Sunday, June 20, 2010

California Dreamin': Part 4 Chico

Note: There will be more San Francisco installments, but for right now, I've got some hot-off-the-digital-camera shots I want to share of a trip I made to Chico yesterday.

In August 1996, a couple of big, life-changing events happened in my life. The first was my 18th birthday. The second, a week later, was my departure for college.

My college of choice was California State University, Chico. Actually, it was the only college that accepted me, because it was the only college I got around to applying to. I received my acceptance letter in November 1995 and decided that because this fine state institution had accepted me, and I was completely sick of writing application essays, that Chico would do me just fine. Besides, it was only a two-hour drive from my hometown, and that was a big draw for a young woman who was terrified to leave her friends and family.

Chico State is located smack dab in the middle of the city of Chico (hence the name), a small urban area that lies roughly in the Middle of Nowhere. The nearest communities are mostly farming towns, and Chico itself is surrounded by uninhabited hills and mesas. As you can see from the map below, it's almost directly north of Sacramento (about 90 miles).

Eighteen-year-old Meg was not the Meg you know and love today. You're probably thinking, "Well, duh--you're in your thirties now. No one goes from 18 to 31 without changing at least a little bit!" But the changes I've made seem massive. Eighteen-year-old Meg was a church-going, non-drinking, never-been-kissed and extremely naive girl (as opposed to Meg at thirty-one, who is Pagan Megan, wine-loving, been-kissed, bit-more-worldly).

But this post isn't about me, it's about Chico, one of California's many little delights. I visited on Friday, for the first time in a very, very long time. I took a lot of pictures, encountered many, many memories, and realized just how much I really do love that crazy little college town in the Middle of Nowhere.

I'll start with Chico's biggest, most famous institution, the university itself. Here's the institute of higher learning where Meg of the LPB labored for her BA in Music Education. I think you'll agree, it's a gorgeous campus. (Click here for an interactive map--very cool!)

The Performing Arts Center, as seen from the corner of 2nd Street and Normal.
I spent a lot of time in this building.
To the uninitiated, it was the P.A.C. (each letter pronounced individually).
To those of us who lived there, it was "The Pack."
Walking up the sidewalk on the back side of the PAC, there's a lovely view of Lassen Auditorium.
Kendall Hall is the main administration building.
I've heard people say that the brick buildings remind them of Ivy League campuses.
Chico students love the campus for its many trees and flowers.
Another view of the PAC--a side entrance that took music students
 directly to rehearsal rooms and classrooms.
The banners are new since my last visit...but the motto is not.
Trinity Hall houses Chico's bell tower, which chimes every half hour.
The Student Union was just beginning its expansion when I was leaving Chico. It now boasts a student fitness center and some nice cafes.
Meriam Library--a massive four-story structure.
I have good memories of studying for Music Theory 3 with my study buddy, Justin, a talented pianist.
I was sad to learn that he commit suicide a couple years
after we toiled our way through Dr. Burnham's difficult class.
Chico Creek runs through the middle of campus,
providing a little bit of peace and beauty to an already lovely campus.
There are little unpaved paths for walking, and I would often
 walk them to gain some peace in an otherwise hectic life.
As I approached the other side of campus,
 I noticed some major construction going on between the three on-campus dormitories
 (a Wikipedia read-through confirmed my guess that it's additional dorms).
Next to the dormitory I lived in as a freshman is Tehama Hall,
home of this computer lab, where I first became addicted to email.
 It's hard to believe that there was a time that I didn't have email, or an Internet addiction.
The window in the very middle of this picture was my dorm room in Whitney Hall.
I was lucky to have a single room, and never regretted the peace and privacy it afforded.
I still had to share a large community bathroom with 50 other girls.
 At this link, there is a layout of the residential floors of Whitney Hall.
Room *29 was mine (229, as I was on the 2nd floor).
Whitney Hall is actually the tallest building between Sacramento and the Oregon border (it has nine floors).
 It is the largest of Chico's dormitories.
One block down from Whitney, there's a residential area.
 I used to walk down this street every day in my freshman year,
to attend classes in the building at the very end of the street.
 Every day I admired the cute houses along the way.
A cute mural on the education building.
I majored in Music Education, which was based in the PAC,
so I didn't have much to do with this building.
If I'd stayed in Chico for my credential, my classes would have been here--
but I moved back to Folsom and earned my credential through National University.
Hamilton Building is where all of my classes were in my freshman year.
I was in a program called General Studies Thematic (GST),
 a program in which we earned 33 of our 48 required General Ed units in one classroom,
using a thematic scheme of work.
There were only 36 students (all freshman) and six professors.
 In retrospect, it was a great program,
but I was immature and didn't really take it seriously at the time.
Every GST class created something to leave behind,
so I suppose one year must have made this
 (and I'm glad they did, because I could not for the life of me remember where the hell the classroom was!).
My class made a Greek column, which, sadly, is gone.

