published on January 10, 2014 - 11:20 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

Robert M. Gurfield,

What we do: Own, manage Fulton Mall’s Kress Building and two adjacent properties

BS Civil Engineering, Swarthmore College
MS Operations Research, MIT
PhD Operations Research, UCLA

Age: 74
2 sons, and 2 granddaughters

What kind of restoration have you done on the KRESS building over the last few years, Robert?
Beginning in 1896, Samuel H Kress built hundreds of architecturally distinguished buildings around the country for his chain of 5-10-25¢ stores. The chain ceased operating in 1980. The Fresno store dates from the 1920s. In the 1950s the upper floors were closed off and the exterior sheathed hiding the Kress decor. The ground floor continued as a retail store. In 2010 I had that covering removed and restored the elaborate exterior.


What are your plans for the building now, Robert?
I intend to fill the upper floors of the Kress Building with new businesses. Each floor is 11,000 square feet. Possibilities include offices, retail, entertainment, education, fitness and restaurants. The building will have enhanced access and street entrances from Fulton Mall and the alley to the underground city parking. CONTACT ME with your ideas for its next life.

With the building’s original façade brought back to the surface, how does that old style of architecture fit in with the Fulton Mall today?
It’s a beautiful reminder of Fresno’s history made functional and economic for today’s user. It radiates a friendly, inviting warmth to all who walk by. On the ground floor the retailer Bluebird sells women’s fashions for value conscious shoppers.

Besides KRESS, what other Fresno area buildings have you worked on or own, Robert?
I own the adjacent building at 1130 Fulton containing All 4-U, a women’s clothing retailer and the corner building 1108 Fulton with Payless Shoes. On the Mariposa Mall side small restaurant spaces is a food court.
What are the main things that go into modernizing or retrofitting old buildings, Robert?
Location, Economics, Vision, Community cooperation.
I have an imaginative architect and contractor. Follow the building code requirements.  

What kinds of obstacles might you run into in that kind of work, Robert?
Delays for permits, financing and materials. Resolving the unknowns that reveal themselves only after beginning the work causes further delays.

What kind of Fulton Mall do you expect to see if city planners are successful in opening the walkway back up to traffic, Robert?
Over the next decade, a revitalized downtown will become the place to be, because of the thousands more daily employees, shoppers, tourists, travelers, vacationers, researchers, students, business people and residents coming there 24/7. Investors from all over the country will start new businesses. I envision new construction for modernization and replacement of obsolete buildings.

Think about the transition of Fresno from the time when the Eckbo-designed pedestrian mall was built 50 years ago, to what it has become today. In the 1960’s, Fresno had a population of 150,000. Fulton Street boasted architecturally significant pre-WW2 buildings. Now the Fresno population approaches 600,000 and is comprised of many nationalities, particularly Asian and Latin American, who weren’t here then. It is still the heart of California’s major agricultural region but now with many more ties to the state and overseas. As these grow over the next fifty years, Downtown Fresno can become the San Joaquin Valley’s business hub, and a cultural center for this multi-national population.

How do you see downtown Fresno changing with the build-out of high-speed rail, Robert?
High-speed rail is a game-changer for Fresno. Travel time to Fresno from the Bay Area or Southern California will be cut in half. Fresnans will be able to make easy round trips to these cities in a day. Angelenos like me will no longer be forced to drive four hours each way.

What do you teach as an instructor at UCLA, Robert?
I am a retired researcher and lecturer from the Schools of Engineering and Public Health. My currently active connection to UCLA is as a sea-kayaking instructor for the recreation program.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
I grew up in Brooklyn, NY and came to California in 1965 to work at the
RAND Corporation in Santa Monica on computer models for defense logistics and regional hospital planning. Subsequently at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech, I investigated applications of high temperature solar energy and synthetic fuels. At the Information Sciences Institute affiliated with USC I developed computerized commerce networks. I learned that by giving bright people freedom to create we could achieve exceptional results.

What are your roots in the San Joaquin Valley, Robert?
I came to Fresno in the 80s on the recommendation of a friend who was bringing overseas investors to Fresno. I purchased the buildings on the Fulton Mall at that time, and have been coming to Fresno regularly. As an outsider who has seen revitalization first hand in Santa Monica, Los Angeles and Ventura County I know that with persistence, it will work in Fresno. I listen to local people. The people of Fresno have been good to me.

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