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(My hiking and camping adventures in Northern California.)
(NorCal cities, highways, restaurants, museums, architecture, historic attractions, vintage neon signs, roadside attractions, etc.)
(My hiking and camping adventures in Northern California.)
(NorCal cities, highways, restaurants, museums, architecture, historic attractions, vintage neon signs, roadside attractions, etc.)
Monday, December 10, 2007
US Route 40: North Sacramento's Del Paso Boulevard
[Note: This will be under construction for some time, as I take more photos and do more research.]
Of all the old highway routes in America, the one that interests me the most in the old Highway 40 route. In California, it followed the route of the Lincoln Highway, the first coast-to-coast road, and cut right through the heart of my adopted city, Sacramento. I'm particularly interested in the design and architecture from the 1920s through the 1940s, and one of the richest historical areas for this in Sacramento is the North Sacramento portion of Highway 40 on Del Paso Boulevard. I first noticed this area when traveling to Arden Fair Mall from Davis via a series of bus and light rail connections, with Lil Joe's and Cardinal Lanes across the street from each other where the bus turned being what caught my eye. In 1999, I finally bought a car and was able to visit the area. In 2002, the year that Lil Joe died, I moved to the Arden Arcade area, not far from the neighborhood, and got to know it better.
North Sacramento was at one time an incorporated city separate from Sacramento, and it even had its own newspaper, the North Sacramento Journal, although it was never a daily publication. The neighborhood flourished in the Art Deco era, but was still in the process of developing after World War II when the automobile and freeway explosion changed the face of America, particularly in California. A recently-built city designed to pre-WWII standards suddenly was bypassed by the freeway in 1947, the first freeway in the Sacramento area. The ironically named North Sacramento Freeway sped people past the small city to vast suburban tracts in Arden Arcade, Carmichael, and Citrus Heights. The local retailers accessible by foot went out of business, as huge supermarkets with large parking lots sprang up, and air-conditioned shopping malls put traditional shops out of business.
With all of the massive suburban growth northwest of the downtown core of Sacramento, there was a lot at stake in deciding how to deal with it in terms of government. North Sacramento was, according to the recurring articles in the North Sacramento Journal, constantly considering annexing new neighborhoods. But then the question arose about what the relation of North Sacramento and Sacramento would be. Twin Cities? A merger? Or possibly a separate city of North Sacramento, almost entirely surrounded by Sacramento.
Those who had developed North Sacramento in the first place and controlled it politically were very much invested in keeping North Sacramento separate. Some who made their livelihood there, like "Lil Joe" Halawe, on the other hand, felt a merger with Sacramento would loosen the tight control certain individuals supposedly had on the area, and was the only way to address serious, long-term problems.
The battle over the merger was bitter, as it was played out in the pages of the North Sacramento Journal, with the publisher not hesitating to report as fact propaganda against the merger, and freely slandering anyone in favor of the merger. After the 1963 election the triumphant headline "MERGER LOSES" ran, although it was close, 1759 against, 1657 for. In 1964, the proposed merger went up for a vote again, and passed--by 15 votes.
Many people consider the merger to be responsible for the continuing decline of the neighborhood, with the city neglecting this area. Whether that is true or not, incorporation into Sacramento certainly did not solve the major problems. The Del Paso district took a major downturn in the 1970s, with many buildings abandoned, and an ever-escalating crime rate. It bottomed out in the 1980s.
Starting in the 1990s, an effort has been made to develop it as an art district, spearheaded by IMG Home and Limn. More recently, New Faze Development has been a major developer in the area. But as recurring articles on the redevelopment efforts and disappointments in the area in the Sacramento Bee and Sacramento New & Review make clear, progress has been fitful. An article from 2005 reads very much like one from 1995, full of hope for new efforts, but reporting on the failure of past efforts.
It appears to me that there is enough investment in the area now that they have finally turned a corner, which is both a good thing and a bad thing to me. I want the neighborhood to be alive again, but I would like to see the buildings, signs, and businesses that I like in this area preserved, and that is not likely to happen. To come alive again, it must change to meet contemporary tastes. One of the signs of this is the drive-thru Starbucks just north of El Camino on Del Paso Boulevard. The new building pays homage to the Art Deco style of the neighborhood, but it's still a drive-thru Starbucks. More blatant is the New Faze Development headquarters. They made no attempt to fit with the style of the old neighborhood at all, but instead built a structure in a bold, contemporary design.
