Four months after a fire destroyed a Fresno building housing a modern classic work of art, there is hope for “A Day in the Park.”
The Clement Rezni bas-relief sculpture, depicting children enjoying recreational activities across 288 clay tiles, survived a January 30 fire at the Fagbule Glass House. While the building was ruined, the art installation facing Shields Avenue, just west of Highway 41, remained intact.
Renzi, a renowned artist who settled in Fresno, created art and sculptures displayed around the Central Valley, the state, and the world. He died in 2009.
Vandals have tried to do what the fire could not. The art piece has been covered in graffiti since the last embers died out.
Now, the city of Fresno — with a warrant signed by Judge Jeff Hamilton in hand — plans to remove and store the Renzi, consistent with other abatement projects the city undertakes.
“The fact of the matter is, the demolition of the site cannot be completed without removing and preserving the Renzi sculpture. Although the property owner continues to own the Renzi, it is the hope of many that he donate it back to the Renzi family or the City so that it may be preserved for posterity,” City Attorney Andrew Janz said.
If the city does take possession of the art, it would be put on display at Roeding Park near the zoo, or even at City Hall, officials say.
Pastor Steve Fagbule, listed as the owner of the Glass House property was not available for comment. The Renzi family has not commented, either.
The city has not provided a cost estimate for the removal of the sculpture or the demolition of the building. Officials have not said how they plan to recover the money that will be spent from Fagbule.
The process could take a month.
How to Preserve the Renzi
A self-described ceramic muralist, Sal Esqueda is advising the city on how to preserve the Renzi.
He didn’t mince words upon learning about the desecration of the artwork by vandals.
“I was pissed off,” Esqueda said. “My energy, Clem’s (Renzi) energy, went into that. Part of my life went into that.”
Esqueda was the man behind Renzi creating “A Day in the Park.” A former Fresno bank, Central Federal Savings and Loan, commissioned Renzi for the art when it constructed the building in 1982.
Renzi needed help and called Esqueda.
“He explained to me how he was commissioned to go ahead and do a bas-relief for that building. And he said, you know, Sal, I need for you to teach me. I don’t know how to do bas-reliefs. I said, Sure, we can work something out,” Esqueda said.
Esqueda helped build the kiln that fired the tiles.
He said the city and building owner should have done more to preserve the art — possibly cover it up with particle board. The city used a tarp and fencing, which barely lasted a day.
Cleaning up the graffiti can be done by using a similar color paint, Esqueda said.
Removing the piece won’t be easy, Esqueda said. It needs to be removed in small sections, possibly in 4-by-4 pieces.
“It could be safety removed and it has got to be done under supervision,” Esqueda said.
City Granted Warrant
In court filings, the city determined the Fagbule Glass House property needed emergency demolition. Steve Fagbule gave the city’s emergency contractor a deposit later that day.
However, the city said more work was required after the initial demolition . The city attempted to reach Fagbule several times to no avail. At least five re-inspections showed that no action had been taken.
One concern included asbestos-laden debris remaining. If Fagbule did not remove the remaining damage, the city would. After the May 5 deadline with no work, the city applied to the court for an abatement warrant.
There were also concerns with homeless encampments at the property, even though a fence was erected. Homeless people have been long known to congregate at the building, even before the fire.