By Peter Maiden
The Tower Theatre might be sold to the conservative Christian Adventure Church, and Tower District neighbors are protesting the sale. Around 50 came to an action on Jan. 10. To the protesters, the theater is more than a landmark. As the Fresno Bee reported the previous week, “Built in 1939 (and restored in 1990) the 700-plus seat 20,000-plus square-foot theater…quickly became the keystone of what would become the Tower District.” The Tower District is known for its art galleries, cafés and restaurants. It has what could be called a bohemian vibe.
The theater is owned by the Abbate family, which is selling it for around $6 million. The sale is in escrow. To operate it as a church would require rezoning, which would prohibit alcohol sales within a thousand feet of the church. That would shut down the FAB nightclub and prevent sales of beer and wine at several restaurants. Fresno City Council Member Miguel Arias warned that “this would be the most significant change in land use in Tower District history.”
Facing an uphill rezoning effort, the Adventure Church now says shows would be the main use of the theater and that church services would be “incidental.” They are now holding services at the theater, despite Covid-19 restrictions.
Meanwhile, The Painted Table, a catering company that has been residing in the Tower Theatre complex, has made a bid to buy the theater. Co-owner Jeromie Garza-Hansen told the Bee, “We’ve decided that putting in an offer to purchase the Tower Theatre properties is the right thing to do for our Tower business community and for the greater Tower District community as a whole.”
At the protest, organizer Laura Splotch said, “I just invited my neighbors to come out and show our support for the Tower in a peaceful gathering. We don’t want the Tower Theatre to be controlled in a way that’s not conducive to the whole neighborhood.
“These are the people [of the] Tower. We’re the entertainers. We’re the promoters. We’re the people that go to shows. We’re the people that love this Tower neighborhood.
“And if this happens, if they get it rezoned, it’s going to change. You know, nobody can sell beers or do their shows. It’s going to turn into a disaster area. It’ll be horrible for the neighborhood.”
Peter Maiden is the photo editor of the Community Alliance newspaper.