Although a century and a continent separated them, Henry David Thoreau and Claude H. Caldwell shared two vital attributes. Each was gone much too early, in his forties. Both are known by local sites which generations admire and gratefully acknowledge.
While everyone knows Caldwell Park, few can recall anything about the man behind the treasured place along Redding’s Sacramento River.
Claude Caldwell was born 5 Aug 1919 in Bay City, Michigan. His father’s railroad job was lost in the Great Depression. An uncle operated a lumber mill in Bieber, California. There the family journeyed in 1931. Claude graduated from high school and went to Sacramento State then to University of California at Los Angeles. He obtained a Bachelor of Science degree before World War II interrupted education. Caldwell joined the Army Air Corps and became a navigator who eventually survived thirty two bombing missions in the Pacific Theater. There was time in 1944 for a Dana, California, sweetheart named Coral to drive to Boca Raton to be married. Nothing was easy then. Try to imagine completing a cross country trip in two weeks during rationing for frequently failing tires and gasoline.
After the service, the young veteran entered Hastings College of Law and completed work in 1949. The Caldwells moved to Redding where three youngsters followed in quick succession. Claude was immersed in family, profession, civic and social activities. He began work with Frank Schumann and afterward Larry Kennedy in the Office of the District Attorney. Eventually, he entered a successful private practice. Caldwell was a founding member of the Asphalt Cowboys. He was a leader of the Elks and member of the Masonic Knights Templar. Additionally, he was instrumental in helping to form Riverview Country Club and became its president.
Beyond these volunteer matters which came and went in importance was a decade of ceaseless involvement with the City of Redding.
From 5 Dec 1950 to 11 Mar 1958, Claude Caldwell was the first chair of the newly created Parks and Recreation Commission. He remained a member of this body until 5 Oct 1959, just before his death on 13 Feb 1960.
In the same brain which carried his vision came a tumor which could not be stopped. He would live to see his dream partially completed. A city in mourning would quickly finish what he wanted.
Caldwell began lobbying immediately after his appointment. He believed both sides of the river between the Diestelhorst Bridge and the relatively new Market Street Bridge should be in public ownership. This was not a universal sentiment. Miracle Mile was practically outside of Redding. There were plans afoot to install a trailer park just west of the north abutment of the Market Street Bridge. When City Fathers would buy no more on the north bank, Caldwell convinced his Elks Club to buy ten more acres from Mrs. Benton in San Francisco. She wanted $40,000 and there was no bargaining with the delegation of two which included Caldwell.
There are two Redding Council Resolutions – No. 2806 and 2843 – that state the record of Mr. Caldwell’s tireless work and achievements for the city. Council Members Falkerth, Martin, Puryear, Simons and Fleharty are witness to the town’s gratitude. The Shasta County Superior Court passed a Resolution carried by close friend Larry Kennedy. Masonic Grand Master Breslauer presided over ceremonies which dedicated a small marker on 1 Jul 1961 in the Park which bears Caldwell’s name. Two hundred fifty grateful citizens were present. The speeches ended and the balloons faded. The marker lost its place of honor when roads were realigned and other facilities were built.
Years piled on years. Trails connected Caldwell’s ideal to mighty Shasta Dam. Faithful Coral never forgot who started this procession. A few years ago, she tried to interest the City in resurrecting the tiny tablet to her husband’s memory. There was a long interval of back and forth and little progress. Money was short despite the family’s insistence on wanting to help. Interest in this forward-looking man and his message was somehow diminished by time. Yet Redding has not changed that much. It is still a town where knowing someone who knows someone can get important things done.
Greg Caldwell, Claude and Coral’s eldest, was telling a high school friend, Jim Zauher, one day about his mother’s concern and lack of progress. Jim had occasion to speak with Claude’s long time friend and once client, Rudy Balma. Between them they got Tom Semingson and Redding Rotary involved and a complete working drawing was presented to the City. There is more to this story. Readers here only need to learn that Joe Hansen, Ray Stewart, Don Gallino, their respective work crews and the City’s Kim Niemer and Karen McGrath made things happen. Another of Greg’s friends, Sculptor Mark Stinson, began work on a large piece of sandstone from near Maxwell.
The plaza, its important art, a new plaque and picnic tables will allow the public to quietly enjoy one of Redding’s best locations. There, they can remember the man responsible.
Greg Caldwell says the family never had such a monument in mind.
However, nothing done by the City, nor its citizens, will ever truly match the debt owed to Claude Caldwell.
(Randy Smith wrote this article a while ago for his Redding Rotary Club in anticipation of the dedication of the Claude Caldwell Memorial Plaza.)
Randy Smith is a retired physician, member City of Redding Planning Commission, Cal-Tip Advisory Board, Rotary Club of Redding Stream Team.