Bill Chandler doesn’t understand why his grandfather should be punished for a vote 110 years ago.
Chandler Executive Airport, as it now known in the city of Fresno, is named after Wilber Fisk Chandler — farmer, philanthropist and Fresno representative to the state legislature in the first part of the 20th century. He and his wife donated land to build the airport in the 1920s.
But, the city may strip Chandler’s name from the facility and a nearby park named in his honor for a vote he made in 1911 to deny women the right to vote.
The “younger” Chandler, 80, continues to operate Chandler Farms — founded by his grandfather at the turn of the 20th century — with his family. He defended his grandfather’s record.
“That’s not very good about saying, well, we appreciate the donation. Now, we’re going to take it away after so many years,” Bill Chandler, a respected Fresno County farmer in his own right, said.
The elder Chandler was one of two names flagged by the Fresno Historic Preservation Commission, as it completed its mission of researching city of Fresno owned-buildings named after troubled historical figures.
Airport Name Honors Mrs. Chandler, Too
The airport is not only named after W.F. Chandler, but his wife Edna Chandler as well.
“I’m kind of disappointed in the city, I really am that they’re doing this. But whatever happens happens,” Bill Chandler said. “I’m sorry that the city is taking that on too as a detriment.”
Bill Chandler never met his grandfather, who died in 1932. But, he says he was not a misogynist.
“Heavens, no. Not at all. As far as I know, he didn’t have that leaning,” Chandler said. “The city thinks he was against women or something like that. And that is certainly not true. That is not true. He was not against women or women’s rights or anything like that.”
Edna Chandler was active in the YWCA in the early part of the 20th century.
A Legislator and Businessman
Chandler served as a Republican assemblyman in non-consecutive terms from 1901-1914; and two terms as a state senator with the Progressive (Bull Moose) party from 1915-1918.
Other legislation Chandler is known for is forming how signatures can be collected to qualify items for a ballot.
The Chandler family donated the land on Kearney Boulevard in 1929 to establish the airport after voters rejected a bond measure.
“He thought it would be good to have an airport here. Aviation was starting big in California at that time,” Bill Chandler said.
In 1930, famed aviator Charles Lindbergh made a stop.
Initially, W.F. Chandler balked at the idea of having his name attached.
“He was a quiet person in a way. He didn’t want his name to be on the airport. They said ‘we’ll name the airport after you.’ He said ‘you don’t need to do that,” Chandler said.
Chandler also helped build the Rowell Building in downtown Fresno, currently the home of the Fresno County District Attorney’s office. He was a businessman, at one time operating a bank, and served on several state and local committees.
Council Votes to Examine Names
Tasked by a Fresno City Council vote last October, the commission found one other problematic name — the Meux Home, named after a confederate doctor Thomas Meux who later moved to Fresno.
His house is owned by the city, but operates as a museum by a nonprofit.
The item now will return to the City Council, which has the ultimate authority to change the names.
No member of the public spoke during the HPC’s Monday night meeting.