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Happy Birthday, Caldecott Tunnel

The Caldecott Tunnel turns 75 Wednesday, while Thursday features a ceremony honoring school kids — including two from Lafayette — whose designs were chosen for the large decorative medallions to be installed above the Caldecott's new fourth bore.

If you've longed for an excuse to sing Happy Birthday to a tunnel, this is your wet but lucky day.

The Caldecott Tunnel celebrates its 75th anniversary today, Wednesday, Dec. 5. That marks the date in 1937 when the first two bores were opened with ceremonies featuring planes and pigeons above and a governor and fireworks on the ground. Now the tunnel is twice as big, with the new fourth bore getting ready for traffic next year.

By coincidence, a ceremony will be held Thursday to honor local students whose designs were chosen for the large decorative medallions that will be placed above the new bore.

Earlier this year, Caltrans and transportation officials from Alameda and Contra Costa counties sponsored a design competition for the medallions for grades K-12 in the two counties. There will be three medallions cast in concrete on the Contra Costa side (the east side) of the tunnel by Contra Costa students, and three on the Alameda County side by students from that county.

The three Contra Costa winners were honored in an Oct. 17 ceremony by the Contra Costa Transportation Authority. They are:

  • Daniell McCann, 16, 10th grade, Acalanes High School in Lafayette.
  • Chaya Tong, 8, third grade, Springhill Elementary School in Lafayette.
  • Penelope Watson, 13, eighth grade, Pleasant Hill Middle School.

McCann, being honored by the Lafayette City Council last week, said her design was Art Deco with a sunrise in the background and an oak in the foreground. The theme for the contest was Art Deco Revisited, in homage to the original Art Deco medallions that adorn the first two bores.

Tong told the Lafayette council her design featured wheatfields "because we (Contra Costa County) have an agricultural history."

The three Alameda County winners will be honored in a brief ceremony Thursday at the Alameda County Transportation Commission meeting, 4-4:30 p.m. They are:

  • Nuala Gorshow, 8, third grade, Thornhill Elementary School.
  • Aoife Gorshow, 11, fifth grade, Thornhill Elementary School.
  • Elina Bartholomew Couts, 10, Frank Otis Elementary School.

 More than 300 entries from school kids were submitted.

Also being honored Thursday are the 30 Alameda County students selected for honorable mentions and others who entered the contest. All participants are invited to attend.

In Contra Costa County, 33 students were selected for honorable mention.

The winning designs, along with a statement from each winner about the design, can be found on the Caldecott Tunnel Fourth Bore Project website. The website also has a gallery of the honorable mention designs.

Ceremonies were held also when the Caldecott Tunnel opened 75 years ago with fireworks, Army planes and pigeons flying overhead, and a speech by the governor.

Who has some insight into what life was like pre-tunnel? Maybe your mom told you when you were in short pants? Tell us in the comments.

This story originated on El Cerrito Patch.

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