Dozens turn out for a peek inside some of The Esplanade’s historic homes
Chico attorney Eric Berg stood barefoot and dressed for a lazy weekend last Saturday (June 10) as he politely fielded questions about his profession, personal life and home from a gaggle of gray-haired women who’d followed a steady stream of visitors into his bedroom.
“I do a lot of criminal defense cases, but not exclusively,” Berg said, knocking down one question and moving to the next like a witness during cross-examination. “Yes, those windows are original, but most of them have been replaced … the cat’s name is Sunny, and he’s got seven toes!”
The women giggled as Berg picked Sunny up to show off his extraordinary paws. As another pair of women exited the room, the eldest of the two asked loudly, “Is that where that man sleeps?” Her companion rolled her eyes and jokingly chided her for asking inappropriate questions.
Berg’s home and office, a 1918 Craftsman-style bungalow at 1050 Esplanade, was one of four homes included in that day’s Grande Dames of the Esplanade Walking Tour, a self-guided trek organized by the Museum of Northern California Art (Monca) and the Chico Heritage Association (CHA). Both groups provided volunteer docents at each location to answer questions about architecture, art and history, and the presence of current or former residents added an unexpected layer of intimacy to each glimpse inside the historic homes.
The Grande Dames walk was the brainchild of Monca volunteer organizer Pam Figge, who is also a past president and current member of the heritage association. She organized similar tours of Gridley’s downtown area and Silk Stocking Row in the mid-1980s.
“I really wanted a project that could bring together both groups,” Figge said. “This tour seemed like a perfect way to marry art, architecture and historic preservation.”
The tour started at 10 a.m. at Monca—housed in the repurposed Veterans Memorial Hall on The Esplanade—and cost $40 ($35 for Monca and CHA members). About 90 participants received a program with information about the four homes open for the tour and other notable buildings along the four-block route, and the cost included lunch and a sneak peek inside Monca. The museum won’t be open to the public until an ADA-compliant ramp—currently under construction—is completed.
The ramp is part of the reason the fundraising walking tour was held, Figge explained. She said the improvement costs $150,000, half of which is covered by a grant from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment’s Museum Grant Program. Figge said the tour ultimately raised about $4,000 for Monca from admission, drinks and donations, and that the museum intends to donate some of the money to the heritage association.
Two additional Craftsman-style homes were on the tour—the house at 1230 Esplanade currently occupied by Newton Realty, and the Goodman House Bed & Breakfast at 1362 Esplanade. The final open house was a 1913 American Foursquare-style home occupied by the Ostrom family, located at 1333 Esplanade.
The Newton Realty office, built in 1909, was the Nopel family home for many years, and historian Dave Nopel was on hand to share his childhood recollections of the house. He also presented photos and news clippings about another home and storefront, formerly located next door, that burned to the ground in 1966—that space is now occupied by the Red Tavern’s outdoor patio and bocce ball court.
The Goodman House was arguably the tour’s biggest draw, and volunteers stood on the front porch to ensure one group of tourists left before another entered. The crowd control was necessary, in part because four of the B&B’s five rooms were occupied by guests. The second floor of the Goodman House was open, as was the one unoccupied guest room.
Inside, Tom and Margo Graham—who bought the home and opened the B&B in 2002—greeted visitors and fielded questions. They said many people had asked that morning about the building’s alleged haunting by rancher Horace Greely, who built the house in 1906 and died there after falling down a staircase in 1917.
“I always say, ‘We’ve heard those rumors, too,’” Margo said with a laugh.
“We’ve never encountered any strange things, but according to the attorneys we bought the home from, a lot of strange things happened,” Tom added.
Street view of the final home on the tour—the Ostrom residence—is partly blocked by tall hedges, beyond which lie a beautifully landscaped yard and immaculate home decorated with artifacts from the family’s travels in Asia.
One of the owners, Nancy Ostrom, had stepped out for her own peek inside the Goodman House when the CN&R visited, but CHA members John Gallardo and Liz Stewart—who did the majority of the architectural and historical research for the tour—were there to greet visitors and talk history.
Standing in the backyard, Gallardo noted the home was a nice mix of preservation and modern comfort, pointing to an old out-building (“It’s the barn or carriage house, depending on who you’re talking to,” he said) situated near a swimming pool.
Gallardo said he was pleased with the event’s turnout, the day’s temperate weather and the research the tour prompted and helped disseminate. He also said he hopes it becomes a recurring event.
Figge agreed: “The best thing for me was just seeing people out walking on and enjoying The Esplanade,” she said. “The museum wants to be good neighbors and encourage more of that.”