Let's take a stroll through the neighborhood, starting from the southern end. Note that all of the photos are from my Flickr account. By clicking on them, you can go the original page for the photo and see larger versions. See also my blog entry on US Route 40 through West Sacramento, and my blog entry on US Route 40 along Auburn Boulevard.
1011 Del Paso Boulevard
The porthole windows and nice light fixtures on this building always caught my eye when taking the light rail downtown. It fits in with the 1940s Streamline Moderne style of much of the neighborhood, but is probably from much later, as I don't find this address in older city directories.
1017 Del Paso Boulevard
I'm not sure if this building dates back to the grocer that was at this address in 1928, but it probably dates back to at least the 1950s and 1960s, when it was a sporting goods store. Currently it is Edible Events, presumably a caterer.
1031 Del Paso Boulevard
Briefly the Winter Garden skating rink, the Senator Roller Drome was built around 1925, according to the Sacramento Bee. It went out of business around 1974, and the building was reused for a furniture store. Now the vast building is for sale or lease. It's yours for only $1,290,000.
1121 Del Paso Boulevard
The Uptown Cafe serves great food in a funky atmosphere. The location housed a coffee shop since the early '50s, under varying names: Beth's Coffee Pot, Del Paso Coffee Shop, Lil's Coffee Shop, The Coffee Pot, The Coffee Shop. I'm pretty sure you can still get coffee there.
On the exterior wall of the Uptown Cafe is a mural of people waiting to see a movie at the long defunct Del Paso Theatre.
1122/1124 Del Paso Blvd
In 1947, this building housed a grocery store called Ink Brothers. They were soon overtaken by Cardinal Grocery, before it became a Van's Market, a local grocery chain, in the late 1950s. It stayed a Van's Market until at least 1982. In the 1990s, IMG Home was one of the pioneers in trying to turn Del Paso Boulevard into an arts district, and they remodeled this building as their showroom. But eventually they gave up on the location. Now it is being worked on again, as the future home of the Sacramento News & Review.
1301 Del Paso Boulevard
What was this old sign originally erected for? It might have been Original Auto Wreckers, who were at this address from at least 1929-1952, although it might have been erected to draw in potential customers for one of the succession of car dealers that operated here in the 1950s and 1960s.
1309 Del Paso Boulevard
Now vacant, this was Original Auto Parts and Machine Shop from at least 1953-1990.
1319 Del Paso Boulevard
Now Marqui Custom Cycles, this was for at least two decades Turpen's Furniture. The building features a terrazzo entrance and a nice, old pendant light.
1430 Del Paso Boulevard
Recently a fellow neon fan and I went out to get shots of Iceland. I've photographed it at night before from across the street, but I wanted to get some better shots, so we walked right up to it and took quite a few pictures. Just as I was finished, the owner of the business, Chris Lord, came out and started barking about us taking pictures of the sign without paying for it and saying he was going to turn the sign off. I was defiant and said, "Fine, turn it off."
But he was only joking. He ended up talking to us for a very long time, and telling us far more than I could ever remember and write down. He told us about the murder of the owner of the old Agonaut Club, which used to be next door, the raid on a bordello across the street, the Green Olive, in which several city officials were caught, and the history of the American Ice Co. and Iceland.
He told us that as long as he and Robert Kerth (of the family that owns the buildings) have anything to say about it, Iceland, which opened on November 4, 1940, will stay in business. He is retiring in 2 years from his other job, and will have more time to spend on Iceland.
1431 Del Paso Boulevard
Currently home to the upscale Enotria Café and Wine Bar, for many years this was home to the Green Olive, and, I've been told, a house of prostitution at the same time.
1434 Del Paso Boulevard
Since 1922, the American Ice Company has operated at this address. It was founded by William Kerth. According to the KVIE documentary Frozen in Time Kerth was an engineer for the Crystal Ice Co., until one of his hands was smashed in an accident at work. After that, they had no use for him, so he opened his own ice company, eventually growing it to the second largest in the Sacramento area, after Crystal. In 1940, he opened Iceland next door, using the same ice making equipment for the rink as was used to make ice for ice boxes. The American Ice Company still sells ice--you can pick up a block if your refrigerator quits working on you, and they sell plenty of dry ice to make creepy fog displays around Halloween.
They used to have a garage door on the front to send out ice on trucks, but so many people would come directly to them for ice that they covered over the door and put in 3 vending slots where people could get 50-pound blocks of ice to haul away.
The two neon signs on the building were not original to it. The owner of the business, Chris Lord, says nobody in is quite sure when the sign was added, or when American Ice Co. was expanded. The larger sign used to say in neon, "Cold Alone Is Not Enough." He says nobody knows what that means. The documentary says that a Madison Avenue advertising firm came up with the slogan to help the American Ice Co. fight the competition of refrigerators.
