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Davis, California

Friday, April 19, 2024

Hidden in Davis


Three spooky spots off the beaten path

Davis, California — a sleepy, quaint college town where grunge and grime is there for only those who keenly seek it. Davis’ immaculate crop fields and pristine storefronts on blocks labelled in alphabetical and numerical order reassure its residents of their security. But when those special seekers look hard enough, they may find a surprisingly different story. An entire bridge covered in graffiti, a mysteriously abandoned house on campus and the site where 157 pounds of human remains were once stored all lurk in the shadows of the town of Davis.


Stevenson Bridge

Seven miles from the edge of campus between the towns of Winters and Davis lies a graffiti-covered bridge that gives car traffic passage over the murky waters of Putah Creek. Dubbed “The Graffiti Bridge” by locals, Stevenson Bridge’s colorful exterior and gritty aesthetic has attracted taggers, bikers and photographers alike and has inspired many offbeat projects including a miniature library, a music album entitled “Memories of Graffiti Bridge” and a softcore pornography shoot.

“It’s an interesting landmark seeing that it’s super narrow, super run down, but it’s also covered in graffiti so it has a lot of artistic elements to it,” said Scott Cohen, a third-year mechanical science and engineering major and president of the UC Davis Cycling Club, who often crosses the bridge on rides with his team.

Cohen is one of many who noted the bridge’s endearing, ever-changing paintings, as well as Matt Tuggle, Solano County engineering manager, who has been overseeing rehabilitation of the bridge for a decade.

“The paint that’s on it one year will actually change because folks will get out there and change the hues and colors over time,” Tuggle said.

Evan To, a second-year civil and environmental engineering major, who also frequents the bridge as a member of the UC Davis Triathlon Club, explained how part of the intrigue of the bridge was how tags relating to current events — like “Feel the Bern” and “F*ck Trump” — often appeared on the structure.

Beyond its exterior, Stevenson Bridge is only one of three California bridges built in the overhead tie arch style, but has been deemed structurally unsound since the early 2000s. A collaboration between Solano and Yolo counties to rehabilitate it has been slow-moving, but is predicted by Tuggle to be completed by 2019.


Abandoned House

Traveling toward the southern end of UC Davis’ campus, flat beds toting agricultural supplies rumble by modern research buildings, farm technology and a decaying, one-story building that poses an enigma. Framed by spindly trees and overgrown bushes, a yellow-fading-to-brown enclosed porch juts out, its windows either wholly missing or boarded up. Entrance to its interior is now barred by newly installed boards, but broken windows still expose scattered papers, open filing cabinets and a yawning darkness stretching into the depths of the building. And one can still explore parts of the building, including a rusty generator room, dilapidated courtyard and a wide space one might presume to be a garage, all which remain a mystery even to John Zertuche,  the director of UC Davis Building Maintenance Services.


“The history of it, I could not tell you what it was” Zertuche said. “That I just don’t know. It’s just one of the older buildings slated for demolition, timing still being considered. We’re just waiting for it to be removed from the campus.”

Meanwhile, the fading house sits quietly resting; its future a mystery, just as its past.



Human Remains

The story of Davis Lawrence Beale, a former autopsy aide at the UC Davis Medical Center, made national headlines in 2003 when he was convicted for storing 157 pounds of human remains including organs, severed limbs, fetuses and at least two fully recognizable human heads in his former home on Olive Drive and a nearby shed and locker.

Beale allegedly stole the remains over the course of a decade from various Davis medical facilities to dissect for personal interest.  

Lt. Jim Harritt of the Davis Police Department, reported to the San Francisco Chronicle how Beale would place body parts underneath his trailer for vermin to eat until only the bone was left behind for him to collect. Police were tipped off to Beale’s behavior by a passerby who discovered a container of four people’s remains next to a dumpster nearby his house.


Today, Beale’s former home at Slatter’s Court is just a couple blocks away from campus and is a popular affordable housing spot for quirky UC Davis students. According to the Slatter’s Court website, the housing area and trailer park “is an eclectic mix of artists, musicians, students, retirees, and everyone in between” — including the the likes of Beale and the deceased.

Audrey Salbacka, a third-year art studio major and English minor, had never heard of the Beale case and said she was horrified when she found out about it. However, such horrors could just be one of many hidden in Davis.

“It does make me more interested in the history [of Davis],” Salbacka said. “It’s like, this was a small town but got bigger, so I bet lots of really weird things have happened in the past.”
Written by: Kristen Leung — features@theaggie.org


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