Today we bring you an Elena Harvey Collins essay from our sister publication, Art Practical. Harvey Collins explores the genius loci of the Fulton Mall in Fresno, California, its history and redevelopment, and the public artworks that surround it. She says “The mall had the feeling of a permanent film set made for the performance of civic life—one steeped in magical realism. ‘I woke up feelin’ like, I was on the moon': This film came with a soundtrack, the strains of Chedda Da Connect coming from a boom box strapped on the back of a bicycle slowly weaving through groups of people walking.” This article was originally published November 10, 2016 in Issue 8.1: Art + Citizenship.
Outside a Payless ShoeSource in the Fulton Mall, a six-block pedestrian mall built in 1964 in downtown Fresno, there sat, until a redevelopment plan went into action this past spring, a much-rubbed, sometimes tagged casting of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s La Grande Laveuse (The Washerwoman) (1917). Sited down a side street leading to an underground parking garage and flanked by hedges holding nesting sparrows, it was easy to miss. Across from the sculpture were two benches toward which the sculpture mutely gestured—sometimes empty, sometimes occupied by sleepers, most often by people sitting, smoking, pausing, and looking. The whole arrangement was theatrically incongruent, and emblematic of a place that brought a certain wildness and elegance to downtown.
The new plan for the Fulton Mall is part of a larger effort to redevelop the downtown area, making it attractive to young professionals. It includes a flurry of new loft and townhouse building, in addition to preparations for the construction of the high-speed rail line; when complete, the pedestrian mall will be reopened to car traffic.