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Coddingtown, 'Tanked' stars bring back aquarium to pay tribute to founder, fire victims

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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

The fish have returned to Coddingtown.

A reality-TV crew had cameras rolling at Santa Rosa’s first mall Tuesday for the unveiling of a new aquarium at the same spot where late developer-outdoorsman Hugh Codding placed one for shoppers’ delight decades ago.

That original fish tank was removed not long after Codding and his family in 2005 sold half its stake in Coddingtown Mall to Simon Property Group, owner of Santa Rosa Plaza.

This week’s installation of a new, 1,000-gallon tropical fish aquarium by the stars of Animal Planet’s “Tanked” show was the Codding clan’s salute to Hugh Codding, who died in 2010 at the age of 92, and to first responders, victims and survivors of the October firestorms.

Fish swam about miniatures of the Fountaingrove Round Barn that was destroyed in the Tubbs fire, and of the towering steel LOVE sculpture that endures on the grounds of Fountaingrove’s ravaged Paradise Ridge Winery. Also part of the underwater scene were replicas of arm patches of emergency response agencies, including Cal Fire and the Santa Rosa Police Department.

Just prior to the Hollywood-ish unveiling, Coddingtown executive and co-owner Lois Codding spoke of her family’s primary interest in bringing back the aquarium.

“We wanted to do it for Grandpa,” she said. Her father was Hugh Codding’s son, the late Hugh Bishop “Brooks” Codding Jr.

Tuesday’s gathering at the new fish tank drew a strong turnout of kin of the first Hugh Codding, who graduated from Santa Rosa High School in 1936 and served as a Navy Seabee in World War II.

Brash, bold and ambitious, Codding returned home to Santa Rosa following the war and built and sold a house. He then built a small residential development and, before long, the Town and Country shopping center, the Montgomery Village neighborhood and shopping center, and, in 1962, the Coddingtown shopping center.

It was an open-air retail center until Codding had it enclosed beneath a redwood ceiling in 1979. Sometime after that, he had a large, saltwater aquarium installed in the center of the mall walkway near the end closest to Highway 101.

A sportsman who savored picking abalone in the ocean off The Sea Ranch, where he for years kept a second home, Codding made certain the fish tank’s salt water was chilled and maintained favorably for the kelp and sea life carried in from the Sonoma Coast: abalone, lingcod, sea trout, snapper and eels.

Codding’s aquarium was for decades a popular attraction, especially for kids. But it was costly to maintain, and shortly after the Coddings took on Simon Property Group as a partner 13 years ago, the fish tank was removed.

The Santa Rosa-based property management company controlled by Codding’s heirs bought back Simon’s half-ownership late last year.

Under the leadership of Lois Codding and her siblings, Lisa and Don Codding, the mall is undergoing changes, including a remodeling of the interior. One piece of that upgrading is the return of the aquarium.

The Coddings thought it wouldn’t hurt to contact “Tanked,” the cable-TV show that has Las Vegas aquarium makers Brett Raymer and Wayde King devising and installing oftentimes audacious, jaw-dropping fish tanks.

Lois Codding said it turned out the parents of a “Tanked” producer lost their home to the Tubbs fire.

Raymer and King jumped at the opportunity to bring the show to Santa Rosa and create for Coddingtown an aquarium that would pay tribute to the first responders and all whose lives were touched by the fires.

Before the design and construction began, Raymer, co-owner of Acrylic Tank Manufacturing, said, “We did a lot of homework and a lot of research.”

Were he still alive, Hugh Codding would no doubt stand nearby today and watch the expressions as people stop to take in the return of the mall fish tank and its tropical fish, round barn and sculpture that spells out LOVE.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

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