Story By Lisa McEwen Photos by MK Fresno Photo
raveling on Highway 99, one glance to the east and it’s hard to miss the Pacific Southwest Building as it soars over the downtown Fresno skyline.
Its masculine Neo-Classical facade anchors the city’s urban core and signals to passersby that a varied mix of shops, restaurants, residents and nightlife of downtown Fresno is not far away.
At 16 stories, the Pacific Southwest Building on Fulton Street is said to be the tallest building between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and was constructed nearly 100 years ago.
The concrete-encased steel structure was one of the most technologically advanced of the era and purportedly was the most expensive to build when it welcomed the public through its doors in 1925.
Today, thoughtful investment by Beverly Hills-based brothers Sevak, Hrayr and Serko Khatchadourian, who completed a total upgrade of the building’s core in 2011, allows occupants to revel in the building’s glory, grateful to call the structure that earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places home.
One such tenant is Steve Walker, a Visalia native who now lives in a loft on the 10th floor. He enjoys unobstructed, expansive views of a large swath of the city, from Selland Arena to Grizzlies Stadium, and perhaps one day at due west, California’s High Speed Rail line.
While the loft’s industrial aesthetic and proximity to the area’s restaurants and entertainment venues are certainly a draw, what attracts him most is what the loft is missing.
“When I leave, all I have to remember is to close the door behind me,” said Walker, a firefighter who has lived in Fresno and commuted to Visalia for three years. “There is very little
maintenance. I see value in keeping it simple because that has helped me be more intentional with my time and who I spend it with. I have time for the small stuff, to call my mom or have lunch with a friend.”
During a recent tour, Walker met Lifestyle Magazine on the sidewalk just outside the skyscraper’s entrance. A coded keycard made for quick, secure entry to a lobby area with marble floors and deep red mahogany woodwork. The sounds of street traffic quickly disappeared and, soon, a restored elevator with a posh interior rattled its way up to the 10th floor. As the doors opened, a bright white hallway led to a nondescript door and, with another swipe, Walker entered his loft.
“I describe my decorating style as ‘bachelor,’” Walker said with a laugh. To the left and out of a direct line of sight is a pantry of sorts, filled with tubs of sports gear. A chalkboard reveals hash marks in two columns: Skiing and Surfing.
Part of the reason why Walker keeps maintenance to a minimum is to give himself more time, a precious resource.
“Living like this gives me more margin,” he said. “I wake up and ask myself, ‘Am I studying today, or am I skiing today?’”
His annual goal is 30 days of each. And when he’s not outdoors, he’s completing coursework for a hybrid master’s of public administration program through Cal State Long Beach.
“Time is scarce,” Walker said. “You should spend it doing what you love.”
At 1,075 square feet, the loft feels spacious. An open floor plan gives immediate views of the gourmet kitchen, dining table and living area with a fireplace. A “bedroom” allows Walker to rest after his 24-hour shifts, where he can view the night sky out the bank of windows that line the west wall.
Exposed brick provides a warm ambience despite the concrete floor, while the view outside draws the eye for further examination.
“I tend to forget the novelty of living here until my friends come over,” Walker said. “They get so excited when they see the (Fresno) Grizzlies stadium, and it reminds me how lucky I am to live here.”
One of the highlights includes getting a bird’s-eye view of the weekly fireworks shows launched every Friday during baseball season.
And not many folks can say they live in a building that houses its own bar.
One of the latest players to the up-and-coming downtown Fresno scene is Quail State Fresno, the city’s first and only rooftop bar and lounge, conveniently located in the building.
The Pacific Southwest Building is an example of the mixed-use zoning that is popular in urban centers and brings new residents, patrons and businesses to city cores. In Fresno, a combination of investment by the city and private interests has resulted in a renewed interest in the area. The re-opening of the Fulton Mall and new lofts in historic buildings such as the Helm Building, just across the street from the Pacific Southwest, is helping to energize and give downtown Fresno a much-needed rebirth.
For the Pacific Southwest Building, the owners went to great lengths to preserve and enhance the building’s unique and elegant design while providing state-of-the-art amenities for today’s tenants.
In addition to housing tenants on four floors, Quail State Fresno and a petite but très chic La Boulangerie in the building’s first-floor vault, the structure also features a collaborative workspace, traditional offices and a ballroom for special events, weddings and conferences. Mayor Jerry Dyer held his election night party in the building, Walker said.
It is also known as the Security Bank Building, but its original name was the Pacific Southwest Trust and Savings Bank. Fresno banker William Sutherland was instrumental in the planning and construction of the building and, in 1925, as president of the bank, moved its offices there.
Walker, a Mt. Whitney High School graduate, spent much of his childhood in New York and San Diego, and enjoys the energy of city life.
“I have been able to witness more mouthwatering sunsets here. I often pull up a chair, pray at the window and reflect on the week while the sun goes down.”
“I have always been attracted to the city feel,” Walker said. “I see the value in having a large home or space out in the country. But for me, I like to have options.”
A lot of those options revolve around the many restaurants and nightlife venues that the area offers. Downtown’s Brewery District, featuring Tioga-Sequoia Brewery and Full Circle Brewing, is just a few blocks away, as is a new bar called The Modernist.
“They have brought a big-city feel to the bar,” Walker said, and, along with Quail State, likely serve the best cocktails in the San Joaquin Valley.
The various cuisines represented in the area make dining out fun. Some of his other favorite spots include Fulton Street Coffee for a café con leche; Toshikos Japanese; Libelula, a breakfast and brunch spot; the Cosmopolitan for Italian-inspired dishes, and Shepherd’s Inn for Basque specialties.
Life in downtown Fresno, and specifically the Pacific Southwest Building, shares traits with conventional neighborhoods. Walker said most of his neighbors are couples or families with young children, but rather than chatting on the front lawn, they chat in the elevator or at holiday mixers that bring all four floors together. The building even has its original postal drop box in the lobby, where mail is collected each day at 3:15 p.m.
And rather than lugging in bulk groceries, residents keep packages to a minimum while parking in an underground garage and taking the elevator.
“There are no Costco runs here,” Walker said with a laugh. Especially for this bachelor, who prefers quick stops at Trader Joe’s when he’s eating at home.
After dinner, Walker said he relishes the evening hours.
“I have been able to witness more mouthwatering sunsets here,” he said. “I often pull up a chair, pray at the window and reflect on the week while the sun goes down. Simplicity is a biblical thing, if you value that. If I plant all the right seeds, God will provide the harvest.”