Heat Wave Beats Down on the Central Valley
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The historic Meux Home was built in 1888 before electricity and air conditioning. So, how did folks back then keep cool? Well, there were some cooling designs built in to these old houses, like big wrap around porches and window shutters. But by around the turn of the century the folks who lived in Downtown Fresno were able to just step outside, get on a trolley and head to the beach.
This picture from the early 1900's shows Fresnan's enjoying a day at the beach. Fresno Beach. And to our surprise, it's still a good place to cool off.
Fresno Beach, along the San Joaquin River is now part of the Scout Island outdoor education center. Run by the Fresno County Office of Education it's open to school groups. But a century ago, it was Fresno's summer playground.
Matt Stewart manages the site, and he knows its history: "It was the place where everyone would get out of the heat. The river back in the day was probably a good 150 yard span across."
And the trolley cars ran from downtown to the river's edge. Remnants of the rail supports are still visible in the weeds. But every hot day couldn't be a day at the beach, and Karena Hattersley-Drayton, the city of Fresno's Historic Preservation Specialist says early Fresno homes were designed with some cooler features.
Karena Hattersley-Drayton explained, "There were traditional architectural responses we have forgotten about you know things like deep set porches, but the sleeping porch was something that was invented about the early 20th century, and that's where you had a big room added on, usually on the second story that was all screened and everybody slept out there in the summer."
Still, she notes, that doesn't mean everybody kept cool. "I think one has to consider the fact sometimes they didn't do very well. It really is, terribly hot."
In addition to a trip to Fresno Beach, there was Yosemite National Park. Hattersley-Drayton says it was very common during the summer for middle class and wealthy families to pack up and head for the mountains for weeks at a time. Often leaving father at home to tend to the family business.
Raymond Banuelos grew up in Fresno. He's 67 and not old enough to have ridden the trolleys to Fresno Beach, but remembers how he kept cool. "We used to go in the Calwa ditch near Jensen and Chestnut it was cold, it was fast running but it was cool. It was nice."
And despite the heat, Raymond is living like folks in the old days, without air conditioning. "No, we use fans all over the place. Got to cope with expenses."
With all the pavement put in over the last hundred years Fresno should be a hotter place to live. But, in the 1870's there were no trees in Fresno. Thanks to the forward thinking city fathers back then began a tree planting campaign and it continues today. So it may still be hot, but there is more shade.
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