Old Fresno Water Tower (Fresno, California)

The Old Fresno Water Tower
Photo by Andrew Ranta

Completed in November of 1894, the Old Fresno Water Tower, designed by Chicago architect George Washington Maher is a historic water tower listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One of Fresno’s most distinctive (and one of the few…) architectural symbols, the water tower was in use until 1963 when its pumping equipment was no longer powerful enough to meet the demands of the growing city.

Located at 2444 Fresno Street, at the Corner of O Street in downtown Fresno, California, the American Romanesque style tower stands 109 feet (33 m) tall and is constructed of red brick long since painted white. Constructed at a cost of $20,000, the 250,000 US gal (950,000 L) water storage tank has a 2-foot-thick (61 cm) inner wall and a 14-inch (36 cm) outer wall, separated by a 3-foot-wide (91 cm) space.

Maher was commissioned in 1891 to design a new water tower for Fresno, and drawing on his love for all things Chicago was influenced by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. During the Great Chicago Fire, the local library was destroyed, but since the water tower was virtually untouched it served as a temporary library. His original plans for the tower included a three story tower with space reserved for a library. Unfortunately his vision was never completely carried out and since the third story was never built, the second story ended up with a very high ceiling.

Having always been intended as a mixed use space, it almost seems fitting that the water tower would have a long life in the community after its original purpose was no longer needed. For many years the first floor was even used as a parking meter repair facility. In 2001, the tower was converted into the visitors’ center for the city and county of Fresno, and in 2014 the Fresno Art Council took over management of the water tower and the second floor was removed.

Interior of Water Tower
Interior photo of the Old Fresno Water Tower by Andrew Ranta

Added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 14, 1971, the Old Fresno Water Tower also has the distinction of being designated an American Water Landmark by the American Water Works Association in 1972.

Old Fresno Water Tower Facts

  • Geographic coordinates of the tower are 36.7391°N 119.7872°W.
  • The water tower ceased operation in 1963 and has served as a visitors’ center since 2001.
  • The original design called for a library and a third floor for the tower.
  • The water tower/visitors’ center now features an art gallery.
  • The roof is made of tile. While this may not be interesting to all people, it is indeed a fact about the water tower…
  • As part of the 2001 remodel, a landscaped plaza was added to the tower grounds.
  • Roughly halfway up the tower is a balcony decorated with elaborate iron corbels.
  • The tower is 109 feet (33 m) tall and had a water storage capacity of 250,000 US gal (950,000 L).
  • The Old Fresno Water Tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places on 14 October, 1971.