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Nature Index
(My hiking and camping adventures in Northern California.)

Culture Index
(NorCal cities, highways, restaurants, museums, architecture, historic attractions, vintage neon signs, roadside attractions, etc.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sacramento's Vintage Diners

20080224 Market Club, 1933
Market Club
2630 5th St.

You could easily live in Sacramento for a decade and never be aware that the Market Club exists. It's tucked away within the Sacramento Produce Market, which was built in 1933, in a light industrial area south of Broadway on 5th St. According to the Sacramento Bee, the restaurant opened when the market did, but the old city directories don't list a restaurant there until 1937, when the directory lists the Lincoln Fruit Co. Market Grill. Later it is listed as the Market Grill, and by 1953 as the Market Club.

20080224 Market Club

Inside is a counter with very old stools, and then there is a seating area with vintage beer advertising devices. It's the only place in town I know that you can get baloney and eggs, which I'm anxious to try soon.

20081018 Jim-Denny's
816 12th St.

Jim Denny's is a vintage diner on the corner of 12th and Terminal that used to be open 24 hours to serve people coming and going from a nearby bus depot that served the old American Buslines, Continental Pacific Trailways, and Gibson-American Buslines. The tiny little building with its lunch counter, and no tables, has survived while skyscrapers have been built around it. It's expensive, and after experimenting with extended hours, they've returned to closing at 3 p.m., but it's a real thrill for me to eat in a place like this where history is so palpable. Everything I've eaten there has been excellent too.

20050916 Jim Denny's Hamburgers

From what I have gleaned from various Sacramento Bee articles, Jim Van Nort and Dennis McFall opened the first Jim and Denny's on 16th St. in 1934, and opened the present location as Jim-Denny's No. 2 in 1940. Jim Van Nort cooked at the restaurant until 1988, when he retired and underwent coronary surgery. The restaurant only stayed closed a few months before opening under new ownership. I know it has been closed for at least one stretch since then, after another ownership change. Jim Van Nort died in 2001.

20070417 Trails Charcoal Broiler
Trails Restaurant
2530 21st St.

"Your adventure in good eating" (old Yellow Pages advertisement).

I'm very curious about this place, and haven't come up with solid answers yet. Rumor has it that America's Mermaid, Esther Williams, was owner or part owner of this restaurant. I do know that she owned a restaurant by the same name in Los Angeles, which she bought around 1950-1951. The first Trails in Sacramento opened at 1309 Fulton Avenue around 1952, and this restaurant, Trails No. 2, opened around 1953. By 1956 it was called Myrle's Trails, and I speculate that this Myrle might be the same one who was part owner of Al & Myrle's Platter, just half a block away (now Pancake Circus, discussed below). There is still a velvet painting hanging inside that says "Myrle's Trails."

The Fulton Avenue location closed around 1965, and was a series of other restaurants (Hegland's Charcoal Broiler, Golden Trails Restaurant, Pied Piper Restaurant, Claude's Restaurant, Vino Veneto Restaurant) before being demolished. Today a Rite Aid stands at that location. Meanwhile, the Trails on 21st is still in businesses, serving up the house special, Shish-K-Bobs.

20081023 Double Cheeseburger
Double Cheeseburger

According to a waitress, someone a customer told her that it was decorated just the way the Trails in Los Angeles was, thus establishing the connection to Esther Williams. On the other hand, it is a small and humble place, whereas the Los Angeles restaurant had monkeys, birds, and fish, and Howard Hughes used to hang out in the back. I'm not sure the current owner knows the history of the place, and anyhow, his English is not so good.

But he's very friendly and hard working, and I feel very good about spending my money at this place--and it doesn't take much, as you can get a sandwich plate for under $5. The old western-themed dishes and cups they used to use now hang on display, but the wagon wheel chandeliers are still in use. The cowboy wallpaper is new, but is just like the old wallpaper they stripped off several layers of, according to the waitress.

