In 1979 Helen Sommer Gage was interviewed in an oral history project about her memories of early Chico. The interview is called Chico Changes: The Bidwells, the Park, First Street, the Esplanade, 1888 to 1979, and the interviewer was Insu Justesen. The typescript of the interview is available at Special Collections, Meriam Library, CSU Chico.
Helen Sommer Gage was born in 1888, and had grown up knowing the General and Mrs. Bidwell. As a young woman she was a friend and companion to Mrs. Bidwell, and often stayed overnight at the Mansion. Here is what she had to say about the development of The Esplanade:
IJ: How do you feel about the remaking of the Esplanade? I know that they took out a lot of trees and remade it.
HG: They didn’t remake it exactly. After General made his first visit to Washington as a member of the House, that was his first view of a real beautiful city. He was just enchanted with the tree-lined streets and the beautiful homes set back in lovely gardens. He made up his mind: if he ever had a town it would have broad streets lined with trees. And that was one reason why Chico’s streets are broader than the towns that were laid out at that time.
He planted locust trees from one end of town to the other. They were very beautiful, and they were very fragrant, but of course they did scatter blossoms and all that sort of thing. It had been his project to make the Esplanade a beautiful, tree-lined street. I remember after they cut them all down, it was horrible, just a blazing mass in the summertime. And I remember Mrs. Bidwell having one of those little carriage parasols that turned sideways. Whenever her carriage was driven out when they came out of the Mansion gate she would never look towards the Esplanade. And she’d say a little prayer to herself, like that. . . . But she felt so terribly to see that beautiful tree-lined street that in the springtime was just filled with these beautiful, white blossoms. She just couldn’t look at it. And a lot of people felt that way too.
IJ: I know that this century, when those trees did finally grow, I heard that when you drove along Esplanade you were completely enclosed by the tree branches meeting overhead.
HG: You mean the old trees that were there. Yes, they were big trees. I think it’s beautiful now. I think they probably have a better type of street tree. That was all they had in those days.