Make it go away

The CN&R takes its annual look at sites that make for sore eyes

Clockwise from top left: 632 Pine St. and other similarly abandoned houses (photos by Christine G.K. LaPado), Thrifty Bargain (photo by Stacey Kennelly), Karim Café (photo by Thomas Lawrence), Centerfolds (photo by Meredith J. Cooper).

Clockwise from top left: 632 Pine St. and other similarly abandoned houses (photos by Christine G.K. LaPado), Thrifty Bargain (photo by Stacey Kennelly), Karim Café (photo by Thomas Lawrence), Centerfolds (photo by Meredith J. Cooper).

The past couple years around this time, CN&R editors and reporters have taken to the streets to point out spots that could use a little TLC. This year was no different, though we found ourselves running out of ideas beyond the obvious (that’s why we have just nine). Then we realized, that’s a good thing!

What’s really cool is that we’ve seen eyesores of years past get snatched up, refurbished and turned into beautiful sites. The old Chi Tau house, for one, is now a clean, attractive addition to its neighborhood at Fourth and Chestnut streets. The biggest coup, however, came when the city of Chico agreed to purchase the large lot where Taylor’s Drive-in used to sit—decades ago. It hasn’t been fixed up yet, but the fact that the project is in the works means that a thorn in Park Avenue’s side will soon be removed.

This year’s list of Chico eyesores may be our last (we can hope!). Take this as a challenge to the city of Chico and its community to take care of our surroundings.

Abandoned homes

632 Pine St. and others

It doesn’t take long to find abandoned homes in otherwise lively residential neighborhoods, especially in this time of economic downturn. One, on busy, one-way Pine Street, is a boarded-up wooden number with a ramshackle fence, graffiti tags, and different shades of depressing green paint that looks like it was put on (poorly) with a roller. It routinely features a rotating pile of odds and ends—for sale or free—on the dying grass strip in front of it.

“I’m all about helping the homeless,” offered one neighbor, “but [the house] has become a place for the homeless to gather and sleep on the front porch.

“And it’s become a frequent graffiti target,” she continued. “Word in the neighborhood is that it is going to be refurbished, but who knows? It’s been here as long as I’ve lived here—three years.”

The house at 632 Pine, the woman added, sits just down the street from the bleak-looking beige house at 530 Pine, which, while it may look abandoned, isn’t. The house, surrounded by overgrown foliage, is literally in the process of falling apart. The decaying roof is covered by a tarp held down with cinder blocks. Pieces of the roof’s rotting overhang are missing or hanging by a splinter, and a person standing in front of the house can detect the faint smell of moldy, decomposing wood in the air.


15430 Highway 99

Who doesn’t want to take a break from the road with a lap dance on the side of the highway?

Centerfolds Gentlemen’s Club is located just five miles north of Chico on Highway 99, and looks more like an abandoned saloon from the pioneer days than a place for gentlemen. There’s even the Centerfold’s Club Adult Superstore just to the right of the hall of lust itself, offering everything from “high heels” to “leather.” The pink paint and Roman arches just don’t quite provide that “touch of class,” but the pair of blue eyes on the marquee that beckons innocent, randy motorists certainly does.

The owners of Centerfolds, listed as Toribio and Antonia Gutierrez, live in Downey but their phone rang unanswered. Guess we’ll have to live with the garish pink for a while longer.

What happened to Karim Café?

14066 Highway 99

Just north of Chico on Highway 99 is a building fit for a bizarre Stephen King novella. Karim Café, the once-beloved Arabian restaurant on the outskirts of Chico, is now an abandoned shack and one of the town’s true eyesores.

Once a hailed location among Arab students at Chico State, Karim’s grounds are now covered with miscellaneous debris. In Jeff Dickey’s The Rough Guide to California, Karim’s was touted as: “the place for tasty Arabian foods such as kebabs and some spicier dishes from further east.” That book was written in 2003, and seven years later Karim has left Chicoans wondering what happened.

We tried tracking down the place’s owners, Karim and Maria Said and Maria Said Abdul, with no luck. It’s like they just up and disappeared …

Thrifty Bargain

2432 The Esplanade

It’s hard to miss the giant “BARGAIN” sign as you drive north on The Esplanade.

Formerly the Holiday Market, the Thrifty Bargain building at 2432 The Esplanade in Chico shares a parking lot with the Donut Wheel’s old building, which is still up and running but could use an update, too.

