Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sacramento's historic streetcars moved

I got word a month or two ago that a group of Sacramento streetcars owned by Dain Domich, president of "Friends of Light Rail & Transit," were being moved to a new location. I eagerly fired off an email asking for permission to photograph the streetcars in transit, but then was unable to attend due to that whole "having to work at a job" thing. Fortunately, I was more recently steered towards the FLRT Web site, which included the above photos of the streetcars in transit and at their new home.

The plans for what to do with the cars are kind of vague, and I have heard various stories. Personally I'm still hoping that a way can be found to restore them, either for regular use or occasional special-occasion use. Of the four pictured here the most practical first choice is the big yellow "Christmas car," a metal-bodied car that is probably the easiest to restore (it is metal rather than wood, has more safety features, etc) to operating condition. The second choice might be the old "Elverta Scoot," a car that started out as a Los Angeles style streetcar but was rebuilt into an enclosed car, intended for multiple-unit runs to Rio Linda and Elverta, mostly used as a school train. That has a reinforced metal frame and composite exterior, although its wooden components have probably faced some deterioration.

Obviously, to run them we need a streetcar system. Streetcars can be run on our current light rail system with no physical modifications at all (RT occasionally runs their one restored streetcar, PG&E 35, on Light Rail tracks) although a regular streetcar would require some signal and schedule adjustments. The other plan, to build a Sacramento/West Sac streetcar line, using the K Street portion of the RT line, is kind of in limbo right now. In my own perfect world, a line running a combination of modern streetcars (low-floor for universal access, with air conditioning etc.) and historic streetcars (using the SF Market Street Railway as a model) would be ideal, providing universal access on the modern cars and tourist appeal (plus practical utility) on the historic cars.

At the City Council meeting on Tuesday, members were appointed for a streetcar commission that will explore routes, funding mechanisms and concepts for a new Sacramento streetcar line. Once meetings start I plan on attending, and passing along a few suggestions--including inspiration from our local past, and other cities' examples.

More information, including some interesting draft documents, can be found here:

Friends of Light Rail Historic Streetcar page

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Precision and praise

Now, I already have a reputation among the Sactosphere as a nit-picking know-it-all, even pointing out spelling errors in other bloggers' blog posts. I will now expand this criticism to the editorial page of the Sacramento Bee, but at least it's not just a grammar flame.

Being a historian means paying attention to details, and focusing on accuracy, sometimes well beyond the point of politeness. These are natural tendencies for me, and my profession has only escalated these tendencies, to the point where it's no wonder that I don't get invited to more parties. On to the nitpicking.

This Sunday, the Bee featured a lovely booster-ish editorial about the under-appreciated wonders of Sacramento, entitled "A 'sacred' city" by Elaine Gale. Now, I am always happy to see people singing Sacramento's praises, but this bit kind of got my goat:

Trains: Our metronome, our link

The next perhaps not-so-obvious sacrament is the trains.

They may seem antiquated, irrelevant, or as if they belong in a past century, but the matrix of train tracks that crisscrosses this city seems to be extremely sacramental.

When we first moved here, we lived on B Street in a house literally in front of the train tracks. In the beginning, when a train screeched to a stop or came barreling down the tracks, we were a bit rattled. After a month or two, we barely noticed the sound.

The rattle and clang of the big locomotives, the piercing train whistle and clackety-clack have become a predictable percussion of life.

I am a sixth-generation Nebraskan and grew up in North Platte,home of the world's largest railyard. The fact that the First Transcontinental Railroad line originated in Omaha and ended near Sacramento is a comfort and connects me to the Great Plains of my ancestors.

When a train rumbles by during a live performance at the B Street Theater, the whole structure shakes and experienced theater-goers glance at each other with a knowing smile. The trains provide a stabilizing presence and help us practice patience.

They are a sacrament of efficiency, heritage and tradition. They bring important cargo from here to there, and connect us to the rest of the country and the world.

The point about trains being antiquated I can let slide; even though railroads carry more freight today than ever before, far more than during the "golden age" of railroad travel, rail passenger travel is experiencing its greatest resurgence in a century, and modern high-speed trains bear less resemblance to 19th century steam locomotives than modern cars do to Model Ts. The point that gets me is the idea that the first transcontinental originated in Omaha and "ended near Sacramento."

I encourage Ms. Gale to take another visit to the Railroad Museum to get the story right. Construction of the Transcontinental Railroad started at both ends, and ended in the middle. Union Pacific started in Omaha, while Central Pacific started in Sacramento. Construction started at both ends and ended at Promontory Summit, Utah.

I'm wondering where she thought it ended? Promontory Summit certainly isn't anywhere near Sacramento. The actual point where the railroad started from the Sacramento end is just at the foot of K Street by the river, at the time the busiest point in the city, along the waterfront docks and levee. That was the point where freight and passengers could be transferred to riverboats and barges down the Sacramento River to the Bay Area, at least until a couple of years later when Central Pacific completed railroad routes to the East Bay and the Peninsula (or, more correctly, bought out the railroad companies that had built those lines.)

The "Big Four" behind the Central Pacific, and engineer Theodore Judah, were instrumental in ensuring, not just that the western terminus would go to Sacramento (other cities from Seattle to San Diego were all competing for the railroad) but that the Pacific railroad (as it was then known) would be built at all. The political and financial support to build the railroad came from the east, but the drive to build the railroad came from the west--and Sacramento played the critical role. Central Pacific, under the leadership of Leland Stanford (also governor of California at the time, with close party connections to new president Abraham Lincoln) was the organization that advocated for the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 that resulted in the creation of the Union Pacific. No offense to Omaha, but the Transcontinental Railroad started here--not just the tracks themselves, but the dream, the design and the political will.

Anyhow, I realize that the point will be lost except on a few foamers like myself. But dammit, if you're going to sing Sacramento's praises, make sure you're hitting the right notes.

Monday, October 12, 2009

You are entitled to my opinions

Part of the fun of Sacramento Press is the opportunity to render an opinion in a loud and public fashion. In the 1920s, people with ideas and not much money would stand on a soapbox in Plaza Park. Today, we post on the World Wide Web, ready to meet the virtual rotten tomatoes of the web-surfing public.

10 Steps to Fix K Street

Incomplete steps, but steps, I think, in the right direction. There are other ideas out there, and hopefully we will hear more of them.

Today there will be a meeting between K Street property owners and Mayor Johnson. This meeting is private. Next week, he will hold another meeting on the same subject, this time open to the public.