Another view of the creek--there are several bridges crossing over it on campus.
The next few pictures are some student sculpture and pretty views along Chico Creek.
The George F. Peterson Rose Garden was planted in 1957.
Peterson's father was the gardener and horticulturist for John and Annie Bidwell,
 the founders of Chico. There is a fine for anyone caught picking roses here.
A close-up of Kendell Hall.
Chico State was once Chico Normal School, a teacher training school.
Chico's motto, "Today Decides Tomorrow," is engraved above the main entrance to Kendall Hall.
In front of Kendall Hall, many classes have buried time capsules.
 I was a part of the class of 2001.
Laxson Auditorium seats 1,200 and is in near-constant use by
 performers from around the world and Chico States own performing programs.
 I sang, played clarinet, and even worked as a stagehand on Laxson's stage.
The architecture of Laxson is described as Romanesque.
I never paid much attention to it when I was a student at Chico.
An impressive mural on one end of Taylor Hall, by the artist John Pugh.

Bidwell Mansion sits at one edge of the campus. John and Annie Bidwell were the founders of Chico (named for their Rancho Chico). Their mansion is open for tours.

The mansion from the side.
I'm thinking these must have been stables.

I'm sure you'll agree that the campus is impressive, for a state school. There is a certain level of snobbery in California, where people tend to tier colleges and see the University of California (UC) system as "better" and "more elite" than the CSU system. I figure I got just as good an education as I would have at a UC school, and I got out of taking the SAT2, and tuition cost less. I wouldn't trade my time in Chico for anything, including UC Berkeley, UCLA, or UC Davis.

The University is almost intimately linked with downtown Chico, and indeed, downtown is in heavy use by students throughout the school year.

I can't get away with a whole blog about Chico without mentioning the notorious "party school" reputation the school carries on its back. In 1989, things got out of hand at a Pioneer Day celebration, and riots ensued. The negative press caused people to think that Chico students are a bunch of Animal House wannabes, and it didn't help that Playboy magazine had ranked CSU Chico as number one on its "best party colleges" list in 1987.

Pioneer Days festivities were called to a halt, and things mostly settled down. By the time I arrived in 1996, there was a lingering reputation, and I'm sure that many other incoming freshmen were there because they wanted to have some fun. I'm also sure that many of them ended up washing out, as many college students do.

Face it, any college is going to have its share of partying, alcohol and even drug use. Chico is no better or worse than any other college I've visited or heard of. But as this letter to concerned parents points out, Chico is a true college town, and most of the students live within a two-mile radius of the campus itself. If you live that close to campus, you are also very close to downtown Chico, home to many bars.

Things can get out of hand, but I'm happy to say that in my first few years at Chico, I was able to safely celebrate Halloween without fear of injury or harassment. My last year, some friends and I went downtown, and we didn't encounter anything bad...but we did hear later that there had been stabbings and fights. In recent years, Halloween has become less a fun chance for Chico students to parade around downtown in hilarious costumes, and more a chance for bad things to happen. This is due to people coming in from out of town, ruining things for the students, who just want to have some fun.

But I digress. Downtown Chico is a fun place by day and by night. By day, it is a family-friendly place, largely devoid of chains. Many of Chico's finest shops and restaurants reside there.

A particular favorite is the Madison Bear Garden--but no one calls it that. Affectionately known as The Bear, it is a restaurant and bar by day, and a club by night. It serves one of the best burgers in all of Chico, and has plenty of atmosphere. Opened in 1977, it has been a beloved part of downtown ever since...if it ever closes, I fear that all of Chico will be sucked into a giant sinkhole. That's how catastrophic it would be.

The inside of the Bear is an eclectic collection of...well, junk.

If you tire of drinking at the Bear, there is no shortage of other bars in Chico. The rest of downtown is full of bars, restaurants and shops, old theaters, a city plaza, and everything else a proper downtown needs.

