The Downtown Report: August

Phyllis Fender

The very sad news came to us the morning of July 29. Phyllis Fender, wife of Leo Fender, ambassador of his legacy and first lady of Fullerton passed away. She really did touch an enormous number of us with her generous spirit, and once she met anyone, they instantly were welcomed like a lifelong friend, an important person, someone special.

My first encounter with her was way back at the turn of the century, 2001 to be exact, when the Leo Fender mural was dedicated at 120 E Santa Fe where he had a brick factory built in 1950, which replaced 2 sheet metal buildings.  This was when I discovered what a storyteller she was, and would continue to be for the next 2 decades that I kept running into her. We all saw her out and about, she was active all over Fullerton.

Mike Ritto and Phyllis Fender.

A few years back, The Day of Music Board of Directors met and the idea of a Queen of Day Of Music was born. Nobody but Phyllis would do. So I asked her to help us crown the queen. She was on stage, waiting to see who it was, when I announced “And the Queen is…… Phyllis Fender!” I am not sure I have ever seen a bigger smile. She was shocked but took it all in, the ribbon across her magnificent white dress, the crown on her head, and the rest of the day was spent talking to her adoring fans, still not believing what had just been bestowed on her. A favorite moment for all of us who were there.

Phyllis Fender, Queen of the Day of Music Fullerton.

I have plenty of stories but felt it was appropriate to reach out to others who knew her well. The amazing account of Randall Bell is posted online HERE and what an exceptional piece it is. Please check it out if you can. Here are comments from those with a unique perspective regarding Phyllis and her beloved Leo.

Jim Washburn, journalist, musician, curator of music-related exhibits: “During his years with Phyllis, Leo remained an inveterate tinkerer and creative force and was granted dozens of patents during the last decade and a half of his life.  His unquenchable curiosity for how things worked was something, Phyllis said, “that you can tell just by looking at our vacation photos. I have pictures of the scenery, and he has pictures of cable car gears, tractors and winches.’’  Along with being Leo’s partner and helpmate in his later years, she was a staunch and earnest booster of Leo’s legacy after he passed away in 1991.”

From the Museum Center perspective, via Kelly Chidester: “Phyllis would self-proclaim that she never met a mic she didn’t like. I’ve watched her address groups of children on museum school tours, swarms of guitar enthusiasts looking to steal a photo and autograph at NAMM, adoring fans sitting on the edge of their seats as she spoke at book signings, and most recently, at a retirement party for a Fender CEO. It wasn’t an act. She wasn’t putting on a show. She was full of life and she loved every second of it.”

A New Gym Arises

Being grounded and ‘safer at home’ as most of us have been for months now, when you do get out and about you will notice some changes afoot. For instance, if you have been on Lemon between Chapman and Berkeley lately, which I had not been, you may have been surprised by a new building that seems to have appeared overnight like a mushroom in your lawn. That’s how these tilt-up concrete buildings are, one day the walls are poured, then raised, and wow, a new building is born.

The new FUHS gymnasium is under construction.

New Downtown

No, it’s not an ANT shop, it’s a new plant shop. The Green Place is opening in August at 109 E. Commonwealth. Looks like they will have an extensive line of interesting plants and plant products, and even a dinosaur or two. Right next door, a new pet supply shop, Petlingo, now open, with a bakery (yes, you heard right, dog and cat cakes and more), pet toys, even dog beer and a Self-bathe room! Wash your dog and pour a cool one. Wow. Play Coffee is now open as well, in SoCo in between Joe’s and D’Vine, and it’s a very friendly, fun place, plus the great coffee and bakery items are ready to go. The wait is over. Stop by and see Leon and staff.

Photo Quiz

What building is this and where is it located? Send your answer to Mike at