Tower Theatre Sale: Pressing the City to Take Action

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Pride month is celebrated on June 6 at the protest against the sale of the Tower Theatre. Photo by Peter Maiden

By Community Alliance Staff

The demonstrations against the conversion of Fresno’s historic Tower Theatre to a church continue, marking more than 24 weeks of protests. Organizers with the Save the Tower Theatre Demonstration Committee say they are unfazed by Judge Rosemary McGuire’s tentative ruling granting Tower Theatre’s motion to expunge the lis pendens that has halted the sale of the theater.

“This outcome is tentative and not entirely unexpected. We hope that Sequoia will appeal once again,” said Heather Parish, a member of the Save the Tower Demonstration Committee. “This is just another part of the long, ongoing process of ensuring our Tower businesses have their legal rights defended.

“Until Sequoia says that they are at the end of the road, we will support them the entire way of their journey,”

Parish stated that while her committee supports Sequoia Brewing Company’s efforts to defend their contractual rights, the focus of the Save the Tower Demonstration Committee is to press the City of Fresno to take action to protect Tower District businesses and the historical and cultural uniqueness of the neighborhood.

Alicia Rodriguez, an organizer with the Save the Tower Theatre Demonstration Committee, speaks to the protest on June 6. Photo by Peter Maiden

“We continue to demand that the city enforce the existing zoning at the Tower Theatre, and we are heartened by reports that the city is seriously considering acquiring the theater through eminent domain,” Parish said.

“Most cities in the United States somehow manage to preserve and protect their historical cultural monuments. It would be shameful if Fresno stands by helplessly while the Tower District is destroyed.

“Laurence Abbate’s property rights do not extend to threatening the business of his neighbors, and that’s exactly what zoning laws are supposed to prevent.”

Tower District residents have demonstrated outside the Tower Theatre every Sunday since Jan. 10, after residents learned of Tower Theatre owner Abbate’s plans to sell the historic theater to the conservative Adventure Church.

Tower residents say the sale threatens the zoning of the Tower District’s main commercial strip on Olive Avenue and the neighborhood’s gay-friendly, arts-oriented culture and nightlife.

In January, the City of Fresno formally notified Abbate and the Adventure Church that the Tower Theatre is not zoned for public or religious assembly. The Save the Tower Theatre Demonstration Committee says that rezoning the theater as a church will threaten the liquor licenses and conditional-use permits of the surrounding bars and nightclubs.

On June 6, the first demonstration during Pride Month took place in front of the Tower Theater. The action was called by queer advocacy organizations, including the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission LGBTQ+ Resource Center, Fresno Spectrum Center, Trans-E-Motion and Reel Pride, addressing how the sale of the Tower Theatre to Adventure Church threatens Fresno’s queer community.

Protesters at the Pride-themed demonstration at the Tower Theatre on June 6. Photo by Peter Maiden

San Joaquin Valley LGBTQIA advocates noted that the conservative, non-queer-affirming Adventure Church is a poor cultural fit for the Tower District, which gay people throughout the Valley view as a safe space, especially for queer youth.

Gay rights organizations have defined a gay-affirming church as a church that explicitly recognizes the equality of gay people, puts gay church members in leadership positions and performs same-sex wedding ceremonies. The Adventure Church’s parent denomination, the Foursquare Church, views homosexuality as a sin and does not believe in marriage equality.

“The Tower District is a community of open, accepting neighbors who welcome people of all thoughts and beliefs,” said James Martinez, a Tower District resident and a trustee on the Fresno Board of Education.

“The Tower District has been historically and continues to be a symbol of diversity and an icon of inclusion and hope to the LGBTQ2+ community. Any fundamental change to the use of the theater the district is named for is a threat to our way of life.”

When asked if his church is gay-affirming, Adventure Church Pastor Anthony Flores has refused to answer. In a YouTube video to his congregation, Flores said the Adventure Church plans to give a “redemptive lift” to the Tower District—a phrase many gay Tower residents have found homophobic.