Fresno's Little Armenia" Comes Alive Through Walking
By Jennifer Keledjian Staff Writer
For many of the participants in the class
Armenians in Fresno- AS 120T, touring the famous "Little Armenia"
in downtown Fresno was remembering old times and forgotten memories. Although
many homes, stores and schools no longer remain, the nostalgia of the old
Armenian community's unity and strength sustains.
The tour began by meeting at one of the
most significant historical landmarks among the Armenian community, the
Ararat Armenian Cemetery, founded in 1885. For some, the initial sight
of the hundreds of headstones immediately brought feelings of the old and
the dead, but for others it meant elements of culture and heritage, as
well as memories of dearly loved families and friends.
The instructor of the class, Barlow Der
Mugrdechian noted many well-known Armenian figures who at one time, had
a great impact in Fresno's strong community. Some of these names belonged
to the Peters, Seropian, Arakelian, Markarian and Normart families. The
tour of Ararat Armenian Cemetery concluded by participants spreading out,
trying to locate familiar names and dates of family and friends on surrounding
The next destination in the tour was
the old sites of the Armenian community in downtown Fresno, which is commonly
referred to as Fresno's, "Little Armenia". Meeting at the prominent
Holy Trinity Apostolic Armenian Church marked the start of the official
walking tour along Santa Clara street. Standing on Santa Clara and Van
Ness streets, class participant Laurie Gooboian talked about the home that
her father grew up in located at 521 Van Ness. The old, finely detailed
construction of the 1928 home is an example of what many houses looked
like in the area around the early part of the century. This home is now
being renovated by Gooboian's brother Christopher and future wife. On Fulton
and Santa Clara streets, a sign marks the site of a once historical building
which was the oldest Armenian Church in California. The First Armenian
Presbyterian Church was part of William Saroyan's childhood. Saroyan's
quote, "Rev. Knadjian Was the Preacher and I Sometimes Rather Liked
Accepting the Instructions of My Mother to Stay for Church After Sunday
School," is on a sign posted at the site.
Continuing on the tour and following
detailed maps, Arax Market on Van Ness and L and Suren's Bakery at Santa
Clara and L were noted as places that were once at the center of the large
population of Armenians in this distinctive area. Two
historical businesses started many decades ago by families within the Armenian
community are still successfully operating. Hye Quality Bakery, located
at 2222 Santa Clara street, was originally started by Yervant Ganimian
in 1957. Hye Quality Bakery, which is now run by Sammy and Paula Ganimian,
has grown from a small business to a nation-wide company, distributing
baked goods to all parts of the nation.
Our group was given the opportunity to
tour the inside of Valley Lahvosh Baking Co, Inc., home of Lahvosh. Started
in 1922 by the Saghatelian Family, Valley Lahvosh has remained locally
owned and is now run by the 3rd generation of the same family. After the
detailed tour of the spacious bakery, each member of the class received
samples of the widely known Lahvosh Hearts cracker bread.
Upon concluding the tour, the group arrived
at Holy Trinity Apostolic Armenian Church. Our visit included meeting the
new Parish Priest, Fr. Vahan Gosdanian, who gave brief comments on the
church history. Holy Trinity Apostolic Armenian Church is the second oldest
Armenian Apostolic Church in America and stands in the heart of Fresno's
once heavily Armenian populated area as a reminder of tradition and unity,
as well as a national historical landmark.
Touring the familiar sites of downtown
Fresno's "Little Armenia", refreshed many memories of culture,
family and of the great bond that unified many Armenians living in this
particular vicinity. This area was the center for survival and future dreams.
Buildings no longer standing and ones still established both speak of the
power and influence that Armenians have in this city.