Frida Café Moving into the Old Fresno Water Tower

The Old Fresno Water Tower, on Fresno Street and O Street, was built in 1894. At that time a canal ran beside it, providing the downtown area with its water supply. Every day exactly at noon, a steam whistle in the Tower sounded, and it was heard for miles. People set their watches by it.

The Water Tower is going to be the home of the Frida Café, a coffee bar named after iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo that is owned by Albee Sanchez. The Café used to be part of a restaurant called Los Panchos.

According to City Councilman Miguel Arias, he and City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria were at the old Frida Café one day about a year ago, discussing the possibility of restoring a downtown building for public use. Sanchez overheard them, and soon the three of them came up with the idea that the Frida Café could move into the Water Tower.

The restoration of the Water Tower is ongoing, at a cost to the city of over $1 million. The woodwork, ironwork and paint on the Water Tower are all being restored, and the place will be fixed up to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Café itself is being financed privately. Sanchez says he’s looking at a 2023 opening.

Coffee will be served inside, with seating in an adjacent patio.

 The Old Fresno Water Tower. Photo by Peter Maiden

I asked Sanchez what Frida Kahlo meant to him. He said, “Frida was much about doing her own thing, creating her own way, whether it was with her arts or her political views or her sexuality. She was very, very much on her own path. She walked to the beat of her own drum. I wouldn’t dare say defiant, but she was definitely [of] a mind of her own.

“And we need that here. We need someone that’s going to push downtown in a very, very new direction, something that’s fun and something that’s inviting and something that people want to travel to.

“And all of our coffees, of course, are multicolor. So, we have blue coffee, red coffee, green coffee, yellow coffee to represent the different palettes of her color.

“She represents a driving force that has kept me going through this whole process. Because it’s been rough.”

Sanchez brought reporters who had gathered to hear about the Water Tower around to the back and turned on some large public address speakers. “For anyone who has sensitive ears, be aware, this is gonna to be kinda loud,” he said.

He tapped his cell phone, and the speakers blasted the sound of the old steam whistle at about 100 decibels. The whistle is going to be heard again, every day at noon. “It’s going to act as a reminder,” Sanchez said, “that Fresno is going to hold onto its history.”

  • Peter Maiden is the photo editor for the Community Alliance newspaper. He studied media at UC Berkeley. Contact him at maidenfoto1@gmail.com.

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