History of Old Town Clovis
Old Town Clovis, located north of Fifth Street between Woodworth and Clovis Avenues, is a meticulous renovation of the community that Marcus Pollasky pioneered in 1892, including cobblestone intersections, old-fashioned street lamps and picturesque store fronts.
Old Town Clovis boasts a small town western atmosphere with the richness of the past and today’s important amenities. Eclectic shopping abounds along with beautifully maintained streets, public art, historic buildings, fine dining, comfortable cafes, boutiques, gift shops and antique stores.
It is also home to the Big Dry Creek Historical Society Museum where visitors can learn more about the rich history of the area, including details of the 1925 robbery of the First National Bank of Clovis and is a great jumping off point for numerous motor/bicycle nature trails from which you will see rushing rivers, historic sites, working farms and towering redwoods.
According to Shawn Miller, business development manager of the City of Clovis, the area was populated primarily by sheep barons and wheat farmers when Marcus Pollasky arrived in 1892, looking to start a railroad. He hailed from Chicago and had grand railroad plans, managing to raise about $100,000 from area residents.
Successful farmer Clovis Cole sold $4,000 worth of land to Pollasky’s effort and, in return, got a promise that the local train stop would be named “Clovis,” since there were multiple stops in the west named “Coal” or “Cole.”
Before long, construction was underway on the San Joaquin Valley Railroad, as they dubbed it. It was to go from Fresno, north through Clovis to Shaver Lake, Millerton and then over the mountains, through the Donner Pass, to “the world.”
Interestingly, the railroad received a boost from the timber industry, which was flourishing in the mountains. The loggers wanted to bring their lumber to market, so they constructed a 42-mile flume that ended right near the Clovis train station. Consequently, a fine-cut saw mill, dry kiln, box factory and other wood-related ventures sprung up nearby, bringing people and money to Clovis.
A small school was established inside the train depot’s waiting room in 1894. Saloons and stores sprung up and the Shepherd and Teague Land Company began subdividing land and constructing homes. HG DeWitt, a future mover and shaker in Clovis, came to town to be a salesman for Shepherd and Teague.
DeWitt plotted out one square mile (from Minewawa Avenue on the west to Sunnyside on the east and from Sierra Avenue on the north to Barstow on the south) as the original city limits of Clovis, which was incorporated in 1912. Many of the original structures from that time still stand within Old Town Clovis.
During the years that followed, Clovis plugged along. There were far-flung “colonies” all around the area, each establishing its own school that fed into a unified high school – Clovis Union High School. Then, in the late 1950s, the residents chose to unify the various school districts and the Clovis Unified School District was born.
And by the early 1970s, the Clovis area began to boom in terms of population. That is when many young families began moving to the area, attracted by the well-regarded schools and the availability of land.
“Since 1972 there has been continuous growth in Clovis,” Miller said.
However, by the late 1960s, like downtowns all over the country, Old Town Clovis was in trouble with a 50 percent vacancy rate, Miller noted. Residents had a laissez-faire attitude toward the land that abounded in California. So, they had simply abandoned the old in favor of the new.
But in 1975, business owners in Old Town sought to save their community of businesses. So they founded a Merchants’ Association to market the area and hold special events to help attract customers and by 1981, the area was enjoying redevelopment that gave it new life. Streetscape and landscape improvements were made; sidewalks, curbs and gutters were rebuilt; parking lots were built; and the whole area was gradually given a facelift.
As a result, ever since the late 1990s Old Town Clovis has been 100 percent occupied with approximately 220 retailers and restaurateurs there. Today it is so popular that potential businesses need to personally solicit current renters to see if there is any upcoming opportunity to get a space.
Development in Clovis’ SoFi District (South of Fifth Street), located on the south end of picturesque Old Town Clovis, continues to generate excitement among residents and visitors alike.
It is providing a wonderful opportunity to expand on the success and popularity of the historic area. For instance, Centennial Plaza, which began construction in 2012 on a former Department of Motor Vehicles site and is now flanked by the Shamshoian family’s Realty Concepts building and another owned by Roger Peterson Investments, is a very popular gathering spot, according to Shawn Miller, business development manager for the City of Clovis.
“Centennial Plaza has become a great centerpiece for the SoFi District and the way it is constructed, we are able to close off the area for outdoor concerts and events like Santa’s arrival which are continuously planned for Centennial Plaza. We even have a portable stage that we can bring in for these events,” he said.
The Shamshoian building now features Realty Concepts offices on the top two floors and the House of JuJu gourmet hamburger restaurant on street level. The southern building features “Blast and Brew,” a pizza and “pour your own” craft beer restaurant on the first floor. It is a popular chain with locations in Fresno and San Luis Obispo. Above Blast and Brew is one of the leading engineering and planning companies, QK. QK’s office opened last June and now occupies the second and third floor of the Peterson Building.
Construction of the Plaza and the Shamshoian and Peterson buildings acted as a catalyst for additional development in the area. An aged cinder block office building, for instance, has been renovated and transformed into an insurance office and the “Roll Me Some” ice cream parlor featuring hand-rolled ice cream has moved in nearby, too. All of this new activity is also driving new customer traffic to existing businesses located south of Fifth Street such as Michaelangelo’s Pizzeria and The Craft House.
“Old Town and SoFi are both very popular today,” Miller said. “In fact, it seems like that imaginary line that ran between them has been erased.”