I am curious as to which meeting will be more interesting, and at which meeting (if either) the mayor will do more listening than talking.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Archives Open House this Saturday October 3

Via the Sac For Tourists blog:
There will be a California State Archives open house this Saturday from 4-8 PM. Definitely worthwhile if you're into old pieces of paper and unusual relics of California history; I will be there representing the Sacramento County Historical Society and selling some of our own old pieces of paper. The Archives are on the top floor of the California Museum building at the southeast corner of 10th & O Street, admission is free.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sacramento Old City Cemetery Tour Sat Sep. 26

The Sacramento County Historical Society presents its Fall Social & Barbecue Under the Stars in the Old City Cemetery

Saturday, September 26, 2009 5:30 PM - 10:00 PM
Sacramento Old City Cemetery, 1000 Broadway

Sacramento's city cemetery was established in 1849 with a donation of 10 acres of high ground by John Sutter. Among its first internments were the victims of Sacramento's 1850 cholera epidemic. Some notable residents of the old city cemetery are city founder John Sutter Jr., our first mayor Hardin Bigelow, and Central Pacific founder Mark Hopkins. Thousands of other Sacramentants inhabit the cemtery, from all walks of life. Tour guides will introduce you to some of the cemetery's fascinating inhabitants, and explain some of the history of the cemetery, on two guided tours through the property. Bring a flashlight!

The evening will also feature musical performances by Agent Ribbons, Dead Western and The Freebadge Serenaders.

Admission for non-SCHS members is $10, FREE for SCHS members.
Dinner is an additional $15 for members or non-members; there is limited availability for dinners, please ask at the front gate.
Menu is BBQ brisket and chicken (veggie burgers on request), potato salad, cornbread, beans, coleslaw, soda and cookies, provided by JR's Texas BBQ.

The event will take place inside the Old City Cemetery; please park in the parking lot across the street near 10th & Broadway, as the cemetery's main gates will be closed by the time the event lets out and cars parked inside will not be able to exit! Gates will close at 6:30 PM so please arrive promptly.

This event is open to all ages.

Funds from this event will benefit the Sacramento County Historical Society (a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit) and the Sacramento Old City Cemetery Committee. For more information about the Old City Cemetery Committee, visit their website and for more information about SCHS, visit the SCHS website.

Note: This is not the same tour as the popular Lantern Tours given by the Old City Cemetery Committee in October. That tour is already sold out, so if you want the chance to experience the Old City Cemetery after dark, this is your opportunity!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

SOCA Home Tour in Boulevard Park Sep 20

On Sunday, September 20, the Sacramento Old City Association will hold its 34th annual historic home tour in the Boulevard Park neighborhood. Tour hours are from 10:00 AM until 4:00 PM.

The SOCA Home Tour is an annual event, and the main fundraiser for the Sacramento Old City Association. This home tour includes an inside look at eight restored historic homes in Boulevard Park. Tour visitors can walk through each of the homes on the tour to see how the workmanship of historic homes is often as beautiful on the inside as the outside.

The Home Tour also includes a street fair, including artisans and craftspersons specializing in historic home repair and restoration, local artists, crafters, photographers and artisans, and community organizations. Live music will be provided by Julie the Bruce, Andrew Surber and "Drum Polygon." The Sacramento "Capitol A's" Model A Club will display their restored antique cars throughout the tour. CLUCK (Campaign to Legalize Urban Chicken Keeping) will raffle a chicken coop and other prizes at their booth.

Tickets for the Home Tour cost $20, but you get a $1 discount if you arrive on a bicycle. Tickets for the fair can be bought at the site of the tour: the SOCA tour booth will be located on the corner of 21st and G Street, directly in the street median. Visiting the homes requires a ticket, but the street fair is free, and will run along 21st Street between F and H Street.

This year's tour is located in the Boulevard Park historic district, a neighborhood that is visually distinct due to the landscaped street medians running down 21st and 22nd Street. These medians were part of a real estate development project dating to 1905. Located on the site of the old Union Park racetrack, Boulevard Park was the first planned development of the Wright & Kimbrough real estate firm. The development's boundaries were from B Street to H Street between 20th and 22nd, with a portion of 23rd.

When the neighborhood was built, a streetcar line ran along H Street from downtown to McKinley Park. Many of the most elegant Boulevard Park homes were located facing H Street, with more modest but still beautiful homes closer to C Street. C Street had its own streetcar line, but freight trains also ran on the same tracks until 1953! In addition to the landscaped medians, three blocks in Boulevard Park have small central park areas located in the center of the block, in a space normally occupied by backyards and alleys. Covenants on property deeds required minimum setbacks, prohibited high fences and noxious uses, and made provision for shared tenancy of the alley parks. These features gave the neighborhood a pleasing, park-like look that is still apparent a century after its construction. The current Boulevard Park neighborhood includes an area beyond the original development. Homes in the neighborhood are a mixture of Craftsman and Prairie, Classical Revival, Colonial Revival, Spanish Revival and other revival st yles. Elsewhere in the neighborhood are Victorian homes of the Queen Anne, Stick, Shingle and Italianate styles.

Boulevard Park is one of Sacramento's most beautiful and well-known neighborhoods, and this year's SOCA Home Tour provides a unique look at the architecture, culture and creativity that make our city a great place.

SOCA's Web site can be found at: and includes membership information, details of SOCA activities and events, and updates about planning and preservation issues in Sacramento's central city.

Photograph taken by Randy Lum.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sacramento History Bike Ride Sunday August 30

This summer, a group of Sacramento State graduate students and local history enthusiasts began gathering once a month to take a bike ride through Sacramento's historic neighborhoods and share their knowledge about local history, historic architecture and cultural heritage. Two rides have occurred so far. The next will take place on Sunday, August 30, at 9:00 AM, in the Southside Park neighborhood. Riders will meet at the site of the Robert E. Callahan Bandstand in Southside Park, near the corner of 7th and T Street, at 9:00 AM.

Built on a former slough, Southside was inhabited by generations of immigrants and working-class families. The neighborhood's many ethnic communities, including Portuguese, Italian, Mexican and Japanese, came together in Southside Park, the neighborhood's namesake. Whether for fireworks displays on the Fourth of July, for a trip back to Gold Rush days at Roaring Camp, or simply to paddle the lake in a rented boat, Southside Park provided a place of respite and recreation in this bustling city. The neighborhood surrounding the park faced many challenges as Sacramento grew, but its residents faced these challenges with a tradition of political activism, community participation, and a strong sense of civic pride that is still evident today.

The Sacramento Historic Bike Ride is a free-form event: riders will decide where the tour should go. There are several sites I hope to visit in order to tell the story of the Southside neighborhood's diverse history, culture and development, but there is plenty of room for everyone's participation. If you have a story about the neighborhood, a historic site, a significant person, or a good story, please feel free to share it! The tour will run until about 11:00 AM. There is no cost to participate in the tour.

