The Fulton Mall is a pedestrian-only mall located on Fulton Street in Downtown Fresno. It occupies six blocks between Tuolumne and Inyo Streets. Fresno and Tulare Streets allow cars to drive through the Mall, but do not allow on-street parking. The Mall is 2,670 feet long and 80-feet wide.

The mall is known as an outdoor museum of art. It has 20 art features, 80 seating areas, two tot lots, and 144 trees. The Mall was determined eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Resources, in 2010. It was not included on the National Register because most private owners objected to it. A national designation would cause a lot of red tape if the Mall is altered in any way. The Fulton Mall, instead, was listed on California’s Register of Historic Resources.

 

THE HISTORY OF FULTON STREET

The photo was taken in 1936 before Fulton Street became a pedestrian mall. Electric street cars were one of the most common mode of transportation for the area. The street banner encourages the community to donate to charities. Source: Fresno Bee's Historical Perspective

Before Fulton Mall was a pedestrian-only shopping center, it was a vibrant center for businesses and commercial acitivty.

Fulton Street was most prosperous between the late 1800s and pre-WWII. Around the Great Depression, the street saw the construction of several mid-rise and high-rise buildings. It was home to the tallest and grandest buildings between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Big businesses like Gottschalks, JC Penny, and Coopers attracted residents to shop in the area. Visitors were pleased with the street’s easy-to-navigate  layout and the street car. The street was also in close proximity to the old Highway 99 on Van Ness Avenue. These characteristics, however, lead to the decline of Fulton Street.

The Mayfair Shopping Center, the City’s first suburban shopping center, was completed in 1947. It was located northeast of the Fulton Mall. This was during a time when cars became more common, so there was little incentive to keep residential and businesses together. Fresno continued to grow northward because of the availability of cheap land, lack of geographical barriers and suburban housing. The construction of the Mancester Mall in 1955 also helped accelerate the movement to the North. It was anchored by Sears and Roebuck.

 

BEHIND THE SCENES

Downtown was becoming a less desirable place for Fresnans. Traffic was too congested. Passing cars polluted the air. And there was little green space. The first stand against urban sprawl took place in 1956 when Fresno business leaders fought to have a pedestrian mall. They envisioned the mall to be located on Mariposa St, starting outside of the County Courthouse Park. The Downtown Association of Fresno moved the proposed mall to Fulton St. The Fulton Mall would be first of a big revitalization project. The “tomorrow” of Fresno was planned to have about five to six malls north and south of the Fulton Mall. This 80-acre super block would serve as Downtown’s core. A pedestrian underpass would connect the core with the new county courthouse and the Convention Center. Does anyone know what prevented this grand plan from being realized?

Victor Gruen was hired to come up with a plan for Fresno. Victor Gruen was famous for designing the country’s first suburban shopping center in Detroit in 1955. He also designed the first urban pedestrian mall in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1959 (you’ll read later that his use of suburban architecture might not have been fitting for Fresno’s urban core). Since then, the Kalamazoo pedestrian mall has been opened up to vehicle traffic. Gruen envisioned a superblock on Fulton St. It would be composed of 80 acres, surrounded by a one-way loop.

Transforming Fulton Street into a pedestrian mall meant leveling the entire street with concrete. This wouldn’t make the area a pretty oasis from the urban environment. So, Garrett Eckbo joined the team as the landscape designer. Ekbo was one of the most prominent ladscape designers of the 20th century. He is viewed as the “Picasso of the landscaping world.”  He often challenged traditional styles of landscaping. The Fulton Mall was Eckbo’s favorite project. Most of the landscaping was inspired by the San Joaquin Valley’s rich agriculture and rivers. For example, the concrete of the Mall was stained to represent the fertile soil of the Valley.

 

THE NATION RECOGNIZES FRESNO

Construction of the Fulton Mall began in 1964. Six months and $1.9 million later, the Fulton Mall was open to the public. It became the nation’s second pedestrian mall.

The Fulton Mall received national recognition. The American Institute of Architects awarded Fresno with the national award of “Excellence in Community Architecture.”   The Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the Mall with a “National Design Excellence.”  The Mall was praised for its outdoor art collection which was appraised for $2 million in 2011. Watch the documentary, below, to see for yourself how monumental and vibrant the Mall once was. The documentary might be a little bias. Still, it’s an interesting video to watch.