The one time I celebrated St. Patrick's Day in Chico (you have to be 21 to do the bar crawl), I stood outside Normal Street Bar at 4:00 am waiting to get in at 6:00. We drank green beer for a few hours, and then I stumbled two blocks to the PAC for a 10:00 choir rehearsal, because Dr. Gemmel had threatened chaos, mayhem and bodily harm to anyone who missed choir because of St. Pattie's.
A few shops. At the very left is LaSalles, another bar that got my patronage in my legal drinking years.
Jon & Bons is your standard frozen yogurt place, but it's family-owned and has been part of downtown for a long time. On Friday's visit, I stopped for a small cup of low-fat French Vanilla with cookie dough balls.
The music store that was here has since moved, but this awesome Beatles mural has remained.
The Upper Crust is a delightful little bakery, beloved by students.
Aca Taco was good for lunch, but my favorite was a total dive restaurant near 5th and Ivy streets called Tacos de Acapulco. I'm not convinced there weren't vermin in the kitchen, but at 2:00 am, when the bars closed, Tacos de was the place to get a burrito to take home.
Another true Chico tradition is Collier Hardware--in business since 1871. On Friday, I noticed the hanging sign was missing, and had a brief moment of panic, thinking Collier had closed. I would have burst into tears on the street if this had happened--fortunately, they're going strong, and I did my part to keep them going by buying some wooden spoons for my kitchen.
Tres Hombres is a favorite restaurant in Chico--one of the nicer sit-down Mexican restaurants. Sadly, they were badly damaged by a fire back in December, but according to the boards outside, they'll be back.
Town Founders John and Annie Bidwell. It was Annie who donated a large chunk of land--approximately 2,500 acres--to the city of Chico that today is the beloved Bidwell Park.
This is new since my days in Chico, and I don't know much about it, except that I like what they've done with the exterior of the building.
Old Town Root Beer replaced Pizza Face, which made me sad.
There were several artistic benches throughout downtown that were not there in my day. I liked them, as they show off the creative talents that live in Chico.
Crazy Horse Saloon was a fun place to go dancing. I never rode the mechanical bull...I have no regrets.
In my Chico days, there were three music stores downtown--Tower, The Underground, and one that I think was called Sundance. Sundance closed during my time in Chico, Tower shortly after, and The Underground a few years later. Where the kids go for used CDs now, I have no idea...but then, they're probably all like me, buying music on iTunes. Or illegally downloading, which I don't do.

The Chico City Plaza looks hugely different than what I knew--gone are the gigantic old trees, and much of the grass is gone, paved over and replaced with a fountain and small pavilion. At first I thought, "No, this is awful!" but I've come to learn that many of the old trees were diseased, so a remodel was in order. 

The war memorial is new, and a very nice touch.
A lovely old building across from the park.
Just a block from the plaza is the old Senator theater. I used to see movies there, but these days, it's used for live acts. At least its used--many old theaters aren't so lucky.
The plaza provides a fun fountain and small pavilion stage for live music. Perfect during the Thursday Night Farmer's Market.
Chico's downtown post office.
I liked the elm court for its lovely chess tables.
I had forgotten all about House of Rice, and was delighted to see it is still in business. It is one of those wonderful, eclectic Asian import stores--I remember laughing once over a "family-sized" tube of wasabi sauce, smaller than a standard tube of toothpaste.
Bird in Hand is another favorite store, and home to Chico's own National Yo Yo Museum.
The world's largest working wood yo yo. I challenge any college town to beat this.

Naturally, I found the Snoopy yo yos.
The El Rey showed new-release movies until its closure a few years ago. Happily, they're showing movies again, and apparently, this weekend's feature was "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." I saw Leo and Kate in the weepfest "Titanic" at this theater in 1997.

Chico is a thriving small city, with modern conveniences, malls, mega-movie theaters, and even an auto mall. But the heartbeat of Chico is heard loudest in the areas described in this post. While all of my Chico friends have moved on to bigger cities, or nearer their families, we all agree that our time in Chico was a great time, that our experiences there made us who we are. While most of us wouldn't go back to Chico to live, we carry it with us always--it is truly a small gem in The Middle of Nowhere, California.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your blog on your time at Chico State. We fell in love with the campus when we visited (we're in San Diego) and our son just started as a freshman. So far he is thrilled with his decision. Loves all his classes, loves all his professors, and loves the little city of Chico. He too is a music student (Recording Arts option) and I'm looking forward to his first performance so I'll have an excuse to visit Chico again!

Unknown said...

So glad to see someone else loving Tacos de !!!