About Fresno Greeks
A Short Informative on the Greek Community of Fresno
– Compiled by Chris E. Rockas, Esq.
At the turn of the 20th Century, the first Greek immigrants began to arrive in the dusty little town of Fresno. They were mostly single men – young men with aspirations. As time passed, wives and soon-to-be brides began arriving from Greece. Soon there were families of Hellenic Americans. These few formed the nucleus of the Fresno Greek Community. By 1910, these enterprising immigrants had a flourishing little business district on the West Side of Fresno. As the community grew, there became a dire need for the establishment of a church. To the Greek, the hub of his existence, they say, is the Church.
On May 9, 1923, the leaders of the settlement, forty-five strong, held their first meeting. The papers of incorporation were drawn and submitted to the California Secretary of State, and the Archdiocese in New York City for approval. The Greek Community now officially existed. Anastasios Pinoris, a local clothing merchant, was elected the first president. On Nov 27 of the same year, the local communicants celebrated their first Divine Liturgy at the Armenian Apostolic Church on Ventura and M Streets officiated by a visiting priest from San Francisco.
Almost a year after that first Liturgy, on August 14, 1924, Rev. Father Michael Mandillas arrived to assume his duties as the Community’s first priest. He was very proud. A week later, the Board of Trustees assembled in the home of their treasurer, Gus Spiropulos, to discuss plans for the construction of a church. A site at 740 Fresno Street was decided upon, purchased, and constructed for the allotted sum of $5,000 dollars.
Immediately, fundraising began up and down the San Joaquin Valley. Hardly a Greek lived in this area who didn’t contribute; from the railroad men in Tehachapi, to the lumbermen in Merced Falls, the farm workers who lived between, and the businessmen of Fresno. On October 27, 1924, St. George’s, a small, white stucco church on the West Side was complete.
In 1926, the women of the Community formed the “Athena Society.” Through the years this active group has worked ceaselessly for the spiritual and financial betterment of the Greek Community. During 1927, chapters of AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) and the GAPA (Greek American Progressive Association) were established. These two organizations continue to devote their efforts for the betterment of Hellenic education across our area.
After years of overcrowding in the old church, the Community purchased five acres of land on North Orchard in East Fresno in 1953. On May 9, 1954, the ground breaking for a new St. George took place on this site. His Grace Athenagoras Kokinakis, Bishop of North and South America (later, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople) officiated this momentous occasion that was witnessed by numerous religious and civic dignitaries. For the next seven months the Fresno Community pushed feverously towards the fulfillment of its dream; the completion of a new, improved, and permanent St. George. This current Church was consecrated on Sunday, November 22, 1959, and the ceiling decorations were finally finished in 2016.
Since that time, both the Greek Community and its Church have grown precipitously as has our now annual Greek Food Festival, held the last full weekend every August. It is not uncommon for over 25,000 of our friends from throughout the San Joaquin Valley to gather together to celebrate our cherished heritage. It is thanks to these people who have made our Festivals so wildly popular and successful that we continue them to this very day.
In the meantime, St. George Greek Orthodox Church has become one of the most ethnically diverse congregations in the Valley. The ethnic make-up of the community includes Lebanese, Egyptians, Syrians, Italians, Eritreans, Indians, Romanians, Hungarians, Ukranians, East Asians, Russians, Armenians, Spanish, Serbians, Hispanics, and, of course, Greeks.
So, to that, thanks for reading this little story, and be sure to stop by and see us the last full weekend of August. Have a glass of wine, stay for some food and dancing, and see old friends that you would never think you’d meet up with. OPA!