Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bidwell Bowl Amphitheater, Chico

Bidwell Bowl is one of those secret surprises that is nice to discover when traveling or just playing tourist in your home town. I had a note that there was a WPA – that’s Works Progress Administration – era amphitheater on the Chico State University campus and set out to find it. I stopped several students in my pursuit and was pointed in several directions and finally resorted to the library to get clear directions. The theater is actually just west of the Physical Science Building and adjacent to Big Chico Creek. After chasing all across campus to find it, I discovered a lovely footbridge, modeled on the original that led to the amphitheater from the Bidwell Mansion garden I’d visited just the day before. Ah well, had I discovered the theater from the mansion I might have skipped seeing the campus.

The stage is on the opposite side of the river
Like so many of our state’s gifts from the WPA and the vision of President Franklin Roosevelt, the theater is understated. Made from local stone the gently arced amphitheater tucks nicely into the natural slope. What is particularly appealing is the fact that the stage is on the opposite side of the river, so while watching a performance one is also enjoying the natural beauty of the turbulent blue-green water as it flows past the stage.

The decorative railing matches the original built by the Bidwell family
The space is defined by stone walls on three sides. The walls are curved on top both in section and elevation. At the top row of seats a band of cement was added to provide a smooth surface to lean against. Lichen growing on the stone adds a touch of softness. The ground surface is concrete with steps moving up the slope. The seats are simple in design and made of wood.

Like many WPA projects a bronze marker provides the date of construction – a welcome touch for those of us interested in history. I wish all buildings and designed landscapes incorporated dates of construction and the name of the designer. 

This simple bronze plaque gives the date of construction


  1. Lovely, Chris! Thanks for the tour. BTW, great article in this month's Nugget!

  2. I, too, have poked around Chico campus and Bidwell Park and have never come across the amphitheater. I enjoyed both of your recent posts.