Esplanades and Boulevards

Paris! Barcelona! New York City! Chico!  Chico?

What puts Chico in the same class as these world-renowned cities? It is Chico’s own Esplanade, a boulevard noted for its beauty and charm.

bouleward bookIn The Boulevard Book, authors Allan B. Jacobs, Elizabeth Macdonald, and Yodan Rofé study the “History, Evolution, Design of Multiway Boulevards.” A beautiful large volume with numerous drawings and diagrams, this book was published by The MIT Press in 2002. Allan B. Jacobs is a notable urban designer and professor emeritus at the UC Berkeley Center for Environmental Design.

The authors have this to say about The Esplanade:

The Esplanade in Chico, California is a relatively new multiway boulevard and it is unexpected, but it plays second fiddle to none of the others. . . .

One would not expect to find a multiway boulevard in a small, agriculturally-based community in the northern Central Valley of California. Boulevards of this type are so often associated with formal structure and strong, centrally directed design — characteristics not usually associated with agricultural communities. Often, too, boulevards start out as such; they are designed and built that way from the outset. Not so The Esplanade. It began as a private road on Rancho Chico, the 25,000 acre Bidwell family estate, and was first used principally by farm wagons. [Although it crossed Rancho Chico, which was Bidwell’s private property, the Esplanade (the former Shasta Road) was always a public thoroughfare.]

But by as early as 1898 it had been planted with four rows of trees and become a public roadway for buggies, wagons, bicycles, and pedestrians. By 1905 there were streetcars on The Esplanade, part of what was to become a remarkably comprehensive public transit system in a small city, one that permitted travel as far south as San Francisco.

The authors continue with a detailed analysis of The Esplanade and its functionality. At the time this study was written, the only criticisms they had were that the needs of pedestrians at crosswalks could be better addressed, and that the Esplanade really needed an ice cream shop about halfway along. (I’ll vote for that! although I do like a softie cone from Big Al’s.)

By the way, if you are wondering about the world “esplanade,” it comes from Middle French, via Spanish, from the Latin word explanare, meaning “to make level.” Originally an esplanade was a clear level space around a fortification, but it came to mean “a level, open area; especially : an area for walking or driving along a shore.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary.)


About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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2 Responses to Esplanades and Boulevards

  1. says:

    Hi Nancy:

    Again, I love your posts. Do you know why we pronounce it Esplanaid and why we say ammens?

    Sue Vaurs

    *From:* goldfields [] *Sent:* Friday, April 29, 2016 8:53 PM *To:* *Subject:* [New post] Esplanades and Boulevards

    nancyleek posted: “Paris! Barcelona! New York City! Chico! Chico? What puts Chico in the same class as these world-renowned cities? It is Chico’s own Esplanade, a boulevard noted for its beauty and charm. In The Boulevard Book, authors Allan B. Jacobs, Elizabeth Macdonal”

    • nancyleek says:

      Hmmm — I wonder how John and Annie pronounced “esplanade.” The standard pronunciation is “esplanAWd,” but the dictionary does give the alternative of “esplanAID.” My guess is that we pronounce it that way because that’s what it looks like — like “lemonade” or “cavalcade.” It’s an unusual word, not one that many people would have heard before, so they would pronounce the way it looks.

      As for “almond” or “ammen” — I just don’t know. Originally the “L” was silent. The Brits still pronounce it “AWmond.” No L. So “ALLmond” is a newer pronunciation, based on the spelling. Probably “ammen” is an older variant.

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