A fire destroyed an abandoned and dilapidated building in central Fresno early Monday morning, but its treasured artwork remained undisturbed.
Fresno City Attorney Andrew Janz revealed the city plans to move the 42-year old Clement Renzi work “A Day in the Park” — 288 clay tiles on the side of the building — to a new location.
“We’re going to try to work with a Historical Preservation Society or the Fresno Art Museum to house and maintain that work of art. We think we can take it down without damaging it. So that’s a positive,” Janz said Monday afternoon.
The art will remain in place for now, as the city finds an expert to move the piece, Janz said.
Art lovers applauded the news.
“I am pleased that the art was not damaged and grateful to the City staff for recognizing the importance of the art and agreeing to keep it safe,” said Lilia Gonzáles Chávez, executive director of the Fresno Arts Council.
‘My Heart Broke’
Bruce Kalkowski , a board director with the Fresno Arts Council, watched the demolition process Monday.
“My heart broke. I’ve been concerned about this for two years. The condition of the building, the condition of the art. It’s been vandalized in the past,” Kalkowski said.
Janz also said that demolition of the highly damaged Fagbule Glass House on Shields Avenue was expected to wrap up by the end of the day. Traffic on eastbound Shields Avenue, between Blackstone Avenue and Highway 41 was closed as demolition crews removed damage. Fencing was placed around the building by 3:30 p.m.
The city attorney told GV Wire that the building’s owner would be responsible for the demolition costs. Steve Fagbule, a pastor and doctor, bought the facility in 2011.
“(The city is) only incurring personnel costs. The brunt of the project is going to be paid for, not by the city,” Janz said. He estimated the cost at “hundreds of thousands” of dollars.
Nelson Esparza, city councilman for the district where the Fagbule Glass House was, says his office is “in close contact” with Janz’s office about preserving the Renzi.
No Surprise: Fresno Fire
Fresno Fire Battalion Chief Kirk Wanless said Monday afternoon that no fatalities had been discovered. The fire was reported just before midnight Sunday/Monday.
The location had been subject to 12 fire calls in 2022.
“No one is surprised that this happened. And we were all somewhat expecting that this may happen,” Wanless said.
Owner Steve Fagbule blamed the homeless when speaking to GV Wire last week.
What can be done to prevent incidents at abandoned buildings in the future?
“Sometimes the only way to secure a building is to hire people to babysit it, to secure it with security officers. That’s maybe the only way to keep it from being either vandalized or intentionally destroyed,” Wanless said.
Three-Alarm Fire, Building Uninsured
Crews responded to the three-alarm fire within two minutes, Wanless said. It took three hours to control the fire. He said that the building’s dangerous condition made it impossible to conduct a thorough investigation into the fire’s origin before its demolition.
“It’s very difficult to make a determination. We can sometimes sift through the rubble and determine if there are accelerants that were present and that may indicate that it was intentionally set. But we don’t have any indication like that yet in this fire,” Wanless said.
The conditions also made it difficult for firefighters to determine if there were any fatalities. Wanless does not believe there to be so, since no one complained of missing persons.
Wanless also said that the building wasn’t insured.
Janz said the building was within code enforcement compliance, with the last inspection in December.
Renzi’s ‘A Day in the Park’
The building, which had been in a state of disrepair because of damage by squatters, has Renzi’s terra cotta relief, “A Day in the Park” on one side.
Last week, GV Wire wrote about the precarious nature of the building and its Renzi artwork. The three-story building is across Shields Avenue from the Manchester Mall.
Renzi died in 2009, but his public artwork is appreciated throughout the world.
You can find “The Three Graces” and “The Three Rs” on the Fresno State campus. “The Visit” is on Fulton Street; “Young Corbett III” is outside Selland Arena. Dozens of his pieces can be found around town.
“Clem Renzi is probably one of the most prolific public artists from Fresno’s history,” Chavez told GV Wire last week. “He really just is one of the best-known artists in sculptures.”
Building Opened as a Savings and Loan in 1982
The building opened in January 1982 as a Central Federal Savings and Loan. It operated under several bank names over the years.
Steve Fagbule, a pastor and doctor, bought the facility in 2011. The Renzi came with the building. He turned it into a banquet hall and used the building for prayer.
In recent years, before total dilapidation, the Covenant of Faith Family Church — pastored by Fagbule and his wife Kemi Fagbule — used the building. It has been vacant since April 2022.