'The U' disappears as school construction begins

FRESNO, Calif.

The u-shaped stretch of streets near Church and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Southwest Fresno used to be a collection of homes and apartments that kept Fresno police busy almost nightly.

But buildings in the area have been demolished to make way for change.

Construction equipment and dirt piled high now litter the land once infamous in Southwest Fresno.

The U, as it was called in the eighties and nineties, referred to a neighborhood south of Church Avenue just east of Martin Luther King.

"It was two streets that formed a 'U' that at the time had been a problem for us," Capt. Greg Garner of the Fresno Police Department said.

Captain Greg Garner worked the area during his early days in the Fresno Police Department.

The neighborhood he patrolled was notorious for high crime and a gang called "The U Boys" claimed it as their own.

"You could expect to see anything from people who were armed, people that were selling or using narcotics, folks that were involved in stolen cars, stolen property, it was a tough area to work," Capt. Greg Garner of the Fresno Police Department said.

Jim Aldredge was the city manager at the time. He says violence spiked when homes were sold and turned into rentals.

"It's like 'don't go down to the U because it's got crime stuff down there'," Aldredge said.

Eventually the crime rate dropped and the Fresno Unified School District bought the land. Now Gaston Middle School is under construction.

Steve Gonzales will head the school, scheduled to open next August.

"For approximately 34 years students who wanted to attend a full-service middle school that offered all sorts of the athletic programs and extracurricular activities, they had one option and that was to have their children be bussed out from their neighborhood," Gonzales said.

He's optimistic education will help the southwest corner thrive.

"Having a school located here and offering what we hope to offer to our students and families. This is overwhelmingly a positive experience for Southwest Fresno," Gonzales said.

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