To some, Fresno’s futuristic new City Hall resembles a spaceship about to soar off on an exciting adventure into the unknown.
The gleaming stainless steel and tinted glass structure slanting upward to form two peaks reminds a few folks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range only a few miles east.
To others, it looks like a pair of breasts.
“We’ve heard it described as anything from Twin Peaks to Madonna’s bra to a half-opened tuna can, as one man called it,” says Ron Primavera, the deputy city manager in charge of the project.
The design by architect Arthur Erickson does indicate a woman’s shape, says head architect William E. Patnaude.
“It’s kind of a female form, I think,” Patnaude said. “Arthur does a lot of buildings that come off the human form.”
But the comparison to a spaceship also seems valid. That concept extends inside to the council chambers where there’s enough electronic gadgets to fascinate the crew of the Starship Enterprise.
Video screens at each council seat let members in comfortable armchairs study everything from technical staff reports to homemade videotapes of chuckholes while the audience watches on a large screen overhead. Council members can electronically signal a desire to comment, making it easier for Mayor Karen Humphrey to call speakers in turn.
“I feel like Capt. Kirk once in a while, even though I don’t have as many gizmos,” Humphrey says. “I’d like to have the council follow orders like the Enterprise crew does Capt. Kirk, but the council doesn’t work like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.”
Whatever one thinks it looks like, the new City Hall seems certain to revise the image of this Central California community as simply a center of agribusiness. In fact, Fresno has become one of the nation’s fastest-growing large cities, home to 385,000 people at last count.
Those residents were invited to tour the five-story structure following a dedication on Presidents’ Day.
With 201,750 square feet, the $34-million building contains enough space for 635 employees, about 150 more than moved there from six scattered locations last month. They toil in modular units that can be rearranged as the work force climbs toward its capacity.
Patnaude thinks it is unlikely that any other buildings in the nation have quite the same sweeping design as Fresno’s City Hall.
“It’s certainly a nonconformist building, much different than anything else I know that’s being built,” he says.
The mayor says a modernistic design was chosen “to make a statement of which the community could be proud.”
She sees the finished result as part of “a unified downtown” that “will be something people who visit Fresno will want to go see.”
But some citizens criticize the eye-grabbing design, while others dislike the eye-irritating glare when the sun hits two acres of stainless steel siding at the wrong angle.
“Why anyone would want to take credit for Fresno’s blinding eyesore, City Hall, is beyond me,” Joe Thompson says in a letter to the Fresno Bee.
But Patnaude is happy to take credit for what he thinks can change this city’s image much as the Transamerica Pyramid did two decades ago for San Francisco, located 200 miles northwest.
“People hated the Transamerica tower,” Patnaude recalls. “You can’t see a picture of San Francisco now without that building in it.”
Patnaude feels the new City Hall “has somewhat of that character. It’s going to be the symbol of Fresno.”