‘Great, but not here’

Some fear museum would harm neighborhood

Illustration of Albertosaurus by Ken Kirkland from <i>Dinosaurs and Other Mesozoic Reptiles of California</i>.

Illustration of Albertosaurus by Ken Kirkland from Dinosaurs and Other Mesozoic Reptiles of California.

To some residents of the mostly upscale Mansion Park neighborhood, the planned Northern California Natural History Museum is about as welcome there as an ice floe.

They worry that as the museum fills in one of the few open spaces on campus and wedges itself alongside Bidwell Mansion, a state historic park, the surrounding neighborhood will suffer.

“We love the natural-history museum idea. We hate the way it’s going to impact the neighborhood,” said Jeanne Thatcher, who since 1978 has lived near Legion and Arcadian streets and watches college students troll the area daily for parking. “I can’t imagine having 5,000 more cars a month.”

The 1.86-acre grassy area has been used as a playfield, set off from The Esplanade by a bank of trees, for generations. The museum, Thatcher said, would not only destroy that but also diminish the view and impact of the mansion along with the “treasured neighborhood” of historic homes. “It’s just another neighborhood down the drain,” she said. “And the mansion is going to be like this tiny little temple that’s hardly going to have any status at all. … It’s a slap in the face to Chico.”

Jan Reed, who lives on Legion Avenue, remembers successfully fighting the university 16 years ago over the idea of a multi-story parking lot at the site. Thatcher and Reed said museum organizers don’t live near them and just don’t get it. “They did not contact the neighborhood at all,” she said. “We heard about it through a fund-raising letter.”

Reed said a construction boom on campus, including the building of Nettleton Stadium, increasingly hampers residents’ ability to get to and from their homes. “There isn’t a lot of green space downtown, and they want to take out a field that is used constantly.”

In Chico State University’s very long-term plans is the tearing down of the Aymer J. Hamilton building, adjacent the site, and replacing it with an expanded Modoc Hall. Thatcher and Reed think the museum advocates should wait until then and put the museum in place of Aymer Jay.

Museum Board President Judy Sitton said the organizers have worked hard to involve the neighbors, including inviting them to board meetings. “We’ve listened very carefully to their concerns, [and] we’ve made some changes in response to their concerns,” she said.

Based on issues raised by neighbors, the board decided to move parking to the back, adjust an access road and make lights lower and directed downward. Also, Sitton said, the museum will have plenty of its own parking, and the traffic flow will be professionally researched and designed.

“They listened,” agreed Reed, “but they did not hear the part about going somewhere else.”

Except for briefly entertaining the possibility of locating in the too-small old Chico Municipal Building, the group has desired to have the museum on or near campus.

Chico State Interim President Scott McNall said the neighbors will also be consulted when the museum goes through the environmental-review process. “I would worry, too, if I lived in Mansion Park,” he said. “I would want to be assured that this building would contribute to the beauty and vitality of the area. I think it does, and I think we can demonstrate that it will only enhance the entire complex.”—D.A.