Visalia’s oldest home burns down

Fire burned two-story home at Court and Locust built by Michael Mooney, whose family donated the land to create Mooney Grove Park and namesake of Mooney Boulevard

VISALIA – Visalia and Tulare County lost a piece of history on Saturday when the oldest home in the city burned down in the middle of the night.

At around 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 9, the Visalia Fire Department responded to a report of a structure fire at the corner of Court Street and Laurel Avenue. Visalia Police officers were the first to arrive on scene and reported multiple homes in the area were being threatened by the fire burning in the vacant two-story home. When the first fire crews arrived on scene they found the home fully engulfed in flames. They began using a hose from the ladder truck to attack the fire from above and other large lines to protect surrounding homes.

The two-story house was a complete loss, a second home was badly damaged by the fire resulting in $100,000 of damage and a third home had minor damage.

The three-alarm fire stretched the resources of the Visalia Fire Department which responded with all available apparatus including five engines, two trucks, an off-duty battalion chief, the duty chief, and the fire chief. In total, the Visalia Fire Department responded with 24 personnel. Tulare County Fire added five firefighters, a battalion chief and two engines and assisted in locating additional resources. Farmersville Fire responded with two firefighters and a ladder truck while the city of Tulare provided station coverage as units battled the blaze.

Fire crews were on scene for about four hours before extinguishing the fire. The cause of the fire is currently being investigated.

Walter Diessler, a retired architect and chair of the city’s Historic Preservation Advisory Committee, said he was saddened by the loss of the home at 807 South Court Street, which is likely the first home built in Visalia and the oldest home left standing before the fire.

“We lost a real landmark when the burned down in the night,” said Diessler, who is currently spearheading an effort to survey and protect the city’s oldest homes.

Michael Mooney, father of Hugh Mooney for whom Mooney Boulevard and Mooney Grove Park are named, built the home in 1875, before any of the historic homes on Encina Street, considered the oldest block in the city. At the time of his passing, the elder Mooney owned all of the land on Court Street between Tulare and Cypress.

The house was also home to Mooney’s brewery. Prior to purchasing the oak grove, Mooney was a prospector who had spent several years in the mountains brewing beer for the miners. In 1869 he moved to town and established Visalia’s first brewery at the corner of Main and Garden streets where he brewed ale and porter, according to a notice published in the Visalia Delta newspaper in April 1869 which read ““Have opened a brewery at Main and Garden. It is a good substitute for tea and coffee and just as cheap.” Mooney moved the brewery to his homestead on Court Street after he built the house in 1875. After Mooney’s death in 1881, Mooney’s children appointed John Tuohy, a prominent citizen, to help sell the grove to Tulare County so it could not only preserve the oak trees but also create a usable park for the locals.

Diessler said the area is zoned for offices, which could create a zoning issue, but also presents an opportunity. Diessler said he is hoping the property would be redeveloped into office space, similar to the way Center Street was in years past.

“This could be a rebirth of the area by redeveloping the neighborhood yet still retaining the history of the original structure,” Diessler said.

Transformer explosion

An underground transformer exploded on Oct. 8 causing a brief power outage in the area of Hillsdale and Aspen. When firefighters arrived the found flames and electrical arcing from an in-ground vault where the transformer had exploded. The flames were threatening an adjacent two-story doctor’s office so crews used foam to extinguish the electrical fire.

The transformer damaged one vehicle parked near the vault however no injuries resulted from this incident. The initial dispatch included three engines, two ladder trucks, one training officer, one battalion chief with a total of 17 fire personnel on scene. Fire crews cleared the scene at about 10 a.m. and turned it over to Southern California Edison who restored the power.

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