How the Sale of a Beloved Landmark is Impacting the Local LGBT+ Community

April+11%2C+2021+Tower+Theater+Protest.+

Photo by: Aroara Trimm

April 11, 2021 Tower Theater Protest.

Story By: Aroara Trimm, Entertainment Editor

The Tower District is home to a proud LGBT+ community and many local LGBT+ businesses, many of which will be impacted by the sale of the Tower Theater to Adventure Church. 

The theater first went up for sale in October of 2020 and in January of 2021 an offer of $6.5 million was put in by Adventure Church.

Since then, there have been many community efforts to stop the sale. 

Sequoia Brewing Company, who leases their building from the theater, filed for the sale to stop but the sale was let through by Fresno County Judge Rosemary T. McGuire in mid March, according to GVWire. 

However, Sequoia Brewing Company was not offered the first Right of Refusal, a clause in the agreement with the theater that would have the sale of the theater be offered to Sequoia Brewing before it hits the open market according to ABC30

In addition, there have been many petitions, some with thousands of signatures, going around. 

Protests outside of the theater on weekends have also become commonplace as local residents do what they can to make sure their voices are heard. 

Pride flags and signs asking the church to find a new spot cover the sidewalk in front of the building, while some of the congregation of Adventure Church stand further down, many not wearing masks and some people suspected of being affiliated with the Proud Boys, according to the Fresno Bee.

The Proud Boys are a white supremacy group founded in 2016 by Gavin McIness, who are best known for their “anti-muslim and mysogonistic rhetoric,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

At a protest across the street from the theater on April 11, the 14th week of protesting from the Tower residents, Proud Boys from all over the state came to protest the firing of Rick Fitzgerald, a former Fresno police officer who was fired for his association with the Proud Boys according to ABC30. 

The Fresno Police Department was not separating Proud Boys from the Tower protestors, up until the most recent protest on April 18.  As of the April 11 protest, a Proud Boy pushed a pregnant Tower protestor and was arrested. 

“It’s terrifying. it’s disheartening. At this point, regardless of how you want to identify them, they came on site today with tactical vests and came prepared in strategy to intimidate and cause fear and ultimately caused harm because there has been an arrest within for a Proud Boy. We’re also incredibly disheartened that Fresno police department is not intervening in a more tangible way,” said Kaitlyn Nichols, one of the organizers of the protest and part of the Save the Tower Theater Demonstration Committee, in response to the outpouring of Proud Boys at the April 11 protest.  

However, it’s not just Adventure Church’s views and the people they bring with them that the community is worried about, it is also about potential rezoning possibilities, according to businesses surrounding the church. 

The church must be rezoned for use in that area, meaning the theater would receive a new classification with the city and a different set of restrictions that will affect both it and the businesses surrounding it. 

Adventure Church states they have no intention of rezoning, but the decision is up to the city, according to Your Central Valley. 

The problem comes from the California Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control that issues liquor licenses, as the “ABC may deny any retail license located (a) within the immediate vicinity of churches and hospitals,” according to its official website

With many restaurants, bars, and clubs in the immediate area surrounding the church, this could harm their ability to sell alcohol and as the district is known for its nightlife, this would hurt those businesses.  

The local LGBT+ community is also worried about what this could do to their community as a whole. 

Adventure Church claims they welcome the LGBT+ community to their services but does not recognize same sex marriages or ordain gay ministers, according to the LA Times.

FAB, a local gay bar down the street from the theater, would also be impacted by the rezoning as it would put their liquor license in jeopardy and potentially cause the bar to close. 

“It kind of sucks because I’m 20 right now. And when I turn 21 there’s a possibility that it’s not going to be there anymore. For that reason you know, I won’t get to experience what everyone before me has gotten to experience,” said Raul Chavez, a music major at FCC and a member of the LGBT+ community. 

Other LGBT members have stated that picking the theater seems like a pointed attack, as it’s a historical landmark in a very LGBT centric part of downtown. 

Especially since Mayor of Fresno, Jerry Dyer, tried to offer the church use of the Veteran’s Memorial Theater, much to the chagrin of the Children’s Musical Theater that already uses it, but was turned down by the church, according to Your Central Valley. 

“It’s at this point where it feels like it’s almost a targeted attack on us, because there’s so many other places that they could go around Fresno. But they chose this historical landmark,” said Olivia Boling, a 21 year old florist who works at a flower shop near the theater. 

The week of March 26, the lawyer for Sequoia Brewing Company filed an appeal to try and halt the sale once more. Further documentation was submitted by April 13 of this year by the attorney. 

However, the attorney of Laurance Abbate, owner of the Tower Theater, stated that since the sale was not finalized by March 31, 2021 the theater may be pulled from the market altogether, according to the Fresno Bee.  

“That would be the step in the right direction. That’s not the end of the story. I mean, it could be sold to another church, what we want is for it to be sold to, one; an organization is actually zoned for and for those that will look out for the surrounding businesses, cultural, and economic vitality,” said Nichols. 

Despite the struggles to save the theater, Save the Tower Theater Demonstration Committee organizer Haley White said it hasn’t been all bad. 

“It’s kind of renewed my faith and a lot of our faiths in how special and unique the Tower is, and united a bunch of us. And we’ve met a lot of new friends and created a lot of new allies and not just with individuals, but with businesses and a different organization, community organizations,” said White. “So ultimately, when you try to focus on like the beauty that’s been created out of it and seeing so many people from so many different walks of lives and beliefs come together to fight for a common cause. That’s been actually really awesome.”