For those that may be interested, I will bring copies of my books, Sacramento's Southside Park and Sacramento's Streetcars, for sale at $20 each, and will happily sign them for you.

Monday, August 24, 2009

800 K hotel/Bel-Vue demolition goes back to City Council

On Tuesday, August 25, the Sacramento City Council will hear a proposal by developers Bob Leach and Parkcrest Development to build a hotel at the corner of 8th and K Street and a parking structure at the corner of 8th and L Street, a project that would require demolition of city landmark the Bel-Vue Apartments and adjacent buildings. The meeting will be held at New City Hall, 915 I Street, at 6:00 PM in the main City Council chambers.

The item was originally to be heard at the August 11 meeting of the City Council (see ) but was taken off the agenda at the last minute. According to the staff report, the "Exclusive Right to Negotiate" between the city of Sacramento and the developers expired on Sunday, August 23, but city staff can still work with the development group while a new RFQ (Request for Qualifications) is being prepared, a process that should take about 90 days according to the staff report. If city staff and developers cannot reach an agreement, the new RFQ will request proposals from other developers and development groups for a different project on the 800 K Street site.

Also according to the staff report, city staff had not fully analyzed the new proposal as of its submittal date of Friday, August 21, and could not provide complete comment. One change from previous proposals is a change to requested exemption from the hotel's "Transient Occupancy Tax": instead of 100% exemption from TOT for 10 years, they are asking for 50% exemption for 14 years. According to the accompanying financial documents, this would add up to approximately the same total subsidy for the project, but over a different span of time.

Another change is that Mohammed "Mo" Mohanna is no longer listed as a member of the development team. The staff report does not specify whether another investor has joined the team in Mohanna's place, or whether one of the existing investors will contribute more funds to make up for Mohanna's financial contribution to the project, or why this change has taken place. Most of the financial commitment comes from the Korean firm Consus, but the city has not yet received a formal commitment with complete terms and conditions from Consus.

The staff report does mention that the original "Exclusive Right to Negotiate" for this project occurred as a condition of a lawsuit settlement between the city of Sacramento and Mohanna, in addition to the city's payment of about $18 million to Mohanna for the land.

The total subsidy for the project is estimated at $31.5 million in land and tax exemption (both transient occupancy tax and tax-increment fund exemption.) This amount does not include the money previously paid to Mohanna for the property as a result of the lawsuit settlement.

The staff report does not address the issue of a potentially competing hotel project planned for the corner of 10th and K Street, nor does it address the issue of the demolition of the Bel-Vue landmark.

The staff report for this item can be found here.

The agenda for this week's City Council meeting can be found here.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Bel-Vue on the chopping block, but hope for the Berry

My new Midtown Monthly article, on the Bel-Vue

On Tuesday, August 11, the Sacramento city council will decide whether to give away the half-block containing the Bel-Vue to a group of developers, who would raze the remaining quarter-block and the underground sidewalks on 8th & K to build a new hotel at 8th & K and a parking lot where the Bel-Vue stands. Full staff report is visible here:

In slightly brighter news, at the same meeting the City Council will hear (and hopefully approve) a plan to restore the Berry Hotel, just across the street from the Bel-Vue.

They will also hear an updated plan regarding development along Sacramento's alleys (focusing on architecturally interesting alleys like the one behind the Bel-Vue.)

On the consent calendar, the Council will add three buildings to the official list of Sacramento landmarks, including the Coloma School in Elmhurst, 1210 H Street in Mansion Flat, and "The Trap" (aka Pimentel's Ingleside Cafe) along Riverside near the Pocket.

So there's hope that these items might make the appeal of reusing the Bel-Vue, and not giving our treasures away, more immediately apparent.

Monday, August 3, 2009

This Wednesday, August 5, Sacramento's Preservation Commission will hear an update on the "Underground Sidewalks" survey project. This survey has explored much of Sacramento's surviving underground sidewalk structures, and is preparing a detailed report on their current condition and historic context. An earlier meeting, held in March, outlined what the survey would do(as discussed in this Sacramento Press article) and this meeting will present the initial findings of the survey team and report their progress. The final report on the underground sidewalks should be completed by September of this year.

The meeting will be held at Sacramento's City Hall, 915 I Street, in the City Council chambers on the first floor. The meeting starts at 5:30 PM and the Underground Sidewalks survey will be the first of several staff reports presented at the meeting.

A complete agenda of the Preservation Commission meeting can be found on the Preservation Commission's Web site.

Sacramento's underground sidewalks are a side effect of a massive street-raising project, executed from the 1850s to the 1870s and intended to keep downtown Sacramento above water during the region's frequent floods. Brick walls about 12 feet high were built at the street edge and filled with dirt, but the spaces between the buildings and the street were left open, and were the building owner's responsibility to cover and fill. Over the past 130 years, many of these spaces have been filled in or demolished by subsequent development, construction and sidewalk repair.

This survey, funded by a local nonprofit and a matching state grant, is intended to document all of the surviving "Underground Sidewalk" spaces in downtown Sacramento and research the methods used to build these structures. The survey will have many potential uses, possibly including the creation of a historic district, or facilitating an "Underground Sidewalks Tour" program similar to that found in Seattle and other cities. The public will have an opportunity to ask questions and provide comments to the Preservation Commission and the consultants conducting the survey.

The City Preservation Commission was created by the City Council. Its powers and duties include: to develop and recommend to the City Council preservation policies appropriate for inclusion in the General Plan and other regulatory plans and programs of the City and to provide oversight relative to the maintenance and integrity of the Sacramento Register of Historic and Cultural Resources; to review, nominate, and make recommendations to the City Council on properties eligible for listing in the Sacramento Register as Landmarks, Historic Districts and Contributing Resources as set forth in the Historic Preservation Chapter, Title 17, Chapter 17.134, of the City Code; to review and approve preservation development projects of major significance and appeals of Preservation Director decisions per the Historic Preservation Chapter, Title 17, Chapter 17.134, of the City Code.

Meeting location: New City Hall
915 I Street- 1st Floor, Council Chambers
August 5, 2009 - 5:30 P.M.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

More on the Bel-Vue/8th & K project

City plans to demolish the Bel-Vue and adjacent buildings were mentioned in my previous blog post, also posted as a Sacramento Press article on July 3 but at the time the developer and financing organization behind the project were not identified. Since then, both have appeared, along with an additional partner. The financier, Consus Asset Management, is a new player in Sacramento. The developer, Bob Leach, just completed another Sacramento project, the Le Rivage Hotel. The other player in this project is a well-known name in K Street real estate, Mohammed “Mo” Mohanna. All three are asking the city for $18.6 million in free real estate and several years of tax forgiveness once the project is complete, and they want this done immediately, before public input and analysis by city staff and commissions can be completed.

