The Barber District has some nice houses and bad streets

West 18th Street between Salem Street and Normal Avenue is marked by potholes in the middle of the road, as seen in Chico, California, Friday, November 10, 2023. (Ed Booth/Enterprise-Record)

One of Chico’s oldest neighborhoods started out as not being part of Chico.

Filled with attractive, mostly well-maintained old homes, the Barber neighborhood is a gem of a residential area. When it was not an incorporated place, it was an independent community in its early days.

It has mature shade trees and does not have a lot of traffic, due to its location in the far southwest corner of the incorporated Chico area. It does not have heavy traffic because unless a motorist is heading east on Park Avenue, or north on Ninth Street (Highway 32), Barber does not have a direct access to traffic.

But what it does have are streets that need some help. This quiet neighborhood, whose peace is only disturbed when the train passes through the city a short distance to the west, has a sidewalk that we can describe in only one way: mean.

Scene mode

Welcome to Barber, which began as a settlement providing residential and business services for Diamond Match employees. That large company occupied what is now fenced property that the city had once earmarked for development, under the name Barber Yard. There’s not much left on the property except a storage building, a beautiful brick warehouse, weeds and concrete pads, where vandals started a fire about 20 years ago that destroyed the brick factory that was once the central factory facilities.

Outside of the property, bounded by Normal Avenue and Chestnut Street to the east, the Union Pacific Railroad tracks to the west, Orchards and Estes Road to the south and an apartment complex to the north, lies a working-class neighborhood and is clearly a desirable location. To live.

Many of the homes – no doubt because of their relative affordability, compared to newer developments – have attracted younger homeowners and renters. It is clear that the owners have put a lot of money and effort into revitalizing the homes and the neighborhood in general. It’s cool…it’s hip…it’s happening. People painted houses in bright, vibrant colors, and yards and balconies were designed for comfort.

But unfortunately, the streets are, at best, in marginal condition, and some are absolutely deplorable.

A depression in the sidewalk marks the middle of the intersection of West 17th Street and Normal Avenue, as seen in Chico, California, Friday, November 10, 2023. (Ed Booth/Enterprise-Record)

Take West 18th Street around Salem Street and Normal Avenue, for example. The street has a strange pattern of potholes and depressions in the middle of the road. It’s strange. The streets are a bit narrower than modern streets, and since there aren’t any center lines, vehicles are likely to stay away from the edges. This may be what keeps the wear near the middle.

You can see why drivers don’t want to be on the curbs, because the ends of the curb and the gravel or dirt shoulders (with thick carpets of weeds, in most areas) take it from there. The edges of the pavement are cracked and jagged, sometimes leaving fist-sized bits of asphalt nearby.

Even in areas further north on Salem Street, near the intersections with 14th and 15th Streets, undulating sidewalk is a recurring feature; It causes a strange “wobbly” sensation when driving over it. Fortunately, the asphalt has maintained its integrity and has not turned into potholes – yet.

The diamond is now rough

The diamond property is an interesting property. It was a bustling place, in the days when a large portion of the population smoked tobacco, and the most common (and economical) way to light tobacco was with matches.

Diamond produced millions upon millions of matches every day from its three factories, including the one in Chico, which was founded by company president O.C. (Ohio Columbus) Barber — that’s exactly right: a man with a state and a city by his first and middle names. In the early twentieth century. He had a controlling interest in the company, which was based in Akron, where he lived.

Barber also oversaw the construction of the railway from Stirling, where Diamond owned forest lands that provided wood for matches. This railroad was how Diamond transported logs to Chico for processing. Barber Village was a company town separate from Chico City, and most diamond workers lived in homes in the area north of West 16th Street and south of Little Chico Creek.

Some of the company’s executives in Chico lived in large houses on Broadway, many of which still stand. If you haven’t visited the area to see the homes, do so. They are beautiful.

Chico eventually annexed the Barber region. The neighborhood extending south to West 22nd Street is said to have been the first part of Chico to be connected to sewer service in the 1910s.

Modernization of city streets

The dust has settled — literally and figuratively — after the first round of road improvement projects thanks to Measure H funding from the city of Chico.

The first project, completed in September, included improvements to Eastern Avenue from Interstate 99 to Manzanita Avenue, Locust Street to Hemlock Street between East 12th Street and East 20th Street, and Lassen Avenue from the park to Cohasset Road.

Crews also applied “slurry sealing” to the roads, designed to extend the life of the pavement before it deteriorates into a more expensive and failing condition. The project included new lines and paving markings after the seal was applied.

Voters approved a one-cent sales tax increase in 2022 that took effect in April. City officials expect to provide $24 million annually, all of which will go to the city’s general fund.

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