By John Gottberg Anderson, For The Register-Guard

Calif. — I never would have expected a moment like this beneath a
pedestrian bridge in a small Northern California city.

As a crescent moon rose above the stylus-like tower of the Sundial
Bridge, a quartet of musicians — flute, piccolo, oboe and bassoon —
exploded in harmony beneath the foot of the bridge. And as I looked up, I
saw the span as a giant harp, with a light breeze and an invisible hand
strumming its anchoring steel cables.

Once upon a time not so very long ago, Redding was just another town, a
refueling stop for Interstate 5 travelers between Eugene and San
Francisco. Downtown was rolling up its sidewalks as the population moved
to the suburbs and outlying shopping malls. If a community can suffer
self-esteem issues, Redding was a prime candidate for a trip to an urban

Then came the Sundial Bridge over the Sacramento River. And, like magic, everything changed.

Even in its municipal despair, Redding had a few believers among its
90,000 people. Principal among them was a philanthropic organization
known as the McConnell Foundation. When a progressive Redding City
Council decided in 1994 that a proposed new bridge could be something
beyond the ordinary, the foundation not only took the lead in hiring an
architect, it put up the lion’s share of the money.

Search leads to Europe

The search committee’s research led it to Spanish-born
architect-engineer Santiago Calatrava. His work in Europe was well-known
— bridges and concert halls, railroad stations and stadiums from Lisbon
to Athens — but he was relatively unknown in the United States.

Calatrava visited Redding, took one look at its proposed bridge site,
where the broad Sacramento River winds through a live-oak forest, and
saw it as a perfect blank canvas.

Calatrava’s Sundial Bridge opened on July 4, 2004. At once a work of art
and a freestanding technical marvel, the steel, glass and granite span
is especially spectacular after dark, when the translucent deck lights
up and townspeople make it their favorite place for an evening stroll.
Seven hundred feet long but only 23 feet wide, it cost $23 million to
build, and it is a working sundial (even if the shadow is accurate only
one day a year, on the summer solstice).

Now, the city is commemorating the bridge’s 10-year anniversary with two
weeks of special activities. “Celebrate 10” will begin on June 20 when
vertical dance pioneers Bandaloop perform on the Sundial Bridge pylon
and will continue with a variety of concerts and river races until the
climactic fireworks on July Fourth.

Turtle Bay park

The bridge links the two sides of the 300-acre Turtle Bay Exploration
Park, which layers human and natural history, art, science, forestry and
horticulture in a multidimensional learning center for all ages.

At its heart, on the south side of the river, is the Turtle Bay Museum, a
wonderful interactive space with permanent exhibits on the Sacramento
River (with underwater fish viewing), the prehistoric native Wintu
culture, pioneer exploration and more. Across a boardwalk that looks
down upon a wooded wetland is Paul Bunyan’s Forest Camp, a
child-oriented educational community. Exhibits study contemporary forest
issues and include a twice-daily animal show with trained raptors.
Summer-only aviary exhibits of tropical birds and butterflies are also
offered in this area.

North of the river is the McConnell Arboretum and Gardens, a 20-acre
botanical garden specializing in plants from Mediterranean-­climate
regions all over the world, California to Chile, Australia to South
Africa. If you travel with your dog, you can walk your four-legged
companion across the bridge and through the arboretum, connecting from
there to the extensive Sacramento River Trail system.

Urban pride

Even as construction of the Sundial Bridge and Turtle Bay park were
underway, a new citizen organization was stirring the pot in downtown
Redding. Viva Downtown Redding organized in 1996 to stage a Thursday
evening summer event called MarketFest, with music, crafts booths and a
farmers’ market. That was the first step.

Over the years, Viva has added 12 other downtown events, spread over the
course of 12 months. It has supported numerous historic restoration
efforts, developed public art projects and generally returned Redding’s
downtown to a livability that had been lost decades earlier. New
restaurants have moved into old buildings. The former 1907 City Hall has
been reinvented as an arts center, with a gallery, performance hall and
video-production studio.

But the pride and joy of downtown Redding is the Cascade Theater. Built
in classic Art Deco style in 1935, the 1,001-seat Cascade fell on hard
times in the late 20th century. United Artists attempted to convert it
into a four-plex cinema but closed it in 1996. A citizen group saved it
from the wrecking ball in 1998 and after a $6.5 million investment
reopened it six years later — just as the Sundial Bridge was being
unveiled. Today the Cascade Theater is a multiuse performing arts venue,
on the National Register of Historic Places. Its neon marquee invites
arts patrons to step into its Greek myth-inspired lobby and on into the
theater, where gold, silver and copper leaf has been uncovered and

Elsewhere in Redding, a new City Hall is surrounded by an elaborate
2½-acre sculpture park, built around a large central fountain on
manicured rolling hills. The Redding Convention Center rises tier by
tier near the entrance to Turtle Bay and the Sundial Bridge. Youth
sports have been treated to the $5 million Redding Aquatic Center,
featuring an Olympic-size swimming pool and the $10 million Redding
Soccer Park, offering 23 acres of fields.

And then there’s Big League Dreams, a five-field softball complex at the
east end of town that draws tournament-goers from Oregon and other
nearby states. The lure? To-scale replicas of New York’s Yankee Stadium,
Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field. It’s beloved to kids
of all ages.

Shasta and Whiskeytown

West of Redding — 15 and 20 minutes, respectively, via State Highway 299
— are Shasta State Historic Park and Whiskeytown National Recreation
Area. Together they make a wonderful full-afternoon excursion from the

Shasta saw its heyday during a mining boom of the 1850s. Through the
1860s and ’70s, it was the hub of activity in the region. After the
railroad chose a route through Redding in the 1880s, however, it went
into a rapid decline. Today, the excellent Courthouse Museum looks just
as it did in 1861; don’t miss the perfectly restored courtroom, the
basement jail and the collection of fine art from 71 California artists
who worked between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries.

The west side of the highway is a long block of abandoned red-brick
buildings, their roofs rotted away, their walls only partly standing.
Interpretive signs identify the businesses that once thrived here. At
the south end of this block, the Litsch General Store and the Blumb
Bakery have been restored to their original condition. In the general
store, a wide range of canned goods, pharmaceuticals, dry goods and
other items displayed as if for sale.

The visitor center for Whiskeytown is just a couple of miles farther,
overlooking lovely Whiskeytown Lake, created by the damming of Clear
Creek in 1963. A plaque recalls its dedication by President John F.
Kennedy a few months before his assassination. If the weather is hot and
you just have to get wet, plan to visit one of the lakeside beaches or
marinas. Boating, sailing, kayaking, fishing, camping, hiking and
mountain biking are popular activities.

Whiskeytown was settled as a gold-mining community about 1850, and one
pioneer mansion, the Camden House, is still open for tours. It’s also a
place where visitors can learn gold panning. But the gold rush didn’t
last, and neither did the village of Whiskeytown.

Those pioneers hadn’t learned the lessons that Redding understood a
century-and-a-half later — that if you build a good bridge, you might
just save your town.

June 2014