Since my earlier article saw print, these parties were mentioned by articles in the Sacramento Bee, in Bob Shallit’s columns:

In this column, Shallit mentions South Korea based Consus Asset Management ( ) as the primary financier, willing to put up $91 million for construction. Lead developer Bob Leach, builder of Le Rivage Hotel, made contact with Consus through local hotel builder Parkcrest Development. Also on the project team is Mohammed “Mo” Mohanna, who recently owned the land until the city paid him $18.6 million for it, after a lengthy series of negotiations, complex legal maneuvering, and the demolition of the buildings on the corner of 8th & K Street. The article mentioned that the developers were hoping for some tax breaks on this project.

Shallit followed this up with a second column:

Here, the developers have urged the city to move quickly or risk losing financing. They have asked the city to give them the land, currently city-owned, for free, and to forgive taxes on the hotel for the first few years of its operation. Transferring the land quickly would also mean that there would be no time for an Environmental Impact Report to be completed, and before issues like the demolition of the Bel-Vue have had an opportunity to be fully reviewed by city staff, Preservation Commission or Planning Commission.

This issue will go before the Sacramento City Council on August 4. The city of Sacramento has held an Exclusive Right to Negotiate (ERN) with Bob Leach and Parkcrest, extended for 45 days on June 9, but that ERN expires on Friday, July 24.

The unspoken irony in the developers’ demand is that the city of Sacramento just paid nearly $20 million to wrest the property out of Mohanna’s hands, and are now being asked to give the property back to him. They are also asking for a free hand to demolish a Sacramento landmark, and forgiveness of future taxes, which means that it will be many years before the city of Sacramento sees any economic benefit or return on their investment of $20 million, their donation of a half-block of prime downtown real estate (by the city’s own valuation, worth the $18.6 million paid to Mohanna) and their sacrifice of irreplaceable historic buildings. This free giveaway would also add up to far more than the taxpayer-funded donation provided to developer David Taylor to rehabilitate three existing buildings on the 1000 block of K Street, a move that sparked widespread public criticism.

Why is there a need for such urgency? One possible answer is that there is another hotel project planned for K Street, only two blocks away. Unlike the project at 8th and K, this alternate project would require no historic buildings to be demolished. This project does not require the full Environmental Impact Report, instead using a far simpler process called a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND.) The MND identifies the developer behind the project as "10th & K Developers, LLC" and mentions that it will include 180 rooms in a 12-story building with ground floor retail. Could this simpler, less complex project be the competition that worries the developers behind 8th and K, and enough of a problem to make them demand a massive public subsidy from the city of Sacramento for a project that will not have to pay taxes for many years, and action fast enough to short-circuit public debate and review by city staff?

Meanwhile, the deadline for public comment on the Notice of Preparation is approaching. According to Jennifer Hageman of the city of Sacramento’s Economic Development Department, part of the process will include a public scoping meeting to present this issue to the public, but as of this writing no date has been identified for such a meeting.

To give public comment about this issue, contact Jennifer Hageman of the City of Sacramento’s Community Development Department at or (916)808-5538. Written comments should be sent to Jennifer Hageman, City of Sacramento Community Development Department, 300 Richards Boulevard, Sacramento, CA 95811. Comments are due before 4:00 PM on July 27, 2009.

Friday, July 3, 2009

City To Demolish Landmark Building

The city of Sacramento has announced its plans to demolish the Bel-Vue Apartments, a registered city landmark, in order to clear land on 8th Street for a potential future parking structure.

Located adjacent to the now-vacant corner of 8th and K Street, the Bel-Vue was built in 1910 as the American Cash Apartments. Built in the Craftsman style with Asian overtones, the three-story brick building contains apartments above a commercial ground floor. When the Bel-Vue was built, it was one of many downtown apartment buildings. If it was built today, the Bel-Vue would be described as a mixed-use, transit-oriented infill project. The building is currently owned by the city of Sacramento’s housing and redevelopment agency, the result of a complex land exchange between Mohammed “Mo” Mohanna, Z Gallerie owner Joe Zeiden, and the city of Sacramento. This land exchange was part of the currently stalled plans to rehabilitate the 700 block of K Street.

The city’s plan is to prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) containing two possible alternatives for buildings to be built on the site, and then demolish the existing buildings. One alternative is a pair of residential towers 300 feet high, running from K Street to L Street along 8th, originally proposed by former owner Mohanna and developers John Saca (of the failed 301 Capitol Mall project) and John Lambeth. The other alternative is a 300 foot hotel tower at the corner of 8th and K, currently vacant, and a six-story parking structure on the site of the Bel-Vue and the other buildings at the corner of 8th and L. There is no developer or investor specified in the EIR notice of preparation; the city of Sacramento plans to create the EIR and demolish the Bel-Vue and nearby buildings on speculation, in case a developer appears who is interested in constructing the buildings the city has proposed for the site.

When the city of Sacramento acquired the Bel-Vue building and its neighbors, it was an occupied apartment building with several retail tenants on the ground floor. There were also commercial tenants in the adjacent buildings, and apartments above most of those buildings. The city of Sacramento evicted the residents, and today only one retail establishment, a Chinese restaurant, occupies the Bel-Vue, aside from a parking garage in one of the buildings facing L Street.

All of the buildings on the site have a role in local history. 815 L Street, constructed in 1915, was most recently the site of a nightclub of the same name. In 1957, the site was one of the original Sam’s Hof Brau locations. The side of the building, invisible from the street, still bears a painted mural advertising Sam’s. La Rosa, an Italian restaurant opened in 1927, occupied the site before the Hof Brau. On the corner of 8th and L is the Feldhusen Building, a two-story building with ground floor retail and residences upstairs. It was built in 1895 and remodeled in 1954. It was home to many businesses including grocery stores, dressmakers, and the Diamond Club Tavern card room.
Buildings like the Bel-Vue were once commonplace in Sacramento, but over the years they have become very rare.