The holes from the neon for that part allowed birds to get inside, and they built nests there. An accumulation of dried up nests caught fire when the sign was on, and burnt out the inside, so it no longer works. Part of the smaller sign works, the part saying "ICE" in red. There is an outer tube that goes around the sign that would be blue if it were functioning. Lord believes that the colors were originally reversed, and got mixed up on a repair job.
This is the oldest of the compressors still in use, and it was old when the business opened, as it dates from 1896.
1438 Del Paso Boulevard
For more than 40 years this was the Argonaut Club. The one-time owner was killed in a robbery, and, according to an article in the Sacramento Bee, the bullet holes remained visible in the wall for many years. In the early 1990s, the windows in the building were bricked up, as they kept getting broken by vandals. Now a new owner is remodeling the building, and used redevelopment money to put back in the windows. In 1940, the Esquire Club was located at this address.
1439 Del Paso Boulevard
This building is now used by Enotria Café and Wine Bar for special events, but for most of its life it has housed clearners--Spurgeon's Cleaning and Dying Works, Payless Cleaners, and Swanson Cleaners. It was most likely built in the late 1930s.
1454 Del Paso Boulevard
This substantial building is one of the first that caught my eye in the neighborhood, being on the corner near the light rail station on Arden Way. From at least 1926-1960 it was home to the North Sacramento Land Co., the firm that established North Sacramento. Most recently it has housed the soul food restaurant The Plantation. I always meant to eat there, but never did.
1604 Del Paso Boulevard
This old gas station probably most recently housed Four Star Upholstery, for which a broken sign still stands, but it was a gas station from 1918 to at least 1971. Here's a piece on it from the North Sacramento Journal when it was Spec's Union Oil in 1961:
Twenty-four years ago you could shoot a cannon across Del Paso boulevard and you wouldn't hit anybody. So reflects "Spec" Sturges. "When I bought this Union station there were a dozen empty lots up and down from me." "Spec" recalls the Owl Cleaners on one corner . . . and the Hewitt grocery adjoined his gas station. It burned down two years later in 1940, he recalls, and then they rebuilt it.
---"Come to think of it, this station has been rebuilt three times--no fires, though, just expanding to keep up with the business in North Sacramento during the years."
---Sturges, who sees a "vast improvement" on the boulevard, is one of the old-timers who saw the opportunity in North Sacramento, bought a business, and has been there ever since, growing with the community.
---He cites the many changes to back up his contention of improvement. "When I took over," he says, "there were not street lights." There were barricades up and down the middle of the boulevard."
---He admits that, like any business, it took years of hard work to make it succeed. "for years I worked from six in the morning to ten at night, seven days a week." Then "Spec" adds, "You've got to give my wife, Rose, a lot of credit, putting up with a lot of stuff--but I've slowed down now. I'm only good for 12 hours a day."
---The past has been good to "Spec" Sturges, as he expanded not only his Union station in North Sacramento, but added three other stations in Sacramento to his business. He has been connected with Union Oil for 35 years.
---Sturges looks towards an even better future: "The future looks better in North Sacramento that it has for years. In fact, right now business is better for us than for years."
---It could be said Sturges talks with a voice of authority. Not only has he spent 24 years "on the boulevard," but the station he owns is the oldest one here, having stood on the same site since it was first established by Joy Wannamaker in 1918.
---The station is what is referred to in the trade as a "two bay station," and in addition to gasoline and oil, Sturges offers motorists a complete line of services, including lubrication, batteries, tires, and accessories.
---After nearly two and a half decades of doing business in North Sacramento, "Spec" Sturges will admit that "he might some day take a little vacation."
---"And it's not too far off, either," he adds, as he steps over to take care of the automotive needs of yet another motorist.
1700 Del Paso Boulevard
From February 1960 until the late 1990s, this was the Arden Motel. Accusations of drug dealing and a prostitution ring at the motel led to a lawsuit that resulted in a court-ordered closure of the motel in 1998. It was recently remodeled in a project that turned it into office suites with a cafe. The sign was left in tact until the very end of the project, when it was, much to my disappointment, radically altered.
1710 Del Paso Boulevard
Syrian immigrant "Lil" Joe Halaway bought the Emerald Cafe in 1948, eventually changing the name to Lil Joe's. Lil Joe was famous for his loving nature and generosity, greeting customers with a smile and a "God bless you." Those words are now etched in the concrete before the restaurant's door. He stood by his employees and helped those who were down on their luck with free meals frequently.
