Hotel Fresno was already boarded up and slipping from the public consciousness when Chris Rocha was born in the late 1980s. But early in his life, Rocha was drawn to old architecture. So, when he found himself drawn to a decaying hunk of concrete and steel just off the Fulton Mall a few years ago, Rocha did what any millennial would do: he turned to the internet. And so began his journey to SAVE Hotel Fresno, one artifact at a time.
Using sites like eBay, Rocha has collected roughly 30 artifacts over the past 3 years. Things like matchbooks, postcards, silverware and dishes comprise the majority of his collection; A ladle from the year the hotel opened, 1913, is one of Rocha’s most treasured pieces. The collection, which had been housed in the foyer of the mayor’s office at city hall, was recently moved to the Fresno County Historical Museum at The Big Fresno Fair Grounds. It’s a move Rocha was excited about because it will allow more people to check out the items he’d collected. For Rocha, sharing his Hotel Fresno treasures with others is as important as the hunt to find them.
And people are sharing with Rocha in return. Sharing more items from the hotel they’ve had tucked away for years, sharing photos and sharing memories. And as Rocha’s collection grows, so does his excitement about a likely renovation of the hotel he loves so much. In June, the California Strategic Growth Council awarded a $4.8 million grant to APEC International LLC, a Los Angeles-based developer that purchased the hotel in 2014. The plan is to turn it into residential apartment units.
When it reopens, as Rocha is hopeful it will, he hopes the butter dishes, spoons and gravy boats will be brought back to their rightful home at the Hotel Fresno. And the legacy of the hotel’s first one hundred years will set the stage for the next hundred.
Here, Rocha gives us a Hotel Fresno history lesson, explains why he fell in love with the decaying landmark in the first place, and tells us about a phone call he received early one Saturday morning that had him hurrying down to get a glimpse of the hotel not seen by many these days.