Today, some developers seek out historic buildings for residential projects, converting them into modern apartments or condominiums. Local companies like D&S Development ( have completed projects like the Old Sacramento iLofts and 1409 R, and are now restoring the historic Maydestone Apartments at 16th & J Street. Architect Mike Malinowski, contractor Bruce Booher and CFY Development helped convert the Globe Mills grain mill complex into unique residential lofts. At the Railyards, developer Thomas Enterprises will make the historic Southern Pacific shops buildings the focal point of a new downtown neighborhood. Other adaptive reuse projects like the Citizen Hotel, MARRS, the Cosmopolitan and the Firestone Building show how vacant historic buildings can be made into exciting, unique urban destinations. Projects like these are often more popular than newly-built projects because they offer one-of-a-kind places to live, work and play in an urban setting. They appeal to those who want to be close to the action of the central city and their downtown workplaces, or just like the unique character of historic buildings. Instead of demolishing the Bel-Vue, the building could easily be repaired and returned to its role as a place to live, with businesses on the street to serve downtown’s residents. Restoration of historic buildings is also a greener option than new construction, as it needs far fewer building materials and requires far less landfill space (where the demolished building’s components would end up.) If sales of recent projects like the 1409 R lofts (opened in April and already two-thirds sold) are any indication, these projects are popular even in slow economic markets, while urban infill projects in new buildings are far less successful. Historic buildings can also qualify for tax credits and other incentives that can make rehabilitation cheaper than demolition and new construction. In the right hands, the Bel-Vue could be a gorgeous, attainable new home for Sacramento’s residents for another hundred years.

In recent years, the city of Sacramento has seen many proposed projects fail to materialize. The failure of projects like John Saca’s 301 Capitol Mall towers at 3rd and Capitol resulted in ugly, gaping pits in our city’s urban fabric. Projects like the 700/800 block, bogged down by unexpected resistance and a poor economy, sit languishing, waiting for a better plan to appear. Projects that encourage the demolition of landmarks encourage speculators to allow their historic downtown properties to sit vacant, deteriorating for years or even decades, with the hope of an eventual skyscraper-shaped payoff that may never arrive. More forward-thinking developers could turn the same buildings into Sacramento's urban showpieces.

No developer or investor has been named by the city to actually build this project or pay for it, and even if a developer and/or investor does arrive, if they want to make significant changes to the plan they would need to complete a new environmental document, making this effort worthless. The sacrifice of one of Sacramento’s irreplaceable historic buildings would be for nothing. And even if the city’s long shot is successful, and a developer does build the project, we will lose a historic landmark and a quarter-block of potentially useful buildings for a six-story parking garage in a neighborhood with many underutilized parking garages.

To give public comment about this issue, contact Jennifer Hageman of the City of Sacramento’s Community Development Department at or (916)808-5538. Written comments should be sent to Jennifer Hageman, City of Sacramento Community Development Department, 300 Richards Boulevard, Sacramento, CA 95811. Comments are due before 4:00 PM on July 27, 2009.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sacramento History Bike Ride Sunday June 28

For those who are interested in local history and bike riding, a group of CSUS Public History grad students are planning a “Sacramento History Bike Ride” this Sunday. The plan is to meet on the west side of the Capitol, pick out some interesting destinations, and bike around to historically interesting spots. We will share the stories of our favorite buildings and significant sites, the events that shaped the city, and little-known tales from Sacramento’s past. This is a participant-driven event, so if you have a favorite place downtown you can take a turn at being tour interpreter, or just go along for the ride. Route details will be decided the morning of the ride.

Sacramento History Bike Ride, Sunday June 28 starting at 10 AM until approximately 1:00 PM.
Meet us on the sidewalk on the west side of the Capitol (10th & Capitol) with your bicycle. Sunday is supposed to be hot, so bring sunscreen, a hat, and maybe some water.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Two events this weekend

City of Man, City of God:
The Catholic Church and the Shaping of Sacramento

On Friday, June 12, 2009, SAMCC will unveil a new photographic exhibit, City of Man, City of God: The Catholic Church and the Shaping of Sacramento. The exhibit depicts the role that people of faith played in shaping Sacramento’s urban agenda, from the 1850s to today. The evening will include an address by Dr. Steven M. Avella on his recently released book, Sacramento and the Catholic Church: Shaping a Capital City. The event is free and open to the public. It begins at 7:00 p.m. at SAMCC, 551 Sequoia Pacific Blvd, Sacramento.

The Catholic Church, present in Sacramento from the city’s beginnings, has had an important influence on Sacramento’s culture and development. Yet the character of Catholic life has also been shaped by the city’s diverse social, cultural, and political makeup. The exhibit and lecture will examine the interplay between the city and one community of faith in the creation of Sacramento’s urban agenda. Topics discussed include the geography of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, the early struggle of assimilation by various ethnic groups, and the conflict between religious and secular forces over caring for the hungry and homeless. The evening is not a history of the Diocese of Sacramento, rather a look at Sacramento as a case study of the role a religious denomination played in the development of an American western city.

Dr. Steven M. Avella grew up in Sacramento and has written prodigiously about his hometown. Avella is the author of two recent books on Sacramento, The Good Life: Sacramento’s Consumer Culture and Sacramento: Indomitable City. He is on the faculty of Marquette University, where he teaches courses on religion and American life. He is currently engaged in writing a biography of Charles K. McClatchy, a former editor of the Sacramento Bee. Dr. Avella will sign copies of his book, which will be available for purchase that evening.

For more information please call (916) 264-7072.
Preservation Roundtable - Saturday June 13th
Category: Events & Workshops, Other News, The Roundtable.
9:00am to Noon at the Young Ladies Institute – 27th & N Sts.
Continental Breakfast * $5 donation

6/13/09 AGENDA:

9:00 Welcome & Introductions
9:10 Preservation Issues & Updates:
- CA State RR Museum Foundation - Kathy Daigle
- Capitol Dist. State Museum & Historic Parks-Pati Brown
- DOC (Devel. Oversight Committee) update
- City Preservation Office - Roberta Deering
– Hwy 50 HOV lane –Kathleen Green & Karen Jacques
– Minimum Maintenance for Historic Structures – Tim Brandt Preservation Commission Chair
- Capitol City Preservation Trust Awards –Kay Knepprath & Fred Turner
- Sacramento City School District’s Bldgs. on the block-i.e.-Jefferson School at 18th & N Sts.

10:30 Speakers – Budget Impacts on Historic Preservation –David Kwong and Roberta Deering-Questions & Answer session

11:50 Announcements

Sponsored by:
Page & Turnbull, Architects & S O C A
and the Sacramento Old City Association (SOCA)

Next Preservation Roundtable meeting is Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009 at the School House in Old Sacramento

Monday, June 1, 2009

Riverboats in the stream of consciousness

I saw this story about a sunken riverboat in the Bee today--I am pretty sure that it is the same boat as one I photographed back in November while taking a cruise on the Hawaiian Chieftain. Apparently it has sunk, down to the top deck. The weird irony is that Sacramento will have a new river cruise operator, Hornblower Tours, starting next week. I wonder if they might be interested in a genuine Sacramento riverboat for their tour operations...

I have been reading a lot of old issues of Golden Notes lately, and there seem to be an awful lot of riverboat stories--no surprise for this old river town. Some are tragic, like the Washoe disaster (a boiler explosion) while some are funny, like the story of a steamboat that got stuck on a head of cabbage, and some are just weird--like the saga of the Delta King, stolen once and sunk twice. That last tidbit gives me some hope that this sad little riverboat might get back a bit of its glory someday, assuming the fates agree, and someone has the time and/or money to do it, and a bit of vision.

