From the Archives

From the Archives

Tales of the Towers

In June, California Water Service informed the Chico community that four downtown water towers may not stand long. They don’t meet modern standards, pose earthquake hazards, and are no longer needed for the city’s water supply.  

Yet, many people associate the iconic infrastructure with Chico’s visual identity and history. Two of the towers, dating back to 1905 and 1913, stand at East Third and Orient Streets, and are listed on the registry of historic homes. A third tank at East Sixth Avenue and the Esplanade is circa 1945, and the fourth tank at West Second and Cherry Streets near campus dates to 1950.  

Local pranksters painted "hot" and "cold" on Chico's water towers in 1953.

Local pranksters painted "hot" and "cold" on Chico's water towers in 1953.

During his research into the towers’ historical significance, history professor Mike Magliari learned a local legend. Lore had it that decades ago, some pranksters climbed the towers overnight and added the words “hot” and “cold” to their exteriors. But Maglairi, who is part of the Chico Heritage Association, could find nothing to prove the rumor.  

Then, after a speech at the Chico Museum, he heard from Gerald Laumer (BS, Engineering, ’58), who coincidentally just received evidence of the long-passed prank. It was a front page from the Chico Enterprise-Record from November 2, 1953, with a large photo of the towers and their new signage. The caption calls it a Halloween prank that took place when the police reserves went off duty after 3 a.m.—“A little good clean fun, that’s all, boys.”  

Laumer remembers it well, as his back porch stared straight up at the towers. A family member tracked down the newspaper front page for him, after a discussion about the towers’ removal had him reminiscing. He thinks the words stayed for months or even years, until the tanks were finally repainted.  

As part of his work to save the towers, Magliari wants to collect as much information about them as he can, including anecdotes from their history. If anyone has a story to share—and especially details on the hot-cold caper of 1953—he can be reached at mmagliari@csuchico.edu or 530-898-6332.  

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