 

THE FULTON MALL  DECLINES

A few changes were made to Gruen’s original plans. After the mall was built, the Grand Central Hotel was demolished. The newly vacant lot was transformed into the Mariposa Plaza. The City Council, in 1973 voted to open Fresno and Tulare Streets to cars. Tot lots were updated to be ADA-approved, the design of the outdoor lighting changed, several fountains became planters, and the wooden benches were replaced by metal ones.

The Fulton Mall started to decline, only a few years after it was constructed. Motgomery Ward closed its Mall’s location, in 1970, and moved to North Fresno. JC Penny followed suit in 1986. Gottschalks abandoned its historical location and relocated. Fashion Fair Mall, in 1970, opened near Fresno State and attracted most retail shoppers in Fresno. Fresno’s General Plan, adopted in 1974, called for multiple shopping centers to be scattered within the sphere of influence. This further lead to the decentralization of retail services.

The former Grand Central Hotel stands near the clock tower. The hotel was originally owned by Fulton J. Berry. Fulton's attempts to market Fresno were so appreciated that the City renamed J Street, Fulton Street. The Mariposa Plaza was never part of Gruen's plan. Source: Vintage Fresno

 

What kind of condition is the Fulton Mall in to-day? Read here.

 

Sources:

A City Reborn (1968 documentary)

Downtown Fresno Partnership (aka PBID)

Fresno Bee’s Historical Perspective

Fulton Corridor Specific Plan

The Cultural Landscape Foundation

 

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Have a lovely day in Fresno!

Veronica Stumpf, Co-Broker

Stumpf and Company, Commercial Real Estate

DRE Lic. #01906952

 

 

9 COMMENTS

  1. “The Fulton Mall started to decline, only a few years after it was constructed. Motgomery Ward closed its Mall’s location, in 1970, and moved to North Fresno. JC Penny followed suit in 1986. ”

    I wouldnt call 20 years (from opening to JCPennys leaving) “only a few years”

  2. Gosh WOW!! That doc City Reborn was veery interesting.. Shwwsh almost brought a tear to my eye seeing how vibrant and active Fresno ONCE was. With all the construction going on back in the 60’s was amazing and comparing it to what the Fulton Mall has become…it’s sad. I personally would like the Mall to be open to traffic. But everyone knows the demise of Fulton Mall is partly to the developers, they got the money and vision and the sprawl to the North is what killed Fulton mall and Manchester. Give Fashion Faire about 1o yrs before it meets its decline also.

  3. In regards to your query, what happened to the grand plan for the Fulton Mall and downtown Fresno, the answer is quite simple. Mayor Arthur Selland embraced a plan to reverse the urban decay of downtown Fresno and revitalize the entire area. The plan he championed was only partially realized with the development of the downtown open air mall, the first step of the process of urban renewal. There were three major aspects to the plan. The most critical aspect was the development of high density housing in and around the city core in order to establish a population base that would support downtown businesses. This never came to be. Eventually, A moratorium established to prevent major development outside the core, necessary to allow time for the rest of the plan to become realized, was abandoned in favor of approving a large indoor mall, Fashion Fair, located on the outskirts of Fresno. Without a population base, the downtown urban redevelopment plan was doomed to a slow and lingering death. In contrast, Portland OR has provided what Arthur knew was necessary, and consequently Portland has a vital city core with mid-rise high density housing and a solid business community. And, with the help of target development zones, the inner city neighborhoods are now providing some of the most sought after housing and small business starts in Portland. Arthurs commitment to the downtown plan was sound and would have succeeded if not for the shortsightedness of the county planning commissioners and the lack of leadership on the city council after his death. Any plan for downtown Fresno will ultimately fail unless a population base is established to feed it. Whats interesting is that this is not a new concept, yet it is continually ignored. If you are going to have a high density business district, you need a high density population base. The third part of the plan, which again, was only partially initiated, was called the Golden Mile, a light commercial, low density housing mix running north down Van Ness Blvd.

  4. 1936 as a before image and then 1964 as later?
    that’s 28 years of history missing in there.
    can’t you find an image from the 1950s or early 1960s?

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