Save Fresno’s Bel-Tower!
We thought we’d pass along this letter from Garth Clifton in Fresno, CA, in hopes that you’ll lend some support and spread the world. Up the punx!
Hello, I am writing this letter to bring to the attention of the worldwide DIY community something that has affected everyone in my hometown’s scene immensely. On Friday February 3rd, 2012, the local venue I volunteer at, The Bel-Tower, in Fresno, California, had one of our largest shows on record: a one-dollar show featuring the best up and coming local bands from all over Central California, called Doll Hair Fest. It was part of a series of shows that was started by two brothers who wanted to bring more people into the local scene and was a huge success that everybody in town was talking about. We produced a video interviewing staff, band members, promoters and show goers as part of a fundraising campaign on IndieGoGo to bring attention to our venue and what we have done for the community. This very same night the Fresno PD showed up with three officers. One was specifically assigned by the Fresno PD to monitor, watch, and make it his life to get the Bel-Tower shut down. After finding no alcohol or illegal activity they resorted to shutting down the show because we do not have any permits or a business license.
The week before, we had been contacted by the Fresno Fire Department about getting inspected to bring our building up to code. The same day we received this news a local musician, promoter and friend was killed in a tragic automobile accident in her hometown of Hanford, just south of Fresno. Her name was Ariel Gieseman and she was only 21 years old. We had scheduled a benefit show for her and now that is in jeopardy as well. She was a huge member of our community and loved the Bel-Tower and like all of us it was a second home to her. This tragedy served to bring everyone in the local scene much closer together.
It seems like it has been one thing after another these past couple of weeks and we have no idea what the future holds. But we have been doing everything we can do to save our home. The venue is on the corner of Belmont Ave and Weber Ave in the southern part of Fresno. This area has been neglected for decades. Around the corner from us is a hotel where child prostitution, drugs, murder and all sorts of illegal and horrific activities have taken place for years and the police have instead turned their attention to a place that has done a positive thing for the community and been a safe place for at-risk youth in our community to go and have a place to express themselves and enjoy the best in local live music. We have hosted touring bands from all corners of the earth and these bands have had nothing but amazing things to say about us and what we do. We are entirely run by members of the local scene and have been in business since October of 2010 without a problem. What started out as a glorified party house that was filled with drugs, alcohol and destruction has grown and changed to become a safe place for everybody to go and watch their favorite bands, touring and local. Since it opened its doors, the Bel Tower has been a catalyst for revitalization of the Belmont area, which politicians have attempted to do with the entire southern part of town for years through attempting to bring in corporate investment and big box stores and other projects which have always been funded by big money and have always failed. Our small hole-in-the-wall punk rock club has done more for this city than millions of dollars that have been wasted on shitty projects that never get off the ground and only serve to line the pockets of the developers who run the city council. The Bel-Tower, along with the two other DIY venues in Fresno, Chinatown Youth Center and CAFE Info Shop have been offering great things for the youth of the southern half of Fresno which has been neglected, mistreated, and in general tormented by the police, city government and big business. We are helping to bring back a forgotten part of our city and you can see it in the streets, you can hear it in the voices of the owners of the surrounding local business owners. The entire town was against us, ask somebody on the street about the Bel-Tower and the response is usually “oh you cant drink there why would anybody want to play there?” or “yeah I’ve heard of that place, its a hole in the wall in a seedy part of town.” Yet nobody who actually goes there ever has a complaint. When they actually see what we are doing here they can see it in the spirits of everybody involved that this is truly a special place. There is a distinct “Bel Tower culture” that permeates every aspect of everybody who spends their time there. There is truly a distinct “Bel Tower sound” that comes through in all of the bands that call this place their home. We love our venue with all our hearts and it is the only place that keeps most of us sober, off the streets or just plain keeps us sane. For me personally it is literally one of the only things keeping me alive and has turned my life around in ways I cannot explain.
We are in danger of losing this place forever and lack the funds and support to become compliant with the city on our own. We have cancelled or moved all of our upcoming shows until further notice and are holding benefit shows at the other DIY venues in Fresno which have shown us considerable support. We have been circulating an online petition for everybody to sign and within one day we got over 350 signatures. Pretty impressive for a venue that holds maximum of 150 people. The petition can be found at: http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/savebeltowerfresno I am urging all MRR readers to go sign it for us, and if anybody has anything they can do to help us, be it sending us new zines for our zine library, cash donations, legal advice, connections to anybody who could help us, or just in general kind words of moral support and encouragement it would be greatly appreciated. The video we have produced can be seen above. We urge everyone who has access to the internet to please share this with everybody you know. We feel like it is truly us against the world. We are in a forgotten part of town in a forgotten region of California that has suffered greater from the economic downturn than any other region in the United States. The Bel Tower is truly all some of us have to call our own. We are reaching out to anybody who can hear our voice.
We at the Bel-Tower say “Bury me on Belmont & Weber,” and we mean that. If this place dies, we die with it. We are fighting this until the last man. Even if they take us out in handcuffs we will return. We just need as much help as we can get and personally, I would like to show to the people of Fresno, who culturally are predisposed to defeatism and being easily discouraged, that we are loved and respected by the DIY punk community worldwide.