Mariposa Street

June 5, 2009

Then: This 1893 photo shows the northeast view down the once-grand Mariposa Street leading to the old Fresno County Courthouse.

It’s not a view down an elegant avenue of a major metropolis such as San Francisco, but instead it is a vista circa 1893 up Fresno’s once-grand Mariposa Street, with its lavish, opulent three-story brick and stone buildings that lead down to a proud seat of government, the Fresno County Courthouse.

A trolley on its tracks went past buildings such as the Grand Central Hotel, the First National and Farmer’s banks, saloons, billiard parlors, drug stores and general merchandise stores.

The photograph was probably made shortly after the courthouse was expanded with two wings and a distinctive copper-sheathed dome, as seen here.

A fire on July 29, 1895, gutted the central portion of the building, melting the copper dome. It was replaced by a new dome, which remained in place until the courthouse was torn down in 1966.

Historians have an explanation for the narrowness of the approach to the grand courthouse: The courthouse was to be built on several acres donated by Central Pacific just north of the site of the present City Hall, on a slight rise, with the main avenue leading to it being Fresno Street, which was — and still remains — wider for this purpose.

City leaders protested the plan, saying the land was too far in the country and too remote from the railroad depot. Central Pacific yielded to the sentiment and instead donated the land where the courthouse was built, and where Courthouse Park is now, with the narrower Mariposa Street leading to it.

The change did not deter business, though: In 1889, about $1 million was spent on the construction of buildings along the street.

JOHN WALKER/THE FRESNO BEE

Now: Although somewhat obscured and totally transformed, this same section of street -- here renamed Mariposa Way -- now leads to Courthouse Park.