What do you do with an antiquated courthouse? The consensus of Kings County officials was to move to new quarters and demolish the old building.
Enter Max Walden, a successful shopping center developer who had turned to restoration of historic structures in Santa Cruz. While searching for a quieter community to raise his family, Walden found Hanford and its classic but condemned 1897 courthouse.
Today the three-story edifice is home to shops and restaurants and has brought the town square back to life. It's also the symbol of a community's determination to restore both the buildings and charm of their century-old town.
You'll find Hanford in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, a pleasant detour from either Interstate 5 or California 99. During a tour of its renovated historic sites, you'll enjoy the relaxed and friendly life style of this agricultural center.
For an extra small-town treat, show up for Hanford's annual Christmas parade on Friday evening.
To reach Hanford from Los Angeles, drive north on Interstate 5 to join California 99, then continue past Bakersfield and go west on California 198. You'll pass field crops and dairy cows before the Central Hanford/Redington Street exit.
Head north eight blocks and turn right on Porter Street to Irwin Street where you find the Hanford Victorian Inn, another Max Walden renovation. He turned four turn-of-the-century homes into a 32-room hostelry that recalls an earlier era.
Guests sleep in four-poster brass beds in high-ceiling rooms that have overhead fans, windows with stained glass and lace curtains, leaded glass mirrors and antique furniture. All rooms feature private bath, complete with an oak-rimmed claw-foot tub and pull-chain toilet.
A whirlpool spa invites you to relax in the garden courtyard. Inn guests and the public can enjoy breakfast and lunch in the vintage dining room of the corner house or on its side porch, shaded by awnings and camphor trees.
Rooms at the Hanford Victorian Inn are $55, suites $75. Phone (209) 584-9286 for reservations.
From the inn you can explore most of the town on foot. A map available at the Chamber of Commerce, 213 West 7th St., will guide you to 33 places of historic interest in Hanford.
Ornate Hanford Theater
Walk south on Irwin Street to the Hanford Theater, built in 1929 as part of the chain of ornate Fox Theaters for vaudeville and motion pictures. Its interior resembles a Spanish courtyard, complete with stars twinkling overhead. You can go inside twice a month when movies are shown on weekends. In the balcony, patrons enjoy rocking-chair seats and can order beer and wine.
On the second floor of the theater building is another surprise, the Elegant Fox, where continental fare is served for lunch and dinner. Across the street you also can eat in style on the top floor of the reborn courthouse.
A judge's bench has been taken over by the maitre d', who will seat you in the former county courtroom. It's been richly decorated, with stained-glass skylights installed in the once-leaky ceiling. Champagne brunch is served Sundays, lunch and dinner on other days (lunch only on Mondays and Tuesdays).
New Uses for Rooms
Elsewhere in the 90-year-old building you can shop for women's fashions in the former tax collector's office, and children's gifts and toys in the old records room. The county clerk's office has become an art gallery, while other rooms in the courthouse are now a candy store and ice cream shop.
Next door is an unusual restaurant and tavern in the restored 1897 sheriff's office and jail that's appropriately been renamed La Bastille. These days you can have breakfast or gourmet hamburgers for lunch in the prisoners' cells and exercise room.
Across the lawn are two impressive buildings built in the 1920s, California's first veterans memorial building and a civic auditorium that's fronted by eight Ionic columns.
Crossing Douty Street you'll be tempted by another Hanford landmark, Superior Dairy, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor that's been dishing up banana splits, sundaes and sodas for 57 years. A block south at 8th Street enjoy the decor in a building that dates to the same period, now a fancy pizza house called Poor Richard's.
Opposite you'll see Hanford's Carnegie Library, erected in 1905 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's a history museum now, open Tuesday through Friday, noon to 3 p.m.
You'll see more of Hanford's revived turn-of-the-century buildings by strolling south on Douty Street to 6th Street, going a block west and then back north on Irwin Street. At the corner with 7th Street is an 1893 hotel that once held a 700-seat opera house. In it is newly opened Justo's, specializing in Basque food.