20080309 Capitol Park Cafe
Capitol Park Cafe
1119 9th St.

The Capitol Park Cafe is named after the Capitol Park Hotel, which is itself comprised of two buildings adjoining each other. The cafe is in the one marked "Siller Building" on the front. The buildings are from around 1912., and became the Lenhart Hotel around 1928. The first city directory showing a restaurant at this address is from 1929, when it was the Lenhart Coffee Shop, which apparently closed around 1937. In 1953, it was Bob's Coffee Shop, but it was vacant again in 1955. In 1957 and 1975 it is listed as Park Coffee Shop, and then it was Park Palace Coffee Shop, New Park Restaurant, and Oriental Express, before becoming the Capitol Park Cafe in the early 1990s.

20080303 T-Bone Steak & Eggs
T-Bone Steak & Eggs

I ate there shortly after moving to the area in 1996, and was amazed at the low prices. They aren't so low as to be amazing these days, but the restaurant is still a good bargain, and the two meals I have had there this year have been excellent.

20070422 Sammy's
2021 Del Paso Blvd.

"Since 1944" a sign tells you at Sammy's, although that is misleading. That is when Samuel Powell, who had various other businesses in the area throughout the years, started serving food there, but apparently he was serving it out of a gas station in the 1940s and early 1950s. By 1953 it was Sammy's Waffle Shop. The original place burned down in 1968, and Sammy and his son spent a year building the restaurant we have today. The interior colors were changed in the 1980s. Too bad--I'd love to see the 1960s burnt orange.

20071229 Deluxe Sammy Burger
Deluxe Sammy Burger

20080115 Sim's Diner
Sim's Diner
513 Broadway

There's no doubt about it when you look at this place from the outside: it's very, very old. Louis Rouppet opened up a restaurant here around 1930. It appears under the name on the neon sign outside, "Quick Lunch," in the 1948 directory, and was still operating under that name as late as 1982. To my surprise, it is listed as Edokko in 1996, but it was Sim's Diner when I ate there in 2005.

It's a tiny little place, and when I ate there, I was the only one who did not address the proprietress as "Mama." When I paid with a $20 bill, she had to send a young girl to a store on the corner to get change. But the food was good, and I hope to try their breakfast buffet soon.

20071214 Lil Joe's
Lil Joe's
1710 Del Paso

20061001 Steak & Eggs
Steak & Eggs

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 a new freeway, and began a long decline. The area was, and still is (although it is starting to come out of it with major redevelopment efforts), beset by vacant buildings, empty lots, liquor stores, adult book stores, prostitution, drug use, and violence. 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.

20080103 Pancake Circus
Pancake Circus
2101 Broadway

A 1997 Sacramento Bee article refers to the Pancake Circus as "a shrine to breakfast lovers for nearly 40 years." I've noticed that people writing restaurant reviews don't hesitate to make things up rather than do any real research. The Pancake Circus opened, in fact, around 1970, although the building dates back to around 1963. It was originally Al & Myrle's Platter, then Al's Platter, then Pancake Parade No. 3. I imagine not a lot of interior redecorating was required when it changed from Pancake Parade to Pancake Circus.

20070915 Pancake Circus

They've got a counter with stools inside and you can play Lotto from your seat. I'm not a big fan of pancakes, but fortunately I enjoy they do eggs Benedict well. It's one of my favorite dishes, but very easy to screw up if you have bad Hollandaise sauce.

20080120 Blueberry Pancakes
Blueberry Pancakes

20080820 Lucky Cafe
Lucky Cafe
1111 21st St

The Lucky Cafe at this address opened around 1962, right after the Lucky Cafe on 5th near J closed, presumably as part of the redevelopment associated with the construction of Interstate 5. I think they just relocated, although I was disappointed to find in an old photograph of the 5th St. location that the sign did not exactly match the current sign. The older Lucky Cafe opened in the mid 1940s.

