Moving forward

Art museum launches fundraising campaign to renovate veterans’ hall

Pat Macias, president of monca’s board of directors, hopes that a regional art museum in the Chico Veterans Memorial Hall will bring new life to the Chico landmark.

Pat Macias, president of monca’s board of directors, hopes that a regional art museum in the Chico Veterans Memorial Hall will bring new life to the Chico landmark.

photo by Robert speer

Art at the hall:
Today (Thursday, Dec. 19), from 4-6 p.m., monca is celebrating its first public art project at the Chico Veterans Memorial Hall, an installation piece by Bay Area artist Kari Marboe that will be unveiled at the hall’s entrance. Hot cider and cookies will be served, and the artist will be present to speak and answer questions. To take a video tour of the hall, go to and click on “Vets Hall.”

Chico Veterans Memorial Hall
(future home of monca)
900 Esplanade

Five hundred thousand dollars. That’s how much money is needed to renovate a large part of the Chico Veterans Memorial Hall, that iconic building at 900 Esplanade, and make a home for the Museum of Northern California Art, otherwise known as monca.

Granted, half a million bucks is a lot of money. But compared to the $10 million cost of the Gateway Science Museum, just a few blocks down the road, it’s peanuts. And the payoff is huge: a beautiful art museum for Chico and the region, restoration of one of the city’s great historic buildings, and vast expansion of community members’ engagement in regional art.

I toured the vets’ hall recently with Pat Macias, the president of monca’s board of directors, whose members have been working tirelessly for more than three years to make Northern California residents aware of the museum and its potential.

I was struck by the sheer size of the building—more than 17,000 square feet altogether, including the cavernous auditorium. And as I walked through the rooms, I could almost feel the presence of the thousands of people—veterans and others—who visited it during the 86 years since its construction in 1927.

I was also struck by the realization that, if monca doesn’t succeed, the hall is probably doomed. That’s probably why veterans’ groups and the county Board of Supervisors have been so supportive of the museum. They want to save the building and know that this is the best—and likely last—chance to do so.

Structurally, the building is sound, Macias said. It looks worn inside, but aesthetically it needs only minor remodeling and cosmetic improvements: refinishing the wood floors; removing the drop ceilings to reveal the original plaster and crown molding; repairing and modernizing the bathrooms; patching and painting the outside stairs. Also, there are too many big windows that use up exhibition space and let in too much sunlight for a museum, and they need to be resized.

The biggest expenses, Macias said, will be for a new HVAC system and making the facility compliant with ADA regulations. She led me down the elegant stairway to the lower level. It houses, in addition to the large room that once was the eating area and kitchen, the huge boiler that provided heat—a relic that clearly has to go.

Initial plans call for renovating the upstairs rooms in the front part of the building that faces The Esplanade—4,000 square feet altogether. Phase Two, which monca would like to begin in about six years, would renovate the auditorium, and Phase Three would fix up the front rooms downstairs.

It’s a grand vision: plentiful exhibition space, a performance space, a museum store, storage rooms, a café, rooms for educational and interactive art programs, and much more. Macias and her board members see the museum eventually becoming an all-purpose cultural center.

It’s off to a good start, even though actual construction has yet to begin (a Chico firm, Griffith Architects, has been hired to draw up plans).

The museum already has a substantial collection of Northern California art, thanks to Chico collector Reed Applegate’s magnanimous donation of his entire collection—nearly 400 works by regional artists.

Museum volunteers have worked hard to make monca visible. In the last two years, they have organized more than 50 on-site visits in their “mobile museum” to school classrooms, senior housing facilities, adult-education art classes, the Boys & Girls Club and the Torres Community Shelter. They have also sponsored two “pop-up museums” downtown, and put on exhibitions in Redding at the Old City Hall Arts Center and Shasta College, and locally at the Gateway Science Museum. In 2013, they reached 8,116 individuals directly.

Now they need the rest of us to step up.