Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Popular PBS program host visits Hanford
By Eiji Yamashitaeyamashita@HanfordSentinel.com
"Wow, this is amazing!" You could almost hear that familiar enthusiastic twang resounding inside a Taoist temple the other day, as Huell Howser -- a beloved PBS program host -- took careful steps into the key China Alley artifact in the tucked-away corner of downtown Hanford with his cameraman.A faint smell of dust and incense marks the worship hall, where an elaborate altar evokes a glimpse into the early Chinese immigrants' spiritual life. Even the ceiling itself -- with all the lanterns, kerosene lamps, gas and electric lights -- is a vivid reminder of the 115-plus years that the building has endured.Everything in the dark brick-walled room represents a piece of local history.China Alley offered quite a perfect place for Howser who toured Hanford about two weeks ago for his "Road Trip" series to explore its cultural and historical heritage and its points of pride.Howser spent two full days in Hanford on May 20 and 21, filming the next episode of his "Road Trip with Huell Howser," a series in which he sets out on a California highway on a wayward journey of discovery.
That's one of a dozen programs he produces, including the popular "California's Gold" on PBS.The day after his trip to Hanford, he was back in his Palm Springs home recalling fondly the small Central Valley town that can often be overlooked by those traveling on main thoroughfares like Highway 99 and Interstate 5."Hanford is a perfect example of what you'll find if you just take the time to look," Howser said. "You've got a town a lot of people drive by but don't stop and visit unless they have a reason to pull off the road. But here you have a prestigious Fox Theatre, Carnegie Museum, China Alley and a world-class Japanese museum and friendly people."We're surrounded by all these treasures, but we're so busy that we forget that we've got a lot of wonderful places to visit. They are right under our noses," Howser said.Under that underlying theme, Howser will be introducing Hanford to the rest of California in a way that the city has never done on its own.An hourlong documentary of his road trip to Hanford hits the airwaves this Thursday on Valley Public Television at 8 p.m. The repeat will run in the Valley on June 14 at 6:30 p.m. The episode will also be aired in Southern California on Sunday, June 8, on KCET, a public television channel in Los Angeles, at 7 p.m.Viewers may be in for the best show he has ever shot for the series."He said, 'It's going to be my best show. You're going to love it,'" said Dave Jones, director of the Hanford Conference and Visitor Agency, the official tourism promotion agency for the city.Jones facilitated Howser's itinerary in Hanford, taking him on a fire truck tour of downtown, taking him to breakfast at Star Restaurant, coffee at Art Works, ice cream at Superior Dairy, a visit to the Fox Theatre, Carnegie Museum and Church of the Saviour on the first day."I'm excited," Jones said. "The best part of the whole thing was that people he interviewed during the visit were so open and friendly. They were so excited about Hanford -- people at Superior, ladies playing bridge at Art Works, the Humason family at the Fox, people at the Carnegie Museum."They were all candid," Jones said. "These people couldn't have been trained for 100 years to be that good."On the second day, Jones was joined by Camille Wing from the Taoist Temple Preservation Society in giving Howser a tour of Hanford's China Alley and the Ruth and Sherman Lee Institute for Japanese Art at the Clark Center."He was quite amazed that we have what we have ," Wing said. "I'm so pleased that he can present us to the world. We are fortunate that he came in and filmed as much as he did. It's going to be good for promoting our town."That's exactly the hope for Jones at the visitor agency.Jones said he was told by a marketing manager of Amtrak that the last place Huell Howser visited saw an increase in tourism by 27 percent the following year. For Hanford, that could mean several thousand more tourists a year. "It's an exciting time for our town," he said.Hanford -- with its historic heritage -- likes to play up its "hidden treasure" potential as a tourism destination. For quite some time, the city has engaged in efforts to preserve its historic look and cultural heritage and revitalize its downtown district in the name of maintaining what many would call small-town charms.Howser said it was a matter of time for Hanford to get his attention."For years now, I've gotten letters from residents or people from close communities who passed through Hanford," Howser said. "Some people at KVPT in Fresno have also been talking to me for about a year now about Hanford and its Japanese museum. All of these just came together."Still early in the process, Howser gave away a small glimpse into his thoughts in putting together this particular episode."The theme of our show is, there were a lot of pleasant and unexpected surprises when I visited Hanford," Howser said. "The real impact of the program may be felt outside of your viewing area, where people are introduced to Hanford for the first time. But this could serve your area as well, giving the community a renewed sense of pride."Howser's programs explore the nooks and crannies of California to pursue the kind of imageries and stories that mainstream media won't touch. With a cameraman in tow and a microphone in hand, Howser takes viewers into little-known places and obscure neighborhoods.But through his shows, Howser says he isn't just turning people on to specific towns like Hanford.The Nashville, Tenn., native says he is challenging Californians to go out and explore their own home."I want people to realize that if Huell Howser, who is not from California, can go around California, they can start nosing around their own communities, too," Howser said. "It doesn't take Huell Howser to make these discoveries. It's in everyone's power to make these discoveries themselves."The reporter can be reached at 583-2429.(June 4, 2008)


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