A Beacon for the Arts

Story By: Frank Lopez

Upon entering the great French doors into the main lobby of the theater, one is transported back to the time of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Opened in 1939 as a Fox Theater, the Tower Theater is Fresno’s first cineplex and one of the few old fashioned movie houses left in California, making it one of the most culturally important landmarks in Fresno. With the architectural presence of the art deco style from the 1930s, it is hard to miss the sight of the theater with its neon bathed tower acting as a pedestal for their landmark flashing globe.

Resting upon the corner of N. Wishon and E. Olive, the cineplex is the epicenter of the bustling Tower District. The auditorium, capable of comfortably seating 900 people, is embellished with circular murals adorned by aluminum sculpted sconces that are illuminated by black light, giving off a glow to set a mood of mystery.

Tower Theater is home to Fresno FilmWorks (FFW), an organization dedicated to bringing independent and foreign films that are not normally seen by mainstream audiences.

Placed on a street with a number of establishments dedicated to the arts, such as galleries, restaurants and music clubs, the cineplex is a perfect venue for presenting art in the medium of film. Plans for organizing FFW began in May 2001, by local film teachers and enthusiasts, with its first film screening in March of 2002. The first few films were hosted at the Fresno Museum of Art, but the home for FFW eventually became The Tower Theater. Being a larger venue it is more appropriate for presenting films.

John Moses, a Fresno City College film studies teacher and one of the founders of FFW, said its purpose is, “To expand the film offerings for Fresno.” The films showcased are recent independent films that are an alternative to high budget Hollywood productions.

Films are presented the second Friday of every month, making Tower Theater a reliable source for locals who would like a continuing supply of films. FFW also hosts an annual film festival in the beginning of April. Any filmmaker or director is invited to present a film of any genre that will provoke thought in an audience eager for an alternative type of film.

“Fresno FilmWorks enriches the cultural arts of the city.”, said Moses. The Tower Theater is home to a screen that is meant as a canvas for artistic expression with the medium being light and sound.

Lauren Kelly, an audience member of a recent presentation of FFW, says “It definitely gives multiple different social groups the opportunities to see things that aren’t necessarily accessible in Fresno County.”

If Tower District is the cultural center of Fresno, then Tower Theater is certainly the heart of it. As a city fortunate enough to have a location for viewing various films by different filmmakers from any part of the world, we must preserve and support this action of bringing culture to the Fresno Community. FFW is one of Fresno’s few sources for watching films from people all over the world, and also a place where local artists can present their work to their community and get feedback from it. With community involvement, this monument to film will be around for future generations of Fresno locals to be able to enjoy and use for their own artistic endeavors.