And he saw a lot of people down on their luck. Shortly after he bought the restaurant on highway 40, Del Paso Boulevard was bypassed by the new freeway, and that began a long decline. According to the Sacramento Bee, police would avoid going to Lil Joe's (which used to be open 24 hours) because they didn't want to eat among the people they would be arresting later. The low point came in 1993, when a customer responded to being asked to put his cigarette out by stabbing the waiter to death.
When he was hospitalized in early 2002, the city council unanimously voted to honor Lil Joe with a lifetime achievement award for his assistance to the poor, sponsorship of youth sports, and general contribution to the community. He died a few months after being hospitalized. His son George, who started working the restaurant at the age of 14, carries on his legacy, as does his daughter.
Once I moved to nearby Arden-Arcade in August of 2002, I started eating at Lil Joe's frequently, mainly for the incredibly low prices. Then it was only $1.69 for a hamburger and a bag of potato chips (it's now $3.69). My only real complaint is the toast at breakfast--they need to get some better bread.
1721 Del Paso Boulevard
North Bowl was opened on August 6, 1941. There's no neon sign in an original advertisement for it. In 1963 it was purchased and updated as Cardinal Lanes, which remained in business into the 1990s. It now sits vacant.
1803 Del Paso
The Freemasons Building was constructed in 1923 or 1924.
1810 Del Paso Boulevard
B&W Liquors occupies an interesting building, and had a lovely sign at one time. They have since removed the neon that said "B&W" and painted the sign all one color, then attached a small plastic sign that says "B&W Liquors." I have no idea why. In the 1950s and 1960s, the store was located farther south along the boulevard.
1811 Del Paso Boulevard
Currently the Capoeira Gallery, I'm curious about the age of the building and the modifications to it. Could this be the old Perry's Garage from the 1940s?
1822 Del Paso Boulevard
Walter Lockhoof erected this building and had his small barber shop on one side, while leasing out the other side for a series of restaurants, before the Nite Hawk Bar-B-Q Cafe opened there on March 3, 1934. The current exterior most likely dates from 1936, when there was a dispute over whether the new marquee was allowable under city regulations. In 1958 the interior was renovated and updated.
1901 Del Paso Boulevard
Now called the Artisan Building, this was a Federated Store in the 1950s, "North Sacramento's LARGEST Department Store"
1917 Del Paso Boulevard
The Grand Theatre opened here on May 15,1942 and operated until 1960, although silent movies were being shown at the location for years before that, originally with no roof on the structure. A church called Evangel Temple rented the theater the Grand closed, before purchasing it in 1962 and removing the large neon sign from the front. It has housed other churches since, but it is currently being remodeled with plans to open it as the New Grand Theater.
1925 Del Paso Boulevard
The Musicians Hall, this building is titled. It currently houses the Uptown Ballroom, but was a clothing shop from the 1930s until at least 1982, originally Thurn's Clothing Store, then California Apparel Shop, and finally Rich's.
1931 Del Paso Boulevard
Primetime Boxing occupies this interesting building, which features medallions in the brickwork with a depiction of a Native American on a horse. It was originally Bank of America, which later moved into larger headquarters across the street, where it still resides.
2000 Del Paso Boulevard
Sunland Liquors move to this location up the street in the early 1970s. The plastic sign out front might date from then, while the massive steel sign in back, which most likely once had neon tubing, I would guess is much older.
2001 and 2003-2007 Del Paso Boulevard
I don't have a photo of 2001 Del Paso Boulevard, home of Aldrich, and then Reycraft, Rexall Pharamacy for at least 70 years. I just have the corner of it in this shot. The large building in this photo housed the North Star Club for over 50 years, a men's clothing stores and then a sign shop in the middle, and a variety of business on the right, including most recently Victorious Life Ministries. The buildings were demolished around 2005 for a planned New Faze Development project. Since then it has sat vacant with a sign describing the project.
2014 Del Paso Boulevard
This is a beautiful Art Deco building that I hope to get some more shots of in the coming summer. In the early 1980s, it housed a restaurant called the Baked Apple. There is now a sign up calling it the Baked Apple Building, and there is still a tile apple on the side of the building. But for the longest stretch of its life, it was Berg's restaurant (from at least 1940-1968), and I believe the family that ran that restaurant still owns the building. In 1971, the oddly named Cat Chew Café briefly occupied the building.
