FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – This national historic landmark is not something most people would take a day trip to visit, but it does provide Fresno with a unique entry in the history books.
According to the National Register of Historic Places, the Fresno Sanitary Landfill, previously located at West and Jensen avenues, was the oldest “true” sanitary landfill in the U.S. and the oldest compartmentalized municipal landfill in the western U.S., holding a service record of more than 50 years of continuous operation.
Officials say it’s significant as the first landfill to employ the trench method of disposal and the first to utilize compaction.
Records show that the man who was responsible for developing and implementing the sanitary landfill in the United States was Jean Vincenz, who served as commissioner of public works, city engineer, and manager of utilities in Fresno, from 1931 to 1941.
Bom in 1894 in Enfield, Illinois, Vincenz completed high school and attended junior college in Fresno. He received a degree in civil engineering at Stanford University in 1918 and a degree in public administration from San Diego State College in 1958.
Records show when Vincenz became commissioner of public works in Fresno, he recommended not renewing the franchise of the Fresno Disposal Company, which operated an incinerator.
Before developing his sanitary fill in Fresno, Vincenz studied British-controlled tipping techniques, visited several California cities, and consulted with a New York engineer active in developing its sanitary fill.
Between its opening in 1937 to its closing in 1987, the Fresno Sanitary Landfill accepted municipal solid waste from the City of Fresno, averaging 16,500 tons of waste per month.
The landfill faced controversy on becoming a national landmark as critics say they could not understand why a landfill would hold the same prestige as national treasures like the Alamo, Mount Vernon, and any other national historic landmark, but others said it was an integral part of the process of living, and viewed it as culturally and historically important.
According to the National Historical Landmarks program, landmarks are also designated not to celebrate or to promote properties, but to inform the public about them with respect to the heritage of the U.S.
The Fresno Sanitary Landfill, despite its seeming dull qualities as a historic structure, fit the spirit and the letter of the landmarks program. One expert noted that solid waste management “has become one of the largest economic, ecological, and intellectual challenges faced in the United States today.”
Records state on October 4, 1989, the landfill was placed on the National Priorities List of Superfund Sites.