For the fourth consecutive Sunday, a group of protesters gathered across the street from the Tower Theatre, demonstrating against the pending sale of the historic venue to a Fresno church.
But, those gathered were protesting across from an empty theater.
Normally, Adventure Church holds several in-person, indoor services at the Tower Theatre under an existing rental agreement. Pastor Anthony Flores said he moved Sunday’s services to online only based on advice from his attorney.
Fresno city officials fined both the Tower Theatre and Adventure Church for holding indoor services last week.
Approximately 50 protesters on the corner of Olive and Wishon avenues held signs, played music and encouraged cars to honk their horns as they drove through the intersection.
“This is the front row of democracy in action,” said protester Annalisa Perea, a community college trustee and announced city council candidate. “What we have here is just a group of community members coming together to do what’s right, which is to protect the historical integrity and the cultural integrity of our district.”
Protecting Tower’s Integrity
“It’s impossible to maintain the culture that we have here in our district if it means your church occupies this building.” — Protester Brandon Freeman
Brandon Freeman, a musician who owns a business in the Tower District, said he is concerned about the future of Fresno’s eclectic neighborhood.
“It’s impossible to maintain the culture that we have here in our district if it means your church occupies this building,” Freeman said.
Flores has said the church plans to continue regular operations at Tower Theatre, including concerts and films. They would continue to use the building for services on Sundays and Wednesday.
One question that has arisen about the church’s purchase is whether the property is properly zoned for church services. The city says it is not, but Flores church believes federal law on his side.
“I‘m not sure if I believe it or not, to be honest. But what I do know is that if they do not rezone, then they’ll be violating the law,” Freeman said. “For them to say that it doesn’t affect us, it just does.”
City Council Candidate Attends Protest
Perea, who also serves on a city land use committee for the Tower District, is running for the area’s city council seat in 2022.
“It’s going to be a very long and expensive process for the church if this purchase does go through right now,” said Perea, about the zoning dispute.
Perea supported the protest against the church.
“I feel confident that I’m out here today being on the right side of history,” Perea said. “This is a very iconic corner for everybody out here, and they feel like they have a lot at stake. So there’s a reason why we are all standing out here in solidarity together.”
Opera Group Worried About Future
“If this building is taken out of use for us, it becomes very difficult to find anywhere else to produce.” — Rick Adamson, California Opera Association
Rick Adamson, technical director with the California Opera Association is worried about future productions at the Tower Theatre. He said the venue is the perfect size for his company in the city, which produces one or two shows a year.
“If this building is taken out of use for us, it becomes very difficult to find anywhere else to produce. We’ve produced quite a number of operas and here already over the years,” Adamson said.
Scheduling conflicts would mean losing out on Sunday matinees, when the opera draws its largest audience.
“Sunday matinees wouldn’t be possible with the building used at church. If I designed a set for Tosca, it’s not going to be gone by Sunday morning when we produce the night before. Realistically, the double usage wouldn’t be possible,” Adamson said.
Flores said they plan to make renovations to improve lighting and staging.
“I’m more than wiling to work with them,” Flores said when it comes to scheduling.
Organizers Distance Themselves from Provocative Sign
“Everybody is going to have their own message. Personally don’t agree with that.”— Protester and council candidate Annalisa Perea
Freeman dispelled the notion that the protest was antireligious.
“It’s not. There are churches in every direction here, just not in the main building that is the landmark of the district,” Freeman said.
Even so, one man held a sign that said “Abort Jesus.” He didn’t want to be interviewed, other than to say the sign spoke for itself.
Others at the protest said they disagreed with that sign.
“Everybody is going to have their own message. Personally don’t agree with that,” Perea said.
Freeman, who calls himself a believer, also disapproved.
“That’s definitely not supposed to be the spirit of this,” Freeman said. “People are going to do what they’re going to do. But as as far as everyone who is here and organized this, none of us are here to fight against religion or faith.”
The signs bothered the church’s pastor, Anthony Flores.
“We have to explain to our kids (those signs). That’s not the conversation my parishioners like to have with their kids,” Flores said. “It makes me sad. Tolerance works both ways.”
If elected, Perea’s solution would be to find Adventure Church an alternate location.
Last week, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer offered a lease at the Fresno Memorial Auditorium as an alternate location. Pastor Anthony Flores told GV Wire℠ that is unlikely to happen.
The owner of the local pizza shop offered another alternative for Adventure Church — buy the abandoned Chicken Pie Shop and convert it into a place of worship.
“There’s nothing historical about that building,” he said.