Inside they have a countertop with a 1950s Googie design and a limited number of booths that are off limits to solo diners.

20071221 Eddie's Irish Village Coffee Shop
Johanna's/Eddie's Irish Village Coffee Shop
2906 Auburn Blvd

I just went to eat here the other day, and was disappointed to find that it had closed. Not surprised, but disappointed. Eddie's Irish Village Motel and Coffee Shop opened around 1963. In the 1980s it was Red Robin Coffee Shop, but by 1990 it was Johanna's Restaurant. It took me quite a while to discover this place, which wasn't quite as old as I really like, but was close to where I live, and inexpensive.

20080426 Chicken Fried Steak
Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs

200612104 Uptown Cafe
Uptown Cafe/The Coffee Pot
1121 Del Paso Blvd.

The Coffee Bar opened here around 1952. Then it became the Coffee Shop, the Del Paso Coffee Shop, the Coffee Pot, Beth's Coffee Pot, and then back to the Coffee Pot, before becoming the Uptown Cafe around 1997. It's a restaurant run by a chef, so the food is good, and also a little more expensive than most of these other old places. My most interesting meal here was during a power outage in a storm--given the circumstances, the menu was somewhat restricted.

20060309 Cheddar Cheese Burger
Cheddar Cheeseburger & Onion Rings

20070830 "Chicken Fried Steak"
Mary's Cafe
6498 Broadway

I missed out on getting a photograph of the 1970s sign for this restaurant. The strip mall it is in was recently redone, and the old sign disappeared. But nothing old is missing from the interior.

It opened around 1954 as Marie's Do-Nut Shop No. 2, with No. 1 being in Del Paso Heights. There's still a Marie's Do-Nut Shop on Freeport Boulevard. By 1955 it was Oleta's Coffee & Donut Shop, then Los Taquetos, before staying as Kindle's Kitchen for 15 years or more. Around 1975, it became Mary's Kitchen.

My first visit there was not auspicious. It looks really worn inside, and calendars from 1985 hang on the wall. Listed on the menu was "chicken fried steak" at the lowest price I have ever seen. But it turned out it was just a chicken patty. Now, the "steak" part is crossed off with marker on the menus, meaning it is listed as "chicken fried."

I've been much happier with my more recent meals. I wasn't asked how I wanted my steak when I ordered steak and eggs, but apparently they knew I wanted it medium rare--it was terrific. When I was there the other day, they were completely swamped, and couldn't handle the number of customers. But even though my food was slow to arrive, the shrimp omelette was tasty. The only thing that really bothers me is that unnatural yellow substance they put on the toast. But if you've got a really small appetite and are looking to spend around $2.35 for breakfast, this is the place to go. Try one egg and one pancake.

20080616 Eggie's
1650 Fulton Ave.

There are several breakfast/lunch places in my neighborhood that close in the afternoon, but this one has the best food of all of them. I used to be a regular there, with the chicken apple sausage & scrambled eggs with country potatoes (with onions and peppers) and sourdough toast being my most common order. Then one day I saw "Freedom Fries" featured on their daily special, and since then I have rarely visited. Vive la France.

20060405 Chicken apple sausage and eggs
Chicken Apple Sausage & Eggs

The place probably opened as the Coffee Hut around 1967, then was Kenny's for a number of years (not Denny's), briefly Quok's, and by 1978 was Eggie's.

20070327 Sam's Big Top
Country Waffles
2721 El Camino

The only thing inside that matches the Googie architecture are the hot pink tiles behind the counter. But the fact that it is the Sam Gordon Center is a dead giveaway that it was a Sam's Big Top, built around 1967. Like many of Sam's restaurant, this one was purchased by the Denny's chain, but it didn't stay a Denny's long. For a stretch it was Walt's.