Thrifty Bargain is like a washed-out blast from the ’80s, and one can only assume that the giant pink letters were once red. With an uneven parking lot showcasing Dumpsters and delivery trucks, and a store interior that accurately reflects its exterior, the building is beginning to look out of place in an area of town that has seen growth over the past few years—most recently, a brand new Walgreen’s across the street.

A call to the Butte County Assessor’s Office revealed that the building is owned by “2432 Esplanade, LP,” and a mailing address for Edward Mock was listed in Indio, Calif. We weren’t able to find a phone number for Mr. Mock, but due to the deterioration on the inside and outside of the store, it seems unlikely that sprucing up this eyesore will be cheap.

Clockwise from top left: Empty lot on Midway (photo by Jason Cassidy), cell tower on East Park (photo by Robert Speer), the old Enloe lot (photo by Nick Dobis), Waterland Apartments (photo by Nick Dobis), Mervyn’s (photo by Jason Cassidy).

Jesse M. Lange Distributor lot

11226 Midway

When it comes to the industrial outskirts of any community, what is aesthetically appropriate is relative. Barbed wire, chain link, dirt lots and corrugated steel are ubiquitous and are functions of the area’s purpose. So, while the Midway corridor from Hegan Lane to Park Avenue isn’t the prettiest stretch of Chico, in relation to the surroundings, the only eyesore would be this scuffed-up section of the Jesse M. Lange Distributor property. Behind its busted gate, the lot looks outright abandoned save for a few rusty oil barrels and pile of concrete and debris.

When contacted by phone, a company representative, who wished to remain anonymous, called the lot “a work in progress.”

The cost of convenience

Cell towers

In no time at all, it seems, mobile telephony has conquered the world. In 1990 there were just 12.4 million users; today there are more than 4 billion. And those 4 billion phones require thousands and thousands of cellular sites.

That’s true in Chico as elsewhere. Twenty years ago there were no cellular base sites here; today there are 26 in the greater Chico area, said Greg Redeker, the city planner who has the cell-site beat. Some are relatively unobtrusive, taking the form of antennas and receivers added to existing structures like radio and water towers. Others, however, rise up from the ground like giant stick figures out of a Transformers movie. Pretty they’re not.

The one shown here is off East Park Avenue, across from the fairgrounds. It’s in an industrial/commercial neighborhood, so it fits in—sort of—and the flag flying from a neighboring business is a nice touch. From a distance, though, the tower is the most visible element on the horizon, standing as testimony to the esthetic cost we pay for this modern convenience.


801 East Ave.

Once the anchor of the North Valley Plaza, the empty Mervyn’s building looks just fine. It is not run down or in disrepair. But, in the context of the otherwise bustling corner of the shopping center, the massive empty space and its surrounding empty lot stand out like an oversized sore thumb between the Cinemark movie theater and Trader Joe’s.

Were it not for the commercial real estate downturn, the space would probably already be re-occupied, and David Klein of the North Valley Mall, LLC group that owns the property said that since they want to get a national retailer, they are “exhibiting a little bit of patience” while the market comes back around. “Overall, I think things are starting to open up,” he said.

Waterland Apartments

327 Normal Ave.

This historical building is a diamond in the rough, and thanks to Wayne Cook, who bought the building about six months ago, this forgotten building will shine once again. Cook, who has bought and renovated several other historical buildings in Chico—including the Hotel Diamond—will restore this building into an eight-unit apartment building.

According to Cook, the building was originally built in the 1880s, and has not had any significant work done to it since 1915. Over the last few months, Cook has been working with state and federal historical societies to make sure the building retains the same appearance. Cook said that renovation of the building should start in the next 60 to 90 days.

Old Enloe lot

330 Flume St.

For those who may not know, Enloe Hospital was once located in downtown Chico, at 330 Flume St. In 2003, the building, then home to Paradise Lost video store, several apartments, a hair salon and art school, went up in flames. Now it sits a barren lot held captive by chain-link fencing, and due to the tough economic times, it may remain that way for a little bit longer.

Jim Aguilar, a realtor from Century 21, stated the current owners of the lot had plans to build a 13,560-square-foot structure on the land, which lies barren next to nice, well-kept houses, but couldn’t afford to after the recession began. The owners are currently selling the lot, which has an incentive for those interested in purchasing it. Aguilar stated the space has a $200,000 credit from the city of Chico for permits and impact and inspector fees.