April 20, 2006
People throw skeptical glances my direction when I say I enjoyed living in Fresno. But it’s true. I often describe Fresno as having been completely emptied of people sometime in 1943, and repopulated only in the last few years. That’s not how it was at all, but the city is filled with traces of incredible, abandoned Americana — gorgeous motel signs, classic theaters, dive bars, thrift stores. The city is phenomenally diverse, more culturally varied than even the rest of California, which itself makes the rest of the US look inbred.
When I interviewed for the job in Fresno, among the things that drew me to the city was coming across one of those old, beautiful motel signs. It was just sitting in a parking lot, leaning against a building in the middle of nowhere (it was downtown, but “middle of nowhere” still kind of applies). I figured the sign had to have a story, and I loved the thought of being a reporter there and getting to unearth that story.
Months later, I found out that the sign was leaning against the building that housed the H Street Collective, a space for some of Fresno’s most brilliant artists to practice and display their work. H Street was a beautiful nightmare. Its walls were covered to the last inch in the most grotesque, eyepopping, otherwordly art. The bathroom of the collective was the artists’ sandbox, stuffed with visual ideas and experiments, half-painted creatures, obscenities, paint on the floor, on the toilets, on the stall doors.
The H Street that was is no longer. But you can still find the work of some of the artists on many of the walls of Fresno. And one of my favorite H Street artists, Mehran Heard, has an awesome Web site.