The Legacy of Old Town Clovis is What Some May Say Started The “Clovis Way of Life”

Photo taken next to Sassano’s Mens Wear looking south towards Fifth and Pollasky in Old Town Clovis. (CR Photo)

In 1890, the City of Clovis began as a freight stop along the San Joaquin Valley Railroad by Fresno businessmen Thomas E. Hughes, Fulton Berry, Gilbert R. Osmun, H.D. Colson, John D. Gray, and William M. Williams, in partnership with Michigan railroad speculator Marcus Pollasky.

The railroad began in the summer of 1891 and reached the farmlands of Clovis M. Cole and George Owen by late fall of that year.

The railroad was then purchased by both farmers directly in half. The east side from Cole and the west side from Owen where the railroad tracks ran up the borderline between the two properties.

The railroad established a station on the west side of the tracks and decided to name it “Clovis.” after Clovis Cole, the owner of the west side property line.

Clovis was incorporated as a city in February 1912.

Principal streets in the town center were named for the railroad’s officers. Fulton Street was later named Front Street, then Main Street, and is now Clovis Avenue.

Clovis has a long history as a western town known for its slogan, “Clovis – A Way of Life”.

Old Town Clovis was not always what it looks like now with an abundance of shops, cafes and bars for everyone to enjoy.

Old Town Clovis was a work in progress that took decades of hard work and support from city workers and business owners to make Old Town what you see today.

Old Town Clovis was nearly 50% vacant for 20 years in the early stages of 1960. It was not a place where locals and tourists gravitated towards at all.

However, many property owners came together and wanted Old Town to have a cowboy theme that would draw people in and bring in business to the community.

Old Town’s first stores were antique shops and by 1970, there were advertisements on Highway 99 letting people know what has changed in the sleeper town.

Eventually within time and lots of convincing, construction began with adding street lamps at the visitor center, improving roads, landscaping and the sidewalks.

There is a plaque on Pollasky Avenue that mentions those who worked on revitalizing Old Town. Those names include several recognizable Clovis families, like Sassano, Osterburg and Liberta.

Since 1914, the Clovis Rodeo has been held on the last weekend in April, with a parade on Saturday morning, followed by the rodeo that afternoon and all day Sunday.

Joan Lassley’s family is a ranching family that has been a major asset to the establishment of Clovis. Lassley has been a member of the Clovis Rodeo Association since 1989, and was elected to the board in 2010 and later elected Treasurer in 2012.

Lassley moved to Clovis when she was 10 years old and is a 1966 graduate of Clovis High School. She grew up living on 40 acres across from Clovis East where there are now 286 houses on that property.

“Clovis is a way of life for me because of the welcoming of the community as a whole and how everyone takes care of those around them…from rodeo, church, schools, festivals, events and our Police department,” Lassley said.

Lassley’s continuous involvement in the Clovis community is a representation of one of many who’s hard work and hands on involvement makes the city a safe, enjoyable and successful place that many get the privilege of calling home.

“I love community service so  I started a Kiwaniianns group in the 80’s when women were not allowed in the Clovis Kiwanis. I also worked for San Joaquin College of Law from 1991 until 2014,” said Lassley, “Then I was elected to the Clovis Veterans Memorial District from 1996 to 2006. Since retirement I have served as a caregiver for family members.”

The legacy of Old Town Clovis has many contributing assets to the Clovis Way of Life like street festivals, including Big Hat Days, ClovisFest, the Wine Walk, Clovis Rodeo and the weekly Friday Night Farmers Market held between mid-May and mid-September every year.

Cora Shipley is what many refer to as a Clovis icon. Shipley moved to Clovis in 1970 and nearly 20 years later the Old Town Clovis farmer’s market first began.

Shipley set up a small booth serving food and told herself that if she ever opened up a business, it would be in Old Town Clovis.

Since 1990, Shipley has been the owner of three popular Old Town Clovis businesses: Ivy & Lace, Hearts Delight, and Scoops Soups & More. Shiply currently serves as president of the Business Organization of Old Town (B.O.O.T.).

“Old Town is special because of the merchants, our Chamber of Commerce, and B.O.O.T., when we started 35 years ago it was always to keep the Clovis Way of Life,” said Shipley, “To me that is a flashback in time, neighbors knowing neighbors, customers being known by name, a friendly and personable atmosphere and preserving the old fashion way of doing business.”

With generations and generations of families that reside in the City of Clovis, Old Town is a special place where history was started.

The oldest family business in Clovis started in 1932, just 20 years after the city was officially established. That business is Sassano’s Men’s Wear that is still in business today.

However, Sassano’s Men’s Wear closed down in August 1931 due to the depression but reopened in February 1932. Greg Sassano graduated from Clovis High School in 1976, and is the proud owner of Sassano’s.

Sassano pays a great deal of respect and gratitude to Bob Parks who was hired on Sassano’s fifth birthday.

“On August 3rd 1963 Bob’s father told him to go see Shorty at Sassano’s after school, that was the beginning of his career. Working part time for a while while finishing school, eventually becoming a full time job for the next 58 years. We would not still be in business if not for Bob. What a great person,” said Sassano.

When asked about the legacy of Old Town Clovis and what makes it special, Sassano said, “There’s a lot of core families here that welcome the new generations and the Clovis Way of life. It’s simple, feel safe, take care of your neighbors and be happy.”

Older buildings on Clovis Avenue, the main street running through Old Town, have been restored and new buildings have been established with exteriors that resemble those found in the early 20th century.

The historic area has been reborn as Old Town Clovis which is a prime example of the “Clovis Way of Life.”

Brooke is a senior at Fresno State double majoring in Communication and Media, Communications and Journalism with an emphasis in broadcast journalism. Brooke is a senior at Fresno State double majoring in Communication and Media, Communications and Journalism with an emphasis in broadcast journalism. Brooke has a passion for storytelling and community. Brooke has experience in print news working for Oakdale Leader and The Collegian, as well as broadcast news by doing Fresno State Focus TV. She is also a student member of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) and takes part in the Youth Advisory Council for ABC30. Brooke is currently focusing on multimedia journalism for the remainder of her time at Fresno State, before graduation in May 2022.