Speaking of riverboats and the Delta King, there will be a Riverboat Gambling event on board the Delta King this Friday's not cheap but should be fun. I did a story on it for the May issue of Midtown Monthly, and plugged an edited version of the same story on Sacramento Press: Should be a good time.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fake Plastic Trees

An interesting idea crossposted to Planetizen...fake plastic trees that generate solar power (via solar film in the leaves) and thermal power (via thermoelectrics) and even wind power (nano-piezoelectric generators in the petioles.) Made of recycled tires and recycled wood bits. Not quite ready for prime time, obviously, but an interesting idea...especially for use in places where trees are important.

Monday, April 27, 2009

SCSH Presentation: M Street and the West End

The Sacramento County Historical Society Presents:
M Street and Sacramento's West End
When: Tomorrow, April 28, 7:00 PM
Where: Sacramento Valley Medical Society Building
5380 Elvas Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95819

Cost: Free

What/Why: At this month's Sacramento County Historical Society meeting, SCHS President William Burg will present a historical perspective of the evolution of M Street/Capitol Avenue between the 1850s and the 1950s. Drawing on photographs mostly from the Sacramento Archives and Museum Collection Center (SAMCC,) the presentation will cover the area's early residential neighborhood, featuring the homes of prominent Sacramentans like Leland Stanford and E.B. Crocker, the industries along the waterfront, and the multicultural neighborhoods that formed in the 19th and early 20th century. Finally, the presentation will review the effects of the redevelopment era on the neighborhood, and its transformation from a neighborhood into Capitol Mall.

Ample parking is available behind the building and along Elvas Avenue.

This is a presentation I originally gave to a group of architects, developers and electeds last February, on the history of M Street and how it became Capitol Mall. I had to shorten it, and even tone it down a bit, because the story of M Street and Capitol Mall is not very pretty. This presentation will be an expanded version, with more of the story of who lived in the West End and why it became the target for redevelopment.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Golden Notes Online

For over 50 years, the Sacramento County Historical Society has published articles and books on local history. Originally, these were small digest-sized publications, published under the title "Golden Notes." Many are long out of print, but contain articles and information about local history that is difficult or impossible to locate anywhere else.

In order to help promote local history and share information with researchers and the general public, the Sacramento County Historical Society has made over 40 years worth of SCHS "Golden Notes" books available online, in PDF format. They represent a valuable resource for those seeking information on local history on an amazing array of subjects.

The "Golden Notes" issues can be found here:

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Los Angeles citywide survey

Many people don't associate Los Angeles with historic preservation, but in many ways Los Angeles is really taking big steps to create effective preservation programs. They have an active preservation department, a preservation plan including mechanisms called Historic Preservation Overlay Zones (basically an enhanced historic district, each of which has its own citizen-organized neighborhood committee) and they are performing an extensive city-wide survey to document architectural resources in the city built as recently as 1980. Part of the purpose of the survey is to inform planning decisions: if historic resoures are already surveyed, the development process can be simplified because they don't have to take that step. All too often, the preferred method of "simplification" is to just knock it down...

The article from the LA Times:

The city's Office of Historic Resources page describing the survey project

Another LA organization I am growing very impressed with is the Los Angeles Conservancy. They are a very slick, very professional nonprofit organization whose website includes lots of great tools. They actively encourage citizens to become directly involved in research and nomination of properties, promote tours and cultural events, and have lots of neat educational and informational tools for the public.

Los Angeles Conservancy website

Los Angeles is kind of a different ballgame than Sacramento, but it is pretty impressive to see what they have done, and what could be done here in Sacramento. Considering that the city's preservation department consists of two people, and our own local preservation organizations are comparatively small, we have a way to go, although we can use Los Angeles' experience as a model for ways to promote local history, educate community and city staff and representatives.

Los Angeles is also doing other interesting things: they are spending six times the sales-tax amount per capita what we are (1 cent of each sales tax dollar, vs. 1/6 cent) on improved public transit, including rebuilding their interurban and streetcar network.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hollow Sidewalks Survey Workshop

Date: Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Time: 5:30-7:30
Location: Historic City Hall, 2nd Floor Hearing Room, 915 I Street

On Tuesday, March 31, the city of Sacramento invites downtown property owners and community members to a Public Workshop to find out about the Raised Streets-Hollow Sidewalks Historic Survey. Join the Public Workshop, learn about the survey and ask questions.
This survey, funded by a local nonprofit and a matching state grant, is intended to document all of the surviving "Underground Sidewalk" spaces in downtown Sacramento.

In the 1860s and 1870s, Sacramento's Board of Trustees undertook a project to raise downtown Sacramento's streets above flood levels by building brick walls at the edges of every street and filling those walls with dirt. This resulted in streets as much as 12 feet higher than their original level. Building owners either used teams of screw jacks to elevate their building to the new street level or simply made their original second floor into the new ground floor. Because the building owners were responsible for the space between their building and the street, most built brick vaults over the sidewalk area, leaving the old sidewalk as a covered but accessible underground space. Most of the street raising was done between approximately I and L Street, from Front Street along the river to 12th Street to the east.

Over the intervening 130 years of development, new construction and road projects have destroyed or damaged much of the original underground sidewalk areas, to the point where only a handful remain. This survey will document surviving remnants and research the methods used to build these structures. The survey will have many potential uses, possibly including the creation of a historic district, or facilitating an "Underground Sidewalks Tour" program similar to that found in Seattle and other cities. For those interested in learning more about the survey, the methods used, or those who hope to take a peek inside the history of Sacramento, this public workshop should be very instructive.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bacon Wrapped Tofu: in which I simulate a foodie blog

This weekend I made bacon wrapped tofu for the second time, a dish I invented for an EMRL party/noise show around eight years ago. I initially wanted to create a dish that would offend both meat eaters and vegetarians, although it turned out pretty tasty. The first time I made it I just wrapped the tofu cubes and baked it at 350 degrees for around 45 minutes, draining fat as necessary. This time I used a slightly higher-quality bacon, and drizzled a bit of dry mustard on it before baking. I forgot to take an after-baking photo because I was in a hurry to serve them. The bacon flavor was absorbed nicely into the tofu.