20051009 Former Lyon's
2495 Watt Ave.

When I lived in Davis, every once in a while I would eat at the Lyon's (now another restaurant). The food always looked good in the photos on the menu, but I was always disappointed. When I moved to my current neighborhood, I used to eat breakfast at this Lyon's occasionally just to appreciate the building and the great round booths inside (unfortunately I never took any photos of the interior).

Not being a fan of the Lyon's chain, I assumed it must have been something different originally to have such a cool building, but no, it opened as a Lyon's around 1966. An older friend at work tells me it was the place to be late at night in the late sixties, when it was open 24 hours a day.

It didn't do great business, but probably had low rent in the parking lot of a a closed Montgomery Ward's. But soon after Wal-Mart moved into the Ward's building, the place closed, and it was demolished in 2007 to provide more parking for the Wal-Mart.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Road Trip: US 395, Mono Lake, Yosemite NP, Modesto

Usually I blog my interests in exploring Northern California separately: the hiking, camping, and nature explorations totally apart from restaurants, neon signs, roadside attractions, and local history. Mainly this is because most people are interested in one or the other, but not both.

But I don't separate them when I'm actually out exploring. I discover delightful signs and drive-in restaurants while going to and from hiking trips, and I plan camping trips as an excuse to explore new towns and highways. So for just this once, I'm going to present one of my excursions as a whole to give an idea to my family and friends (it amuses me to pretend that they read my blog) what they are like.

The only certain goal of this overnight trip was Mono Lake. I had heard much about this area in the Eastern Sierra from my friends Erik, Darla, and Dave, and had read fascinating accounts of the lake from Mark Twain and John Muir. I had a number of other places I wanted to visit in this area in mind: the site of the Japanese interment camp at Manzanar, the old ghost town of Bodie, Devil's Postpile National Monument, and the Alabama Hills. Plus, I planned to return through Yosemite National Park and get in a hike there, and stop off in Modesto in the hopes of photographing the State Theatre at night.

That was an overly ambitious agenda for an overnight trip, and I made things more difficult by not preparing well. I did little research, and I put off errands, like paying bills, until the morning I was leaving, meaning I got started three hours later than planned.

I could have rushed, and tried to skip less important things. But this was not a paid tour with a specific agenda and stops at all the must-see highlights. This was about me relaxing and having fun exploring what was out there and taking it as it comes. So starting off on US 50, the historic emigrant route and one of two routes for the first transcontinental road, the Lincoln Highway, I quickly stopped off in the boring suburban community of Cameron Park for lunch.

I love the historic gold mining towns of the foothills, but in between those and the city of Sacramento are these far outlying suburbs powered by the freeways and filled with the worst kind of suburban sprawl and generic chain stores and restaurants. But Cameron Park has one thing I had always been interested in stopping to check out, but never had: an old Eppie's restaurant, now 3 Brothers Restaurant. Eppie's was a regional chain out of Sacramento that started in 1964 and grew to 20 restaurants, but is now down to just one, and not the original one, in West Sacramento. Nothing particularly interesting about the interior of 3 Brothers, but the turkey melt special and potato salad were good.

Back on the road, I exited 50 at Sly Park Road, a familiar route to get to the hiking area of Carson Pass. Turning at the south end of the lake onto Mormon Emigrant Trail, I passed the lake, and then went through dense forest, which the highway was plopped down in the middle of. The squirrels have not adapted, and I call it "Squirrel Dodging Road."

The Mormon Emigrant Trail is named after a 19th century group of Mormons who came from Salt Lake City to help build Sutter's Mill, where gold would be found a year later. When finished, they returned to Salt Lake City via this route. Other place names in the area reflect their journey, like Tragedy Spring, where the bodies of advance scouts were found, having been slain by natives.

This route is a short cut to CA 88 and Carson Pass, rather than going to South Lake Tahoe, and starting down CA 89. Carson Pass is named after guide Kit Carson. There are two trailheads on either side of the highway here along the Pacific Crest Trail. I've made hikes from both trailheads.

