Everything changes

A scenic spot on the Noyo Headlands

It took me a few decades, but last May I finally returned to Fort Bragg in Mendocino County for the first time since I was a kid. Even though on this occasion we were only passing through and I didn’t have much time to look around, it was still great to see this part of the Northern California coast again. Inevitably, so much has changed over the years the town is like an entirely different place to the Fort Bragg of my (admittedly very vague) memories.

Pudding Creek Trestle seen from Highway 1

I seem to recall being very young — maybe 5 or 6 years old — and staying with my family at a small motel along the highway in or very near Fort Bragg. The main thing that stuck in my mind about this place was the breezeway leading to a sandy trail — and what seemed at the time a fairly long hike that took us through some sort of a tunnel and eventually to a beach. There’s no telling now where that might have been, although one possibility is somewhere near Pudding Creek.

Highway 1 at Laurel Street

Some of Fort Bragg’s original old buildings remain, but sadly a few were lost in the late 1980s due to a rash of arson attacks. The beloved Piedmont Hotel, built in the late 1910s and located near Highway 1 and Laurel, was one victim as well as a number of other popular restaurants and, even more painfully, the town’s City Hall and library which housed over a century of historical records. The whole convoluted story of these events is available to read online in a series of newspaper articles written in 1999.

The former Grey Whale Inn is another historic building, this one sitting at the corner of Highway 1 and West Fir. This lovely old building functioned as a hospital from its opening in 1915 until 1971; since then, it’s changed hands a few times and transitioned from a Bed and Breakfast to a vegan cooking school, and in 2020, a halfway house for veterans. At the moment it appears to be “Permanently Closed.”

I was a little disappointed when I realized the green colored 1947-era deck truss bridge over the Noyo River had been replaced with a more modern concrete structure back in 2002. To me, there was always something a bit romantic about that former bridge (the fifth of a total of six bridges to occupy that spot).

Noyo Bridge in screenshot from Overboard (1987)

South Cliff seen from Noyo Headlands

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