2021 Del Paso Boulevard
Sammy's Restaurant, also previously known as Sammy's Waffle Shop. They have a sign saying "Since 1944," but that does not apply to this building. Originally, there was a combination gas station and restaurant on this corner. According to a Bee article from 1987, Sammy Powell was born in England in 1903. Before opening this restaurant, he had a malt shop on K Street and a place on Auburn Boulevard (also along the Highway 40 route) called Sammy's Bungalow. Another article from 1993 reports that Sammy's burned to the ground in 1968, and took a year to rebuild, as Sammy and his son Gary did much of the work themselves, since the insurance money wasn't enough to rebuild it any other way. The bright orange of the late 1960s decoration was altered to the pink and green you see above in the early 1990s.
2101 Del Paso Boulevard
Swanson & Sons Lock & Safe Co. occupies this interesting old building. It was built in 1923 by Brown-Irwin Land Co. Brown and Irwin occupied part of it, while the Arata Brothers ran a grocery out of the rest of it. Eventually Arata Bros expanded to take the whole building. It stayed a grocery store at least into the 1940s, then housed a plumber, a shoe repair shop, a TV repair shop, and a Goodwill store, before getting another long-term occupant in Swanson & Sons.
2113 Del Paso Boulevard
Currently this building is covered up and listed for sale or lease (with the sign long gone), but for 40 years or more it was Jack's Club. Before that, it was Tony's Club.
2120/2122 Del Paso Boulevard
I never saw the Del Paso Theatre, and the first I learned of it was when I saw the old terrazzo sidewalk when walking Del Paso Boulevard, now standing before an empty lot. It was built at an expense of $150,000 and opened on June 29, 1928. The grand structure burnt down on January 15, 1942, and was a complete loss. Because of wartime restrictions, the Blumenfeld movie circuit could not build a replacement until 1946, and the grand new $250,000 Del Paso Theatre opened January 23, 1947--less than 9 months before the North Sacramento Freeway bypassed the boulevard. The terrazzo dates from this later construction. The theater closed in 1970, and sat vacant for years, and then was gutted by fire in July of 1990. The Sacramento Bee, which had run a nice article upon its grand opening in 1928, noted the fire in a brief article that misidentified it as the Del Paso Heights Theatre. They did no follow up story. In 1998 the structure was finally demolished.
Although area residents and business owners had long hoped that a restored Del Paso Theatre would be a centerpiece of the neighborhood, the movie palace never even received a historic designation, as city officials concentrated their preservation efforts on the city center. A lien was placed on the property to pay for the demolition, insuring that the lot will remain vacant for a long time.
2202 Del Paso Boulevard
This was the home of Tony Baloney's Delicatessen, home of the pepper steak sandwich. This location was open from the late 1960s into the 1990s. Tony still operates another sandwich shop on College Oaks.
2300 Del Paso Boulevard
This place probably opened as Ewin's Frostie in the early 1960s, but Ben's Big Burger operated here from the late 1960s up until at least the early 1990s. The Geneva's Big Burger on Arden Way is also a former Ben's Big Burger. Since it closed, the place has seen a number of different restaurants come and go, such as Big T's Drive In, Big D's BBQ, and La Piedad Mexican Food. I've eaten at all of them, and will try it again if it reopens as something else.
2326 Del Paso Boulevard
This was originally the Wilton Arms Hotel, but operated as the North Sacramento Hotel from at least 1931 to 1980. Currently it houses the soul food restaurant Frenchie's Corner, named after a local boxer. The lunch menu offers great bargains, and I highly recommend it.
And thus ends the stretch of Del Paso Boulevard that was US Route 40, which turned right onto El Camino, now West El Camino Avenue. In 2007, a major beautification project was completed on Del Paso Boulevard, which involved installing sculptures on the traffic islands, a large clock at the junction with Arden Way, and glass blocks and spheres on the traffic islands. The start of this section is signaled by a large installation at the junction with El Camino.
I have mixed feelings about the art--I like to see local artists supported, but I have to agree with Chris Lord of the American Ice Co. and Iceland: the neighborhood would be better off if that money were spent on more police patrols. In the advertisement for the grand unveiling they featured the vintage neon signs that attracted me to the boulevard in the first place.
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- I love to learn about, visit, photograph, research, and write about everything that is interesting, unique, and historical about Northern California, and wherever else I should be fortunate enough to find myself. I've spent many years scouring the roadside in my little car for interesting subjects and walking down hiking trails in the Sierra Nevada and along the coast to get to know the wonder that is Northern California. I share most of this via photos on Flickr, and as much as time permits me to on my blog, the NorCal Explorer. Fine art prints of my photos are for sale on Imagekind.