Interior of historic Hardy’s Theatre demolished by a church, The Bee reports. That should ring alarm bells in the Tower District.

For those following the saga of whether the Tower Theatre should be sold to a church, here’s a must-read from The Bee’s Joshua Tehee:

Large parts of the interior of the 104-year-old Hardy’s Theatre, Fresno’s oldest, has been gutted by its new owner, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. The blatant, law-breaking destruction was discovered by Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias.

Josh writes:

The entire second level was removed — some 1,000 theater seats — to make space for living quarters, along with plaster from the walls and much of the original ornamental work. All that is left is the original stage …

… The city cited the building’s owner, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, for several code violations, including construction without a permit. The city is meeting this week to determine next steps, which could involve a work stoppage and additional fines.


There is also the possibility the city could require the church to rebuild parts that were destroyed, Arias says.

Are you angry? I am.

The damage is already done. Can the church be fined? Sure. It can afford it. (It’s run by a Brazilian billionaire, Edir Macedo, the Bee tells us.) But something tells me that church supporters will start bleating about “religious freedom” and resist restoring the interior.

The incident is yet another blemish on Joe Mathews of Zocalo Public Square, who in a recent statewide sloppy opinion column made the Hardy’s Theatre one of his two examples of how churches can be the key to preserving historic theaters. He wrote:

In wise communities, churches and their neighbors look past their differences and focus on their shared interest in saving the old buildings. That’s what happened with two other Fresno theaters, Hardy’s and the Wilson, when churches moved in.

Query to Mathews: What do you think of trusting in churches as our architectural saviors now?

The Hardy’s incident should make everyone who wasn’t already firmly opposed to Adventure Church buying the Tower reconsider their positions.

Oh, and speaking of Zocalo: I still haven’t had any response to my emails, social-media posts and open columns to the Los Angeles-based organization about how it mishandled the problematic Mathews column all the way down the line, even after my most recent lambasting. It’s strange how a high-minded journalistic entity that says it examines “essential questions in an accessible, broad-minded, and democratic spirit” simply does not respond to multiple queries about its process for correcting errors and acknowledging sloppy information gathering. Something tells me that if I and my fellow irritated Fresnans were among the influential donors and board members listed on the website — without any contact information, of course — we’d get better treatment.

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (5)

  • Dan Waterhouse

    As I said on Miguel Arias’ Facebook post announcing the discovery of the havoc at Hardys: “Miguel, this is what happens when you don’t enforce zoning laws.”

  • Steph

    Thanks to Josh and Councilmember Arias. This is criminal. But god is on their side, right or wrong. Sometimes right. This time so wrong x two.

    Your column is spot-on. They say you can’t fight City Hall, but you REALLY can’t fight the well-financed church.


  • Jackie Ryle

    Thank you, Donald. I so appreciate you ethical approach to researching and sharing information. It’s fast becoming a lost art. Sadly, these large churches have their way on so many levels. Thanks for helping to expose and illuminate this set of issues. What is happening in the Hardy Theater is pure travesty

  • Deborah Giglio

    My father was the manager of the Hardy’s Theatre when I was a child. I can remember the beautiful interior very well. My Dad would be furious if he was still with us. I am furious for him.

  • David Felthous

    I remember going to the movies here in the early 1950s when I was a teen-ager. The theater was converted to CinemaScope but it didn’t have stereophonic sound, and the masking, instead of the usual black, had been salvaged from old red stage curtains. Really tacky.


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