Time Stands Still
CONE - KIMBALL PLAZA
Story & Photos: Beth K. Maxey
For nearly 100 years, the tall Victorian clock tower atop the Cone- Kimball building in downtown Red Bluff was considered the “heart” of the city, a unique monument that set it apart from other North State river towns.
Built in 1886, the gas-lit Cone- Kimball building was declared by a San Francisco newspaper to be “the finest business house north of Sacramento.” Thousands of Tehama County citizens grew up shopping at the mercantile store on the southwest corner of Walnut and Main. Its stately columns and clocks are still pictured on the city’s official seal.
Then the building and clock tower burned on April 30, 1984, plunging the community into mourning for the elegant symbol. Just days after the fire, community members began talking about rebuilding the clock tower, says Venita Philbrick, a member of the Cone & Kimball Corner Committee.
A citizens’ committee began collecting funds for a new tower in the late 1980s but eventually disbanded without making much headway. Funds that had already been collected helped build the Red Bluff Community Center, according to Philbrick.
“There was talk of putting a Jiffy Lube on the corner in the early 1990s,” says Nancy Robison, a committee member and Red Bluff resident for nearly 45 years.
A new committee was formed to examine the possibilities. “We had an architect, landscape architect, graphic designer and a lot of the old pillars of the community,” she remembers. That group recommended that the property be developed as an urban park – but because of the deaths of then-owner Richard Barrett of Healdsburg and his daughter, the sale fell through, and with it, the committee’s plans, according to “The Time Has Come,” a brief history of the property written by Mary Lee Grimes.
Finally in 1997, the Red Bluff Rotary Foundation voted to purchase the corner lot, and began a fundraising partnership with the Downtown Red Bluff Business Association and the Historic Red Bluff Association. The current committee – “the driving force,” says Robison – is derived from that partnership.
In December 1999, after many community donations and fundraisers, the mortgage was retired. And, says Philbrick, three years later the tower project got a huge boost with a $250,000 grant. Final plans were approved in June 2005, and Triple D Metal Work and Fabrication was hired to build the 75-foot clock tower. A $50,000 donation from Vesper Masonic Lodge #84 bought the clocks and carillon.
“The focus was always tourism,” Robison explains. “The tower will pull people in.”
In the designs for the corner lot considered since it burned, a replica of the clock tower was central to all of them, she says.
The fundraising has been ongoing over the last 10 years, Philbrick explains.
“The Red Bluff Rotary Foundation has raised $820,000 since the committee started when the lot was purchased,” including the grant money, she says. In-kind labor and material is another $200,000 to $250,000, bringing the project total to more than $1 million, Philbrick says.
A final push to raise $40,000 in 40 days – or $20 from 2,000 people – began Nov. 17, and the committee also applied for a grant to complete the landscaping, brick trim and signage.
Today, the Cone & Kimball plaza invites passersby with trees, winding sidewalks lined with bricks bearing names of community members (from a previous fundraiser), benches, a covered gazebo at one end of the park, and the clock tower once again marking that southwest corner of Walnut and Main Streets – once more the “heart” of Red Bluff.
“It’s there for the community to use,” says Philbrick.
“It is because of the people of Tehama County that this has happened,” Robison says. “It is theirs more than anything. Rotary owns the property, but it really belongs to the community.”