the bakery, constructed in 1921 and designated on the Local Register of Historic Resources in 2003 as well as a 1954 concrete commercial addition which was found eligible  to the California Register of Historical Resources in the 2002 City-funded survey for the Armenian Town Project. The bakery was founded in 1921 by Gazair Saghatelian who was born in Moosh, Armenia. He was already a third-generation baker when he fled the violence of Armenia in 1900 and resettled in Fresno in 1905 with his wife and child. Saghatelian was the first to commercially introduce Lahvosh in the United Stated and he invented peda bread at this bakery. Three generations of the family have owned and operated the bakery, which is the oldest family-owned bakery in Fresno.

The John Schmidt Home (1902)- located at 2320 Santa Clara Street. This home is one of the 6 buildings that were relocated to its current parcel as part of the Armenian Town Project. The Queen Anne style home is the most substantial of the five relocated homes. The first owner of record is listed as a waiter and was apparently of German from Russian descent. The property was later purchased by Mezik Terzian, whose daughet, Rose, lived in the home when it was acquired by the Redevelopment Agency in 2002. The home is depicted on the 1906 Sanborn map and thus the construction date is circa 1902.

John Schmidt (Schmitt) Summer Kitchen (1913)- located at 450 "M" Street. A late discovery in the Armenian Town Project (2002) was this 126 sq ft summer kitchen, which was constructed in 1913 behind the Schmidt Home by a T.W. Birmingham for "John Scmitt". The Summerkuche or Backhaus was once a common site on Volga German homesteads throughout the United States (Watson in Architecture, Ethnic and Historic Landscapes of California's San Joaquin Valley (2008). In Fresno, summer kitchens are clearly depicted in the Germantown neighborhood on Sanborn Fire insurance maps from the 1890's through the mid-20th century.

The Alijian-Hoonanian Residence (built prior to 1906)- 496 "M" Street. (HP# 203). The first known resident of this late Queen Anne home was Bedros Alijian, a tailor, in 1913, although the home was constructed prior to 1906. Dick Hoonanian, also a tailor, lived here in 1915-18 and 1920-21. The home was formerly located at 461 "N" Street. Modern additions were removed when the building was relocated to its present site.

The Damirgian Brothers Home (1904)- 484 "M" Street. This vernacular cottage has Queen Anne detailing of the spindlework sub-style and was constructed circa 1904. This home has the most social history associated with it, due to oral histories, formal and informal taken with former residents or relatives of residents. The house was formerly located at 530 "N" Street. The first known residents were A.J. and M.J. Damirgian, brothers and tailors with a business located at 2025 Mariposa in 1907-1912. By 1919 Manassey and Agnes Jerahian are noted as living in the home. Agnes is recorded in the Polk Directories as a clerk and may be the Armenian-born daughter of Manoush and Vartouy Jerahian. Manoush owned a flour mill in Samsun, Turkey on the Black Sea and emigrated to the United States with his brothers when rumors of the atrocities against Armenians began to circulate. The Jerahians were keen to be Americans and had a Christmas tree each year, although neither of them ever spoke English. In the early 1950's the Melikians moved into the home. Melik Melikian was Armenian and served in the Russian military during World War II. Olia Melikian was born in Russia.

The George Adams Home (1902)- 472 "M" Street. This vernacular cottage was constructed circa 1902 as it is depicted on the 1906 Sanborn map. The earliest resident recorded in the Polk Directories is a cook, George Adams. The home was thereafter the residence through 1921 for several working class individuals (and possibly families), non with Armenian surnames. By the 1930's building permits on file with the city indicate that M. and G. Karagosian owned the home. This residential pattern is another example of the change in the neighborhood form a multi-ethnic working class on to that of "Armenian Town" between the two World Wars.

The A. Tollikian-Lyman Tashjian Residence (1902)- 460 "M" Street. The first resident associated with this circa 1902 cottage is Manonel Tollikian, a carpenter. The property was vacant from 1915-1916 after which a traveling salesman, Benjamin Miller is indicated as living in the home. Other non-Armenian surnamed individuals are recorded through 1921 in the Polk Directories. At some point the cottage was purchased by Lyman Tashjian, an Exeter farmer who used the house as a weekend retreat for his family (1999 survey form prepared by former owner, George Bursik). Tashjian family members were indicated as owners when and Abatement for Non-conforming Use was filed in 1979 by the City of Fresno. The house was formerly located on a corner parcel at 459 O Street.

The Dirouhi Nishkian Home (approx. 1912)- 332 "M" Street. This modest Neoclassical cottage was constructed around 1912. The first known resident was Armenian immigrant and widow, Mrs. Dirouhi (or Deroohi) Nishkian who lived in the home through 1926 with her children. The Nishkian family owned a store, the M.M. Nishkian up until 1922. V.A. Nishkian was listed as the owner when the house was assessed in 1936-7. Subsequent residents were Edward Tatarian in 1940-1944 and Kaqzar Kateian 1950-1960.

The Luther Gray/Shanin Der Boghosian Home (1899)- 320 "M" Street. This modest Neoclassical cottage is the oldest documented home in the District with a circa 1899 construction date. According to the 1900 cencus, the first resident was a mail carrier Luther Gray and his wife Frances who lived in the home through 1921. Kazar Froonjian, a laborer, was a resident in 1925. From 1925 on the property was first the family home and most recently a rental for the Boghosian family. Shanin and Siranoush Der Boghosian were both from Harpoot, Armenia and escaped the Armenian Genocide by first relocating to France and thereafter to Fresno. Shanin supervised the stem crew at Sun Maid Raisins and worker there until he died in 1952. HIs wife, Siranoush, worked at Roeding Fig and Olive in Chinatown and walke to work every day.

The John G. Foley Home (1902)- 303 "M" Street. This Queen Anne cottage was constructed circa 1902 and is depicted on the 1906 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map. From 1913-1918 John G. Foley lived in the home. Foley was driver for the Fresno Brewing Company (located two blocks south at 100 M Street) and was later a fruit buyer. Armenian immigrants Krikor (a carpenter) and Araxie Shirinian lived in the home from 1925 through the 1940's. John Shirinian is indicated as the property owner when a new foundation was permitted in 1938.

The Neverman Home (1902)- 309 "M" Street. (HP# 097) This charming Queen Anne home is a variant of the spindlework sub-type. According to the survey form prepared in 1978, the property was originally the residence of Rudolf C. Neverman, the assistant brewmaster for many years at the Fresno Brewing Company. Both Neverman and his neighbor, John G. Foley, could have easily walked to work. The home is depicted on the 1906 Sanborn and was thus constructed in 1902. It was designated to the Local Register of Historic Resources in 1980. Moses Terzian is noted as the property owner when the parcel was assessed in 1936-7.

The Andreas Bazolan Home (1912)- 321 "M" Street. This Neoclassical cottage was the home of laborer/salesman Andreas Bazolan from at least 1915 through 1920. By 1930 S. Uncababian was listed on the building permit for a porch repair. The home was constructed circa 1912 as it is depicted on the 1928 Sanborn map but not on the earlier map for 1906.

The Francis J. Haber Home- This Neoclassical cottage is one of two buildings on this parcel. Haber lived in the house from circa 1910 through 1915 and was co-owner of the Haber Bros. Real Estate Company. The next resident was Mihran H. Simonian, an employee of Los Angeles Produce Company.

The Hooliani Gafarian Home- 342 Van Ness Avenue. This vernacular one-story home with gablet roof was the residence of Armenian immigrant, Hooliani Gafarian from the 1920's through the 1950's.