The Did you know
page (linked from the post-log-in "Welcome back" page) must be new. It's a mess. It can't see my user icon and advises me to upload one. It invites me (a permanent account holder) to "upgrade" to the ad-supported "Plus Account" level (apparently yet another new name for this service level.) The rest of it is just sort of dumb. The page was obviously not ready to go live on the site. But why put off until tomorrow something that can be silly and pointless today?
Maybe I'm just crankier than usual because the pine pollen (the streets are paved with gold!) is still making me ache and causing my sinuses to fill to the point where they've probably swollen enough to cut off the blood supply to my brain.
As a distraction from all my semi-rural agony, I went looking at urban web sites and found a site where Fresno architectural historian John Edward Powell has an essay about the never-fulfilled early 20th century plans for a grandiose City Beautiful Movement-inspired Fresno Civic Center
. It was originally designed by Charles Henry Cheney (of the Olmstead&Cheney Cheney family, not the shoot-you-in-the-face-and-expect-an-apol
ogy Cheney family.) Fresno- not a place that looms large in California, but with a metropolitan population now over 1,000,000, it would be the largest city in probably half the states of the U.S.- has always been an ambitious place. Around 1960, it was one of the first cities in the nation to jump into the fad for converting main downtown streets into pedestrian malls, and it actually did carry out much of the ambitious plan prepared for downtown Fresno by architect Victor Gruen. Fresno has been suffering the consequences of its unwise but then-highly-praised decision ever since.
I visited downtown Fresno once, about 1968 or so, and caught a train back to Los Angeles from its ancient S.P. depot after walking about the malled downtown for a while. The place was sadly appealing then, as were many of the valley towns at that time, when neither their decay nor their appalling redevelopment was yet too advanced. I remember the aging detail work on the old, high-ceilinged business and commercial blocks which had not yet been sacrificed to parking lots. They had that frumpy dignity characteristic of American buildings from the long summer of confidence that came between the Civil War and the collapse of the stick market in 1929. It was all very Edward Hopperish, but with the usual Californian touch of Mediterranean exoticism. I liked it.
Cheney's unfruited Civic Center plan would probably not have been an aesthetic disaster (as has been the City Beautiful-inspired but non-classical Los Angeles Civic Center), though like other such plans it would surely have been detrimental to what little urban street life and utilitarian coherence Fresno had been able to muster (though, as can be seen from the ground plan, Cheney at least had the sense to include some housing in the proposal.) In the end, not
building the Civic Center as planned didn't save Fresno's center from decay any more than having built it would have done, or any more than the malling of the city's main street did. Still, City Beautiful plans look so nice on paper. I really enjoy looking at the maps and renderings that, carried out, would have created visually impressive (and quite faux-imperial) but terribly dull places had they actually been built.
Dusk. Time to go water the plants before they all die. Here I am, working to keep them alive when they are so obviously trying to kill me. An abusive relationship, as I said.