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Art deco visalia

The old Tulare County Courthouse in Visalia will be getting new life as a hotel.

Apologies in advance, but this column is (mostly) going to focus on our neighbors to the east.  

As a resident of Tulare County, I can’t help but be slightly invested in what happens there. Chief among my concerns are our needs for a Trader Joe’s and a new movie theater.

This week, Visalia gets a couple of serious cheers and jeers from me.

On Monday, July 16, the Visalia City Council will meet to discuss the future of the Main Street Theater, home of the Enchanted Playhouse Theater Company.

According to posts on the Enchanted Playhouse’s Facebook page, the city has sold the property and it will be turned into a couple of restaurants – as if the dozens of restaurants lining Visalia’s Main Street aren’t enough already.

“The goal is to stop an ordinance from selling The Main Street Theater to a private buyer to make into restaurants — we need two ‘no’ votes on the council,” Enchanted Playhouse officials wrote in a Facebook post.

The Enchanted Playhouse, a children’s theater company, is such a wonderful addition to downtown Visalia, and has been since the 1990s, that it would be a shame to lose it.

When I covered the art scene in Visalia, it was a highlight to visit the Enchanted Playhouse every couple of months when a new production was in development, catch a bit of rehearsals and talk to the eager and enthusiastic children who star in their plays and musicals.

Many of the young actors also participated in their school’s drama departments, but I always got the impression that many of them held their work at the Enchanted Playhouse in a little higher regard or maybe took it a little more seriously.

After all, it’s a large theater smack dab in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Main Street, which has a little more glamour to it than performing at your own school, where you spend most of your time, knowing your teachers are in the audience.  

There’s also the thrill of seeing the name of the play on that big, beautiful marquee (why do restaurants need a building with a marquee anyway?)

Or so it seemed to me from the interviews I had done with the actors and actresses.

Enchanted Playhouse performances would also play out like a young actor all-star game, many of the players coming from various schools around Visalia, Tulare, and I even spoke to a few actors from as far away as Porterville while covering the company on my beat.

Many of the children I spoke to expressed an interest in acting and performing beyond their childhood years and the Enchanted Playhouse serves as a great way to prepare them for that future.

I’d hate to see the theater company be kicked out and forced to find a new home.

As for the cheers, The Times-Delta has reported that the old Tulare County Courthouse will be given a makeover, becoming a 34-room hotel with a swimming pool, rooftop lounge and a gym.

The beautiful art deco-style courthouse was built in the 1930s and has been closed since the ‘90s.

Sound familiar? The building has — had — a lot in common with Hanford’s old Fire Station.

Visalia Planning Commission Vice Chair Liz Wynn said to the Times-Delta, “Not only will the project beautify the area, it will lend to further economic investment in the surroundings. Think about all the traffic it will bring to the surrounding restaurants and shops."

I guess that’s where the story of the two buildings stops sounding familiar.

I look forward to the transformation of the Tulare County Courthouse and am already daydreaming about a spending relaxing weekend in the hotel when it opens. It will be a great thing for downtown and will offer a fun stay-cation spot for locals as well as a great spot for the Sequoia Mountains’ tourists to stay while on the road.

In related news, it has been 148 days since Hanford’s old Fire Station was torn down and the lot it stood on is still just a patch of dirt.

But it would be a great spot for a children’s theater.

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Parker Bowman is a staff reporter for the Hanford Sentinel, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ Parker_THS or send an email to

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