Building history

A guide to some of the historic structures in Chico

Tres Hombres, at First and Broadway, doesn’t look much like its long-ago predecessor, John Bidwell’s general store (inset), but its brick walls inside are a reminder of its history.

Tres Hombres, at First and Broadway, doesn’t look much like its long-ago predecessor, John Bidwell’s general store (inset), but its brick walls inside are a reminder of its history.

Photo By Matt Bates

There’s a terrific Mexican restaurant downtown, at the corner of First and Broadway, just a block from campus, that almost every Chico State student will experience at some time. It’s called Tres Hombres, and it’s a large, open space with a bank of windows on two sides, a long bar, comfortable seating and old redbrick walls.

The walls are about all that’s left of the original building, which in the 1860s was a general store owned by John Bidwell, the founder of Chico. In fact, his ranch was right across First Street, announced by a wooden entry gate reading “Rancho Chico.”

It’s fun, while noshing on tacos, to imagine the place full of rolls of cloth, barbed wire, tools and bags of sugar. Bidwell also had his ranch office there, and the second story was a community meeting hall.

There’s a lot of history in Chico, if you have eyes to see it. The downtown area especially is connected to the past. Step out of Tres Hombres, look across Broadway, and you’ll see Collier Hardware, which has been in business there for more than a century. Inside, it retains some of the flavor of an old-time hardware store, with wood-plank floors and nails sold out of bins.

Next door to is the original home of the Chico Record, which at one time competed with the Chico Enterprise for daily-newspaper readers. They merged into the Enterprise-Record in 1948, but the building, which dates from the 19th century, remains and is still known as the Record Building.

Amazingly, the very first church built in Chico (in 1863) has survived to the present. Today, after three moves, it’s located at Ninth and Linden streets.

Photo By Matt Bates

Look to the left, across First Street, and you’ll see the impressive redbrick Bidwell Memorial Presbyterian Church. It was completed in 1910 and named after the town’s founder, who had died 10 years earlier. Before it was built, Bidwell and his wife Annie attended the First Presbyterian Church, built in 1870 at the corner of Fourth and Broadway. It was torn down when the new facility was built.

Here are some other Chico buildings and sites with interesting stories behind them:

Chico Museum
Located on the corner of Second and Salem streets, this building—originally the town’s public library—was erected in 1905 using funds donated by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who used his wealth to build libraries in small towns all over the country. The public library is now located in a much larger building at the corner of East First and Sherman avenues.

The Majestic Building
Until very recently, this building at 230 W. Second St. was the El Rey Theater, Chico’s last single-screen movie house. Originally it was called the Majestic, and it was constructed by the Chico Elks Lodge, which occupied the third floor. Today it is being converted into office and retail suites, but old-timers will remember it for midnight movies and Saturday serials.

St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
This graceful small redbrick 19th-century church at the corner of Third and Salem streets originally was St. John’s Episcopal and was located at Fifth and Broadway. It was moved—in which must have been a complex process—to its present site in 1912 and completed in 1914 to make room for the new downtown post office.

A.M.E. Church
This small church at the corner of Linden and Ninth streets, now occupied by an African Methodist congregation, has the distinction of being the first church building in Chico. Built in 1867, it originally was located at Sixth and Broadway, on land donated by John Bidwell.

The original Chico Brewery building now houses a deli, a gallery and stores.

Chico Brewery building
Today Chico is famous for its Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., but that’s far from the first brewery in these parts. In the 19th century, every town big enough to support a brewery had one. The building that housed the Chico Brewery still stands, at the corner of Eighth and Broadway. Built of brick in 1886 by Charles Croissant, it today houses several businesses.

Madison Bear Garden
Another building many new students are sure to visit—probably more than once—is Madison Bear Garden, the fantastical pub and eatery at Second and Salem streets. It was built in 1883 by Franklin Lusk, John Bidwell’s attorney who was also a prominent local banker and president of the Chico Normal School Board of Trustees in 1888-89. It later became the meeting hall of the Native Daughters of the Golden West, before turning into The Bear in the mid-1970s.

Stansbury Home
This beautiful house at West Fifth and Salem streets is one of the finest examples of an Italianate Victorian in the Northstate. It was built in 1883 by Dr. Oscar Stansbury for $8,000 and is now owned by the city of Chico and administered by the Stansbury Home Preservation Association, which has preserved it in something resembling its original look. Stansbury’s daughter Angeline was born in the home and lived there all of her 91 years. She was a popular art teacher at Chico High School for 40 of those years. It is open weekends for tours and on special occasions.

Scott Teeple’s mural of the original Town Hall (inset) is based on this photo of the original building.

Town Hall mural
If you stand on the steps of the Chico City Council building, at the corner of Fourth and Main streets, and look south, above the rooftop across Fourth Street, you’ll see a mural of Chico’s original town hall. Built the year the city incorporated, 1872 (Chico was founded in 1860), the hall was located about where the mural is, on the east side of Main Street between Third and Fourth. The artist is Scott Teeple, who has painted numerous murals around town, including the one of John and Annie Bidwell on Second Street.

Bidwell Mansion
Of course, this is the building everyone associates with Chico’s history, and for good reason. For 32 years it was John Bidwell’s home—and Annie Bidwell lived in it for nearly 50 years. It was the center of life on their sprawling ranch, and it was also the Olympus, you might say, of Chico social life. Built in 1868, it has 26 rooms, including the first indoor toilets in Northern California. Here the Bidwells welcomed many esteemed visitors, including John Muir, Susan B. Anthony (Annie Bidwell was a passionate suffragette), Gen. William Sherman and President and Mrs. Rutherford Hayes. Anyone who intends to spend time in Chico should tour the mansion, which is now a state park, and also pop into the Visitor Center next door.

The historic Stansbury Home, built in 1883, graces the corner of Fifth and Salem.