Monca finds a home

Supervisors make a historic decision

It was heartening to see Butte County supervisors’ unanimous support, following a public hearing Tuesday (March 26), of the Museum of Northern California Art’s (monca’s) proposal to locate in the former Veterans Memorial Hall on The Esplanade. Granted, it was a no-brainer—the building is an expensive white elephant, and nobody else wanted to use it—but the recent push-back from some neighbors created at least a little uncertainty about the final vote.

The neighbors were worried about traffic and congestion and the further degradation of the area (and their property values), and I understand that. An influx of student renters, traffic around Chico High (try dropping off a kid there at 8 a.m.) and more cars on the roads generally add up to greater stress on these older neighborhoods.

And it’s true that the vets’ hall lacks parking of its own, which means monca visitors will park on neighboring streets. But, again, if the hall is to be used for anything, what better use than an art museum? The traffic it will generate will be minor compared with that generated by, say, the high school or, just down the road, Enloe Hospital.

I like what Lee Laney, who lives on Lincoln Avenue across from Chico High, says in a letter to the editor that unfortunately arrived at the CN&R too late to publish.

“I love living in downtown Chico…,” he writes. “One of the trade-offs of being close to downtown is living with the hustle and bustle of daily life in the midst of community institutions. At times there are parking and congestion problems. We also hear noisy ball games, marching band practice, and late-night busloads of students returning from out-of-town events.

“These are the sounds of my fellow community members utilizing and enjoying a very important community institution. As a citizen, I accept this burden willingly. … Communities and neighborhoods thrive when community institutions are an integral part of the fabric of daily life. What more benign use could be made of the veterans’ hall? Would [the opponents] have the building torn down to save themselves the burden of living in close proximity to a community institution?”

What makes this decision so important is that monca, although lacking a facility, already has the makings of a rich permanent collection, in the form of the more than 400 pieces by Northern California artists donated by Chico collector Reed Applegate.

Now the real work begins. Under the terms of the 20-year lease agreement, monca will have six relatively rent-free years to design, construct and implement the project. It won’t be cheap, and it won’t be easy. Monca’s directors will need all the help they can get, financial and otherwise.

Chico has never had an art museum, so it may be hard for some people to foresee the benefits monca will bring. I’m confident, though, that 10 years from now, when we’ve become accustomed to the museum’s many offerings, we’ll look back on this moment and realize the Board of Supervisors made an invaluable and historic decision.

Robert Speer is editor of the CN&R.