Don’t crowd Bidwell Mansion

A social-science instructor at Chico State University

Bidwell Mansion and the playing field next to it are so beautiful. The large expanse of green area surrounding the mansion sets the historic building off so well. When you’re walking or driving past Children’s Park, past the mansion and then the playing field north of the mansion, the open green areas add so much to the feeling of loveliness, solidity and wholesomeness of the town. The area is a focal point of the history and character of Chico. It sets the city apart from most others.

But, according to planners from the university and the group supporting a proposed natural-history museum, we are about to lose this treasure.

Ten or 12 years ago a group fought to retain the playing field next to the mansion and won. These people couldn’t bear the idea of closing in on the space because it would detract from the mansion, the historical center of Chico, and because of the generations of children who have played on the field. Unfortunately, there are plans in the works to build a museum on the playing field, along with a parking lot.

Added to that, the low classroom building behind and to the right of the mansion is due to be demolished and a high-rise building will replace it. Then the building directly behind the mansion is due to be expanded by several stories. The mansion will be surrounded by large buildings and parking lots, dwarfing it by comparison, and the green areas will disappear.

Now, the natural-history museum is a wonderful idea. But does it have to be in that location? If the Aymer Jay building is to be destroyed anyway, why can’t the museum be built in its place, sparing the playing field? And how many more classrooms can the university build in Chico without demolishing the whole town?

Unfortunately, those who plan what will happen to the mansion, and the Mansion Park Neighborhood, don’t live there. Many of them don’t even live in Chico, and none of them have to live with the consequences of their actions. The character and history of a community can be destroyed so easily. It happens all the time in the name of progress.

Those that argue for these projects maintain that retaining the playing field is unfeasible, that sooner or later something will be built there no matter what it does to the neighborhood, or the mansion, the traffic in the area, or how it reflects on the city and our historical landmark. Yet other communities have managed to retain their character and retain critical green areas, though it is unusual in this day and age, I know.

Chico is such a beautiful town, and its history is so interesting and significant. It is going to be a tragedy to destroy it. And when it is all gone we are going to be just like every other city that allowed outsiders to determine its future. We can protect our green areas, we can preserve our historic neighborhoods, we can hold on to our history. I hope we do. It would take a miracle, but I hope it happens. And I hope the natural-history museum finds a suitable place. It is a worthy project. Just not where it is planned to be built.