Preserve Me A Seat drew a pretty good crowd, due to other projects rattling around I didn't have much of a talk about Sacramento theater history so instead I talked about historic preservation in general. Thanks to anyone reading this who made it out.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Lowdown on Downtowns

I stumbled across this article about Redding's downtown today and was quite impressed with some of its points:

Paul Shigley is someone whose writing I already follow via the California Planning & Development Report website, at least his "Daily Shig" blog, and his work with planning guru Bill Fulton (whose Guide to California Planning is indispensable for planning professionals/planning geeks--Shigley co-wrote the latest edition.) Although the article focuses on Redding and Pasadena, there are lessons Sacramento could learn from the example of Pasadena, just as Redding should--and Redding could learn from us. The "Qualities of a Great Downtown" includes lots of examples Sacramento could use--such as, while downtowns should have bread and circuses, they shouldn't be all bread and circuses.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Preserve Me A Seat

Preserve Me A Seat
Category: Film
When: Friday, March 20, 2009, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM, 9:30 PM - 11:00 PM
Where: Movies on a Big Screen/Shiny Object Cinema
600 4th St
West Sacramento, CA 95605
(916) 743-1088
Official Website:

Cost: $5.00

What/Why: A special screening in conjunction with The Sacramento Old City Association! I will give a brief talk on local theater history and some contemporary theater preservation issues at the 7 PM screening only. We will show it again at 9:30 for those who can't make it at 7, but there will be no speakers at the later screening.

We don't remember a lot about our distant past, but we do remember our favorite movie theatre. "Preserve Me a Seat" is a documentary about these theatres and the ongoing fight to protect and preserve them for future generations. Featuring preservation efforts in Boston (The Gaiety Theatre), Detroit (The former Michigan Theatre), Chicago (The DuPage Theatre), Omaha (The Indian Hills Cinerama Theatre), and Salt Lake City (The Villa Theatre), "Preserve Me a Seat" will appeal to anyone who has cherished memories of seeing their favorite movies in a grand theatre, and who appreciates the unique architecture of movie theatres. Even more than that, however, the documentary explores a number of urban development issues particularly relevant to Sacramento in a number of ways (not just theaters): adaptive reuse, a lack of response by city governments to their constituency, the destruction of historic spaces for the sake of what are essentially urban lofts (high-end residential units, at least), and much more.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A look inside 14th & R Street from the Preservation Roundtable

This past Saturday's "Preservation Roundtable," a quarterly gathering of those interested in historic preservation, infill, development, local history and urban forestry, met at the "Shady Lady" saloon, the corner unit at 14th and R. The building is a former bakery, located on Sacramento's R Street industrial corridor.

The top photo is from inside the "Shady Lady," a restaurant/bar with a definite old school feel: lots of dark wood, what I would describe as "bordello wallpaper," high-backed booths, and a wonderful metal & wood ceiling treatment. They plan to hang a lot of photos of bars from Sacramento's past: I pointed them at a couple of collections where I found a lot of great images of Sacramento taprooms at SAMCC.

The other two businesses that will go in the ground floor are Magpie Catering, who provided amazingly tasty baked goods for the Roundtable, and "Burgers & Brew," the same folks who own the business of the same name in Davis, as well as Crepeville.

Upstairs are twelve residential lofts, ranging between about 500 and 1100 feet. These are actual loft lofts, not apartment buildings or close-set single family homes billed as "lofts." All have polished concrete floors. Due to their proximity to Empire Events Center and light rail tracks, they all have very good soundproofing and dual-pane windows.

The Roundtable meeting was very lively, including a long and sometimes grumpy discussion of the proposed deregulation of the Planning Commission and Design Commission (that would combine them into one board, with more projects going to staff level.) Roundtables are interesting events for the information they provide, but often then opportunity to get inside of neat historic buildings, especially ones on the brink of a new life, is more fun than the meeting.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Public meetings: River District and Hollow Sidewalks

Got word about these meetings at last Saturday's "Preservation Roundtable" meeting. The first one apparently requires an RSVP, but the second is a public meeting to be held in the old City Hall building. That one looks interesting...they are surveying the surviving "underground sidewalk" spaces, to see how much is left. I know that some folks are trying to start a tour of those spaces, comparable to the Seattle tour, and at least a few folks are interested in taking that tour.
River District Specific Plan
Historic Properties Survey Meeting

Date: Monday, March 23, 2009
Time: 4:30-6:00 PM
Location: 300 Richards Blvd., 2nd Floor, Room 221

Learn more about the Historic Properties Survey being conducted as part of the River District Specific Plan project. The survey is a review of the history and development of the River District’s built environment. Find out about the preliminary findings, provide your insights into River District history, and learn about the city’s historic preservation program.

Please RSVP by Friday, March 20 to Jason Hone at (916)808-5749 or
Raised Streets/Hollow Sidewalks
Historic Survey Public Workshop

Date: Tuesday, March 31st, 2009
Time: 5:30-7:30 PM
Location: Historic City Hall 2nd Floor Hearing Room, 915 I Street

The City of Sacramento invites downtown property owners and community members to a Public Workshop to find out about the Raised Streets/Hollow Sidewalks Historic Survey. Join the Public Workshop, learn about the survey and ask questions.

Please contact Kathleen Forrest at (916)808-5986 or with any questions.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Berry Hotel to close

Here is a link to yet another Sacramento Press article, this time on the Berry Hotel. My experience with this building comes from both the historian and social work perspective; for three years I worked with the residents of Sacramento's SRO hotels. This makes the issues surrounding the Berry more personal. Historic preservation is not just about buildings. It is about people. Without people, a building really is just a pile of stuff. The context of human interaction with that pile of stuff is what makes a building historic, or valuable, or just a place to live.

The story:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


My interview on Insight was apparently scheduled for Monday morning, not Tuesday morning as previously mentioned, a detail that both myself and the show's guest host were unaware of until Monday morning. The show went pretty well, and the podcast can be heard here.

Also, the City Council will not be removing the item regarding consolidation of the Planning and Design Commission from the consent calendar; apparently the item is a general update of tasks for the Law & Legislation Committee, and not something that will be acted upon today. But it will come up again; last night's NAG meeting included discussion of the item, and consisted largely of development director Bill Thomas explaining why combining the two boards was a good idea and everyone else in the room telling him it was a bad idea. More can be found in the article on last night's NAG meeting at Sacramento Press.

update: Apparently it is being removed from the consent calendar and being brought up in the March 17 general meeting.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

DOC Moves Closer to Eliminating Design Commission

I posted another article at Sacramento Press about this. At the last Planning Commission meeting, Brian Holloway of the Development Oversight Commission said that any action was months down the road and they had not formulated specific recommendations. Two weeks later the City Council is voting to create an ordinance to eliminate the Design Commission based on recommendations the DOC claims they haven't made yet.

