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A Concise History of Sunnyside

Karen Musson

Sunnyside was the original settling place for many of Fresno’s Founding Fathers: Butler, Church, Easterby, Eisen, Roeding, Romain, Locan, Teague, and Kearney, names that remain prominent today as the names of Fresno’s streets, schools, and parks. Sunnyside’s rich history began in 1868 with the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad and the San Joaquin Valley Land Association. Sunnyside’s soil and climate were well suited for agriculture but without an ample water supply there were no crops for commercial market. Then in 1872, Moses J. Church devised an irrigation plan to divert water from the Kings River. Church converted A. J. Easterby’s “Banner Ranch” at Kings Canyon Road and Peach Avenue into a garden spot. This “miracle in the desert” -Sunnyside – attracted the attention of Leland Stanford visiting Fresno. Stanford, in seeing the Easterby Ranch decided to locate the Fresno Railroad Station and the town of Fresno in sight of Sunnyside (6 miles away) rather than along the San Joaquin River as originally planned.

Raisin vineyard

Sunnyside played an important part in Fresno’s history. It was Sunnyside’s green irrigated beauty that ultimately determined the location and development of downtown Fresno. It was also the birthplace of Fresno’s wine industry. Fresno County’s wine industry got its start in 1873 at Francis T. Elsen’s commercial vineyard on Fancher Creek at Kings Canyon Road and Clovis Avenues. His first vintage, reaped in 1875, eventually led him to build the Sunnyside Winery. With “Church Ditches” and the railroad, Sunnyside quickly became one of the leading wine growing districts of California. Today, the wine and grape industry plays a leading role in Fresno County’s economy producing $500 Million in sales in 1995.

Remarkably, the legacy of Sunnyside’s name was born in 1890 with William N. Oothout’s purchase of 560 acres from Frederick Roeding. Oothout’s ranch was located directly across the street from Eisen’s vineyard at Kings Canyon Road and Clovis Avenues. The first Thompson seedless grapes in the Fresno area were planted here by Oothout and closely guarded to prevent others from getting cuttings. The ranch was named the Sunnyside Vineyard by Oothout. This is thought to be the origin of the name Sunnyside.

Sunnyside was very different from the rest of rural Fresno. Here flowed great wealth, mostly from San Francisco. In 1911, a group of Fresnans, including George C. Roeding, C.C. Teague and Frank Romain, bought a portion of the old Sunnyside Vineyard and the Oothout’s colonial home for a golf course. The club perpetuated the name of the historic ranch from which its purchase had been made and took the name Sunnyside Golf and Country Club. The Oothout home was used as the clubhouse until it was destroyed by a fire in 1941. The Sunnyside Golf & Country Club is the oldest golf club in California.


Among the well-known early ranches in Sunnyside were those of Minna Eshleman Sherman, M. Theo Kearney, Frederick Roeding and son George C. Roeding. Minna Eshleman started with the purchase of 480 acres in 1886 from the Henrietta Vineyard Company at Minnewawa and California Avenues. Her “Minnewawa Ranch” was named from Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha. It was the first ranch in Fresno County to be developed by a woman. Minna was an educator, a business woman, a breeder, a farmer, a packer and a shipper. Her extensive work to improve agricultural standards, educate breeders and farmers, and keen business ideas were important contributions to Fresno’s history and California agriculture. Governor Hiram W. Johnson appointed her a regent of the University of California for her work. Her original home still graces the Minnewawa Ranch at the end of the beautiful tree lined road of Minnewawa Avenue.

The site of today’s Sunnyside High School was formerly the site of the Fresno Winery (a.k.a. Pacific Coast Winery). The winery was established in 1880-81 by M. Theo Kearney. Sunnyside was a lush and green spot in an otherwise forsaken and sparse area. Kearney realized the value of Sunnyside’s tree-lined roads and irrigation canals; he was the first important property developer in the area to buy and sub-divide Sunnyside property into smaller parcels. The original Kearney home was located on the site now occupied by the Elks Lodge on Kings Canyon Road. The palm trees lining the street between Willow and Peach were planted by Kearney over 100 years ago.

The Sunnyside Elementary School was open for only a short time in 1969 in the old one-room school house previously occupied by Easterby School. It was located between Peach and Minnewawa directly across Kings Canyon Road from Sunnyside High School. The Easterby School is now located on Tulare at Peach Avenue.

George C. Roeding, unlike his father, was fascinated with growing things. In 1885, he came to work and eventually own his father’s Fancher Creek Nursery (a.k.a. Roeding California Nursery) between Kings Canyon, Belmont, Fowler and Temperance Avenues developing it into an international horticultural business. Roeding, a leading California nurseryman and fruit grower, developed the Calimyra fig at Roeding Place. Roeding Place was destroyed by an electrical fire in 1917 and Roeding returned to the Bay Area. The few remains of the imposing home can still be found at the end of the palm tree lined drive at Kings Canyon Road and Armstrong Avenue on the Golden Dawn Ranch.

Today, the name Sunnyside is adopted by many enterprises and is applied to a broad and growing area; but, its “roots” actually date back to 1890 – over a hundred years ago – to W. N. Oothout’s “Sunnyside Vineyard”.

Sunnyside has a proud history and a bright future. Today, it remains one of Fresno’s finest communities with beautiful tree-lined streets and garden landscapes.

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