20080911 Old Webster Schoolhouse
Old Webster Schoolhouse, Markleeville

From here it was down into a broad valley to join up with CA 89 South and finally the start of new territory for me, the highlight of which would be Markleeville. Markleeville has a small park with a museum, the old jail, the old one-room schoolhouse, and some rusted machinery out back. I've seen the like all over Gold Country, but I still enjoy it.

20080912 Rusty Old Machine
Old Machinery in Markleeville

After that it was over my second mountain pass of the day, Monitor Pass. This one had a nice stone marker placed there in 1959. Appropriately it was in front of a grove of aspen trees. I have never seen so many aspens in the Sierra as a I saw along this road--it must be wonderful in the fall.

20080912 Monitor Pass Marker
Monitor Pass Marker

Once over Monitor Pass it is a steep descent with wide open views of a valley--wide open, but, unfortunately, hazy on this day. Snaking through a river canyon at the bottom, the CA 89 leads out into the valley and terminates at the junction with US 395.

20080911 West Walker Motel
West Walker Motel

Now this initial portion of US 395 I had been on before on my way back from Sonora Pass and the Stanislaus National Forest, but that had been during a period of terrible wildfires when most all of California and eastern Nevada had smoky skies, so I did not stop for photos. On this day, it was just a bit hazy when looking to the east, but the polarizing filter generally took care of that. I stopped along the way to take pictures of old neon signs and roadside burger stands, particularly of well maintained, vintage motels in Walker.

20080911 Andryss Motel
Andryss Motel, Walker

Passing the junction with CA 108, I was once again in virgin territory for me. Then I had the pleasure of pulling into Bridgeport--like Walker, with very well maintained vintage motels with neon signs, but considerably larger. I stopped to photograph the signs before continuing on.

20080911 Bridgeport Inn

On leaving Bridgeport, there was a sign indicating a portion of scenic highway was beginning. The highlight of this is an overlook on a sweeping curve as the road starts descending to Mono Lake. There is a view of the whole valley, and the shriveled lake surrounded by salt and tufa. Of course I took the turnout.

Again, I hadn't done any research, so I wasn't sure where to best go to view Mono Lake and its famous tufa formations. I chose the first turn off, for a county park on the northwest side of the lake on Cemetery Road.

It's a nice little park for families, with a large lawn and playground for kids. There's a trail out to a boardwalk in the state reserve area. Walking down the boardwalk, there are signs indicating the old water level in different years, which is depressing. The water level has dropped precipitously because water from tributaries has been diverted so the good people of Los Angeles can water their lawns, wash their cars, and hold wet t-shirt contests.

Finally there is a viewing area with a bench from which I could see some of the lakes famous tufa formations, but not many, and at a distance. So I quickly returned to the car and Highway 395 and headed a little farther south.

Soon there was another turnoff, just before the town of Lee Vining, which according to the map I am looking at now, is the old marina site. Here there were more plentiful tufa formations. Tufa is calcium carbonate, limestone, and is created when fresh spring water from underneath the lake rises up into the salty water of Mono lake and then accretions of limestone form into interesting shapes. They were exposed when the water level dropped. Mono Lake is much saltier than the ocean because it has no outlet--all of the salts brought in by fresh water remain there as the water gradually evaporates.

I took some photos there, but I was starting to lose the light. It was only 5 p.m., but this area is right close to high mountains rising to the west, and the sun was dipping below the peaks. So I decided to buy one of the pamphlets available there and plan my next move.

I saw that past the county park area on Cemetery Road I could drive out to a turnoff for Black Point, so that's where I headed. The paved part of the road ended at the Cemetery, and it was gravel road from there, but easy enough driving. I almost drove past the small sign low to the grand pointing to the turnoff for Black Point. That road was a little rougher, and there were various unmarked spurs off of it, which left me unsure if I was going the right way. But eventually I arrived at a parking area signed for Black Point.