Also, this coming Tuesday Feb. 24, I will be interviewed on Insight on KXJZ, in order to talk about the Archy Lee story--the one I wrote the article about for Midtown Monthly this month:

That's the same day as the City Council meeting referenced in the article above. Should be an interesting day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Archy Lee in Sacramento

The February issue of Midtown Monthly features an article I wrote on a bit of little-known local African American history: the Archy Lee slave trial. It's posted on the MM website here:

I looked high and low for a picture of Hackett House, or the building where the State Supreme Court met in 1858, but had no success. Tim, editor extraordinaire, used a commonly-used engraving used in runaway slave advertisements as the illustration for the piece. The engraving method used to print this sort of image is commonly known as a stereotype.

City of Sacramento to Eliminate Design Commission

This article was forwarded to me by Panama Bartholomy, a neighborhood activist. If you have a chance, come to City Hall tonight (915 I Street, New City Hall council chambers, 5:30 PM) and tell the Planning Commission that you don't want the city to shut its citizens out of the planning and design process.


On Thursday the Sacramento Planning Commission will have a public hearing on a proposal ( by the Development Oversight Commission (DOC), a City-appointed group comprised almost entirely of real estate developers, architects, and business consultants, to eliminate the City's Design Review Commission and change the development approval process in the City so that City staff will make most planning and design decisions administratively, leaving no opportunity for public input.

The reasons you and members of your association should come to the hearing at City Hall on Thursday February 12th at 5:30pm to testify against this proposal:

1. This attempt to reduce citizen and citizen-commission input and oversight of development in our community has undergone no public vetting from community groups that will be affected by such a fundamental shift in our City's development.

The proposal was developed and sent directly to the Mayor with no input from the Planning or Design Review Commissions. More importantly, the proposed ordinance was not brought to any neighborhood association or other community-based organization that normally comments on development in their communities.

This is not the kind of transparency and open government practices that should be an essential part of such a fundamental change in our community's development approval process.

2. The proposal will greatly reduce opportunities for Community input

The proposal will eliminate the City's Design Review Commission and fold its responsibilities into the Planning Commission and shift “…the majority of decisions to the staff level..”. The movement of “…the majority of decisions to staff level…” will likely reduce community involvement from the development review process. Communities have a right to be able to comment on projects that will be built in their neighborhood.

Even after moving most decisions to the staff level, by eliminating the Design Review Commission the public loses one of the two opportunities they have left to comment on development projects proposed in their neighborhood. The recommendation would squeeze all public input on a project into one meeting where every issue with design or planning will have to be settled. This will almost certainly create the types of extremely long meetings that discourage public involvement and will force complex decisions that have long-term impacts on communities into unreasonably short decision-making time frames.

Reducing opportunities for citizens to be involved in projects in their neighborhoods decreases transparency, will cause more projects to be appealed to the City Council and will increase the likelihood of lawsuits to block projects. This will decrease the effectiveness of the development review process.

Please come to the Planning Commission hearing and comment on this item and let the City know that you think the public should have a role in development decisions in our City. Please distribute this email to other residents who would come to testify in support of preserving the role of the citizen in our city's development.

The recommendation can be found here: ( and the meeting is at the New City Hall, 915 I Street, 1st Floor- Council Chambers, February 12, 2009 at 5:30 P.M.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Something I'd like to save

I was out by North B Street yesterday and snapped some photos of one of my favorite things, the little 25-ton General Electric locomotive in the "Simsmetal" junkyard lot. It appears that they have taken up the tracks around it (it may still be sitting on a last bit of track, or just in the dirt) and it's just sitting there. I went up the old spur to the mainline and got some shots of the other side, and noticed a big dent in the cab, maybe why they stopped using it.

I'm very fond of small locomotives, and this one is pretty much my favorite--so much so that I built a model of it, and occasionally run it on my layout:

I kind of want to figure out a way to save it. The California State Railroad Museum has been carrying out an active program of de-accessioning (fancy word for "getting rid of stuff") equipment not vital to their mission, partially to reduce their curatorial overhead and partially because they have to pull everything they own out of the Shops area to make way for environmental cleanup and the Railyards project stuff. Most small museums don't have much cash for accession outside of private donations, hard to get these days.

If they're willing to sell it for scrap value, the locomotive would probably cost about $7500, plus the cost of transporting it to wherever it would go, probably at least $5000.

Hm. I wonder if it would fit in my backyard. It would make one hell of a conversation piece, anyhow.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Preservation Commission meeting tomorrow

Sacramento's Preservation Commission meets tomorrow.

Agenda items for this month include the status of a couple of Historic Resources Surveys that are going on right now, including an inventory of Sacramento's hollow sidewalks and raised streets.

Monday, February 2, 2009

M Street and Capitol Mall

While snooping about online for traces of Sacramento history, I found an edited version of a presentation I gave last year on the history of M Street, also known as Capitol Mall. The local Urban Land Institute group apparently used it as part of a discussion about a national design competition for Capitol Mall.

Here's a link to the presentation:
I suppose they edited it for time, but they removed some of my favorite images from the presentation, including the urban characteristics of the M Street waterfront neighborhood before the redevelopment era. I have posted a nice dramatic one from about 1960, facing the river, showing some bits of the old neighborhood being rapidly overshadowed by the expanding Capitol Mall project.

I've still got the original presentation and notes. At some point I'll have to give a talk on Sacramento's lost neighborhood and show the whole story with all the slides.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Then and Now Presentation for SCHS

I will be present for a signing/presentation for Then and Now: Sacramento on Tuesday, January 27 at 7:00 PM. The event will be held at the Sacramento Sierra Valley Medical Society Building, 5380 Elvas Ave., Sacramento. This event is being hosted by the Sacramento County Historical Society.

Any good book tells a story, and any good history book needs a thesis. In Then and Now I wanted to show how the city grew over time, and the effects of this growth on buildings, neighborhoods and communities. In addition, I wanted the book to serve as a brief introduction to Sacramento history.

How would you select 80 historic photos from a collection of four million? How would you pick the most historically significant sites from a city of nearly 100 square miles? How would you photograph the site of a historic building where no trace of the original building remained? What is the best way to find out what is happening in a historic photo? How can you explain a photo meaningfully in 80 words or less? How can you recreate an aerial photograph without having to rent a plane?

In order to create Then and Now: Sacramento, questions like these needed answers. At its simplest, the book is a collection of historic photographs compared with what stood on the site in 2008, but it was not my intent to simply present the photos without context. At this month’s presentation, I will discuss methods, share primary and secondary source material, and present some of the history behind Then and Now: Sacramento that wouldn’t fit in the book.

If you purchased any of my books but they aren't signed, I would be happy to sign them; I will also have books available for sale.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Who Fills Your Potholes?

I have been posting a lot at Sacramento Press lately, so I figured I would link from here to the articles I write there. I will still post blog posts here, but Sacramento Press provides an interesting forum and I think they probably get more hits than I do: