Is Classic Art in Danger at Neglected Fresno Building?
Passing by the Fagbule Glass House, it is easy to note the destroyed building and overlook the fabulous piece of art.
Related Story: Renzi Art to Be Moved After Fire Destroys Fagbule Glass House on Shields Avenue
It looks like a bomb went off at the location at 1930 E. Shields Avenue, across the street from Manchester Center.
The only glass at the Fagbule Glass House is either broken panes, in shards around the building, or piled in the parking lot. Fires have burned several areas around the building. Trash is everywhere.
A terra cotta relief, “A Day in the Park” by Clement Renzi sits on the side of the vacant building. It is incredible that the 288 tiles that comprise the art installation remain undisturbed, surrounded by such a disaster.
As of Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., the artwork remains intact. Art lovers are worried that luck may not last.
The questions are — how did the building get to be that way, and what happens to the art?
Rebecca McGregor, of Fresno, was a family friend of the Renzis. She is concerned about the art.
“I’m frightened that something’s going to happen,” McGregor said. “It’s only a matter of time because they haven’t gone away. The homeless or the druggies who are surrounding the building are still there every day.”
Renzi Legacy Remains
“Clem Renzi is probably one of the most prolific public artists from Fresno’s history.” — Lilia Gonzales Chavez, Fresno Arts Council
Renzi died in 2009, but his public artwork around Fresno and around the state remain. You can find “The Three Graces” and “The Three Rs” on the Fresno State campus. “The Visit” is on Fulton Street; “Young Corbett III” is outside Selland Arena. Dozens of his pieces can be found around town.
Even the trophy once used by the California Bowl football game was a Renzi.
“Clem Renzi is probably one of the most prolific public artists from Fresno’s history,” Lilia Gonzales Chavez, executive director of the Fresno Arts Council, said. “He really just is one of the best known artists in sculptures.”
She is worried about the future of “A Day in the Park”.
“My concern is that the building will be allowed to deteriorate so much that eventually the building will have to be totally redone and we are at risk of losing that important art piece,” Chavez said.
Clem’s daughter, Jenny Renzi, remembers her dad making “A Day in the Park” in the backyard.
“He had a really big kiln in the backyard and he fired the whole thing there. And the way he did it was he made it all in one piece,” Jenny said. It was later broken into the smaller tiles.
She said her father could have been bigger in the art world if he remained in places like New York instead of returning to the Central Valley.
“He did his whole career in Fresno so that he can have, kind of a holistic kind of life. He made this his kingdom,” Jenny said.
Owner Frustrated: “I Weep”
“I weep myself when I go there. I am not happy. I need help. There does not appear to be any help coming.” — Steve Fagbule
The building opened in January 1982 as a Central Federal Savings and Loan. It operated under several bank names over the years.
Steve Fagbule, a pastor and doctor, bought the facility in 2011. The Renzi came with the building. He turned it into a banquet hall and used the building for prayer.
“I weep myself when I go there. I am not happy. I need help. There does not appear to be any help coming,” Fagbule said.
In recent years, before total dilapidation, the Covenant of Faith Family Church — pastored by Fagbule and his wife Kemi Fagbule — used the building.
How did it get into such pathetic shape, unused since April 2022?
“It pretty much started with the COVID,” Fagbule said. “Gradually the homeless people began to take over the place, gradually tearing the place down until it’s to the point it is right now,” Fagbule said.
The Fresno Fire Department said they had 11 fire calls to the building alone in 2022. They had two each for the prior two years.
Fagbule said not even security cameras nor a fire alarm system acted as deterrent.
“We clean up the trash. Again, it is a constant. You clean it up today, but you get there the next morning, they already trashed the place. It’s very frustrating. Very frustrating,” Fagbule said.
Insurance claims, Fagbule said, are “dragging.” He estimates it will take $500,000 to repair the building — money he does not have.
“I believe I’m doing all I can do,” Fagbule said.
What to Do?
“(The art) needs to be taken down and put in a secure place,” art lover McGregor said.
Chavez said she’s asked the city to look into the Renzi problem, through the Historic Preservation Commission. But, the current preservationist position is vacant. Chavez is still waiting.
“We needed to get moving and at least identify the significance of the artwork, have it registered somewhere so that it’s made clear that if the building for some reason should be demolished, that the park needs to be preserved,” Chavez said.
“It just really would be a tragic loss if one day, like The Abacus, we find out that the artwork has gone,” Chavez said.
Last year, KMPH-26 reported that another Renzi sculpture, “Water Birds,” at Zinc Financial, was vandalized.
Fagbule said moving the art is “not an option.” He hopes to restore the glory of the building.
His suggestion to the art community: “let them raise money. Let them support us. Let them help us … That’s just part of what good neighborliness is.”
Renzi’s daughter Jenny hopes the art is preserved somehow.
“It would be nice if (the city) would protect the art. But again, it’s like you can’t force them to make that a priority if they don’t care about it that much,” Jenny Renzi said.
Will the City Help?
Fagbule wants help from the city, at least with clean up.
“If we get somebody to capture any of them, they let them go the next minute. So, that is indeed frustration, Fagbule said.
Instead, he’s been hit with code enforcement investigations. The Fresno City Attorney’s Office says it has not issued citations yet, but levied $1,700 in administrative and other fees so far.
The art, Fagbule said, “should even be one of the reasons why the city should make the place a historical place. But they’ve not really offered any help or assistance in with all the trouble we’re having with the city, with the homeless people. There’s been no help from anywhere,” Fagbule said.
Fagbule would like to see grants to help small businesses in his situation, and leniency from code enforcement.
Councilman Nelson Esparza represents the area of the Fagbule Glass House. His office tells me they are still “learning what our options are.”