It's a good walk across black, volcanic sand and rocks before reaching the white salt and limestone of the former lake bed. There were a lot more tufa formations here, backed by the black dome of one of the islands. And like the old marina site, there were millions of brine flies along the water's edge here. Mono Lake is a very important area for birds, particularly the species California gull (Larus californicus), the great majority of which next at Mono Lake. The islands provide safety from predators, and the lake provides abundant food in the form of brine flies and brine shrimp.

The falling level of the lake created a landbridge to Negit Island, and predators had access to the birds' nests, so they vacated the island. Luckily, a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles finally resulted in a settlement in 1994 mandating a return to the 1961 level of the lake, well below the 1941 level, when water diversion first began, but considerably higher than it was then, or is still now. There is quite a ways to go before the water reaches that level, but Negit Island is once again and island.

20080912 Gulls on Tufa
Mono Lake from Black Point

The light was great in the afternoon out there, but I was the only one around. Eventually I had to start thinking about where I was going to spend the night. My plan was to camp, and I wanted to get my tent set up before dark.

But for a variety or reasons, I ended up returning to Bridgeport and staying at the Silver Maple Motel, one of those beautifully maintained old motels with a lovely sign. I had dinner at the equally wonderful Sportsman's Inn. This place has knotty pine paneled walls, large booths, and an old counter. For a very reasonable price I got the rainbow trout dinner, which came with soup, salad, rolls, French fries, and coleslaw. Sure, there were some brown spots in the lettuce, and the fries were overcooked, but the trout and chicken rice soup were excellent and the service was attentive.

20080911 Sportsmen's Inn

They had 4 beers on tap listed on the menu: 3 premium beers for $4 a pint, and Pabst Blue Ribbon for $2.50. But I found out later that it is only $2 a pint in the bar, where you can also get a "spaghetti hot dog with Swiss cheese" for $3.50--undoubtedly a culinary adventure. After photographing neon at night and setting up my tripod to get a long exposure of the courthouse, I added a few gallons of gas to my tank to make sure I'd be able to make it to the Central Valley without having to buy more gas. While beer is cheap in this high desert town, gas is expensive--nearly $5 a gallon, while it was only $3.69 back in Sacramento.

I shot the neon signs of Bridgeport at night after that, and got a long exposure of the Mono County Courthouse before heading back to my motel room.

20080911 Mono County Courthouse
Mono County Courthouse

Had I been in my sleeping bag in a tent, I would have had no problem getting up at 6 a.m. to shoot the tufa towers of Mono Lake at sunrise, as I had planned, but in the comfort of my bed, I overslept, and got up at 6:45, and I still had to drive 20 miles back to the lake. All of the great photos I have seen of Mono Lake are in dramatic lighting conditions--sunrise, sunset, or in stormy weather.

I had to settle for good light, not dramatic light. I drove south of Lee Vining to the turnoff for CA 120 east. On that road I drove past Panum crater, which would have made an interesting stop if the sun were higher in the sky (so it could reach the interior of the crater). From 120 it is a short trip on a gravel road to the South Tufa Area.

The South Tufa Area is a fee site, $3 per person, but they accept the federal interagency pass, so I didn't have to pay. Unlike at Black Point, there were already people at the South Tufa Area. I took the loop walk, starting to the west side, because the sun needed to move a little farther west in the sky before the formations on the east side would be lit properly. I worked my way east, reading all the posted signs and trying to find good compositions. I think a long lens would be your best bet for the photographing the tufa to compress the distance between the towers, but I don't have anything longer than 55mm at the moment, so I had to settle for that.

