Kearney Boulevard

August 3, 2009

POP LAVAL FOUNDATION

Then: Kearney Boulevard was a popular spot in the early 1900s for a Sunday drive.

In the early 1900s, taking a Sunday drive along Kearney Boulevard was a popular pastime for Fresnans. The excursion invariably included a picnic in the country.

At left, at the wheel of a Pierce Arrow is A.W. Fellows, chauffeur for Fresno capitalist M. Theo Kearney, the namesake of Kearney Boulevard and modern-day Kearney Park. The unidentified auto at right was powered by a 2-cylinder air-cooled engine. The woman in the back seat, extreme left, is holding the tiller, a steering lever.

The seven-mile stretch of the boulevard started downtown at Fresno Street, marked by an Art Deco-style arch built in 1933.

The road had three lanes. The south lane was intended for pedestrian and bicycle traffic; the middle lane for buggies, wagons and the occasional automobile; and the north lane for an electric streetcar line, which never came to be.

Kearney laid out the boulevard in the late 1800s to lead to his 240-acre Chateau Fresno Park and the headquarters of his 5,400-acre Fruit Vale Estate.

An English immigrant born in 1842, Kearney was a pioneer in land development in the Central Valley and became one of the most powerful leaders in California agriculture. He earned the title “Raisin King of California” after developing Fruit Vale exclusively for raisin production. He helped organize the first raisin grower co-operative, the forerunner of Sun Maid.

The landscaping of the park began in 1892, with the planting of hundreds of trees, including eucalyptus, magnolia, olive, cypress, pepper, camphor and evergreens. In 1900, the San Francisco Chronicle called the park the “most beautiful park on the West Coast.” The boulevard was planted with 50,000 trees and shrubs, and many of the original palms still thrive.

John Walker/The Fresno Bee

Now: Still largely a two-lane country road, Kearney Boulevard has the original palm trees towering over the now asphalt highway.