20080912 Eastern Sierra & Tufa
Mono Lake Tufa and the Eastern Sierra

Some time after I arrived a tour bus had dumped its load of tourists, and they were already returning to the bus by the time I was ready to leave. I started back to 395, but this time via gravel road close to the lake shore, instead of CA 120. I soon came to a turnoff to a parking lot a ways from another grouping of tufa towers. Initially I passed it by, but then changed my mind and backed up to it. I set off from the northwest corner of the lot towards the tufa. It was easy going at first, but eventually I had to fight my way through large bushes that scraped up my legs. But I made it to the tufa to take photos. I would have explored more along the shore there, but I got to a point where I was sinking into the mud--even though the water level of the lake has dropped, the springs that led to the formation of the tufa towers are still there, so there are lots of marshy areas.

When I was mapping my photos on Flickr when I got home, I saw from the satellite view that there appears to be a trail from the northeast corner, rather than the northwest, where I left from, that goes back to the South Tufa area, but there would have been little point in going back there.

20080912 Tufa @ Mono Lake

Returning to the car, I headed along the gravel road until I saw an old house that I had to stop and shoot. I would have liked to explore inside, but it was surrounded by a chainlink fence topped with barbed wire, so I decided to respect the message that fence was sending me, and just take a photo between the barbed wire.

20080912 Abandoned House Near Mono Lake

I meant to continue all the way back to the old marina site on the gravel road, but instead of following the sign to the picnic area, I went the other way at a junction and was quickly back on 395. I see from the map that I missed one more major tufa area by doing this.

20080912 Nicely's Restaurant

Back on 395, I returned to Lee Vining, where I parked outside of a closed drive-in restaurant, in the hopes that when I returned from walking around town taking photos, it would be open. But one of the signs I took a picture of was attached to a restaurant that seemed more appealing for breakfast--Nicely's, where I had steak and eggs--well done, even though I ordered the steak medium rare.

20080912 NY Steak from Nicely's Restaurant

From Lee Vining I started my return to Sacramento through Yosemite National Park. That meant taking CA 120 west from 395: Tioga Pass Road.

20080912 Tioga Pass Road
Tioga Pass Road

It is a dramatically beautiful climb up this road into the high Sierra. I pulled over a couple of times to take photos, but had I been more quick to react, there were a couple of better spots to pull over. Climbing up a river canyon, I passed a large waterfall that was still going this late in the season, reminding me of how much higher the mountains are in this part than where I usually hike, the Tahoe Sierra. Soon after the waterfalls I reached a lake where there were many fishermen and even some motorboats--Tioga Lake, it turned out to be. And after that it was a long wait in line to get into Yosemite National Park--no charge, thanks to my interagency pass.

The plan was just to stop at a couple of obvious pullovers for quick photos, before reaching a trailhead for a substantial hike. So I stopped at Lambert Dome, where lots of people were lacing their boots, and getting out the ropes, and Tenaya Lake, where plenty of people were wading, swimming, and picnicking.

20080912 Tenaya Lake
Tenaya Lake

Then it was Porcupine Creek Trialhead for my planned hike to North Dome. I headed down an old road .7 miles, crossed a couple of mostly dried up creek beds, passed through deep forest to a couple of junctions right after one another, all well signed, headed over along the side of a slope to a point where many people had obviously gone out to check the view, but a couple of unusually large cairns assured me the trail makes a sharp left. From there it was a pretty steep climb to a junction marked for the arch at Indian Rock.

It's a steep climb up to the arch via a use trail--it couldn't be a planned trail, despite the sign, as the park service would avoid such a direct ascent so as to prevent erosion. On the way up, I got my first views of famed Half Dome through the trees. According to California Hiking, the arch at Indian Rock is the only "natural bridge" in the park, although "bridge" seems to be an odd thing to call it, as it isn't really connecting two points across a chasm.

Back down on the main trail, I soon though I had come to my goal, but I was deceived. There was a granite dome directly ahead, with views of Half Dome, but the trail veered off to the left and down the steep side of a granite slope covered with decomposed granite, making footing a bit tricky. Down below, the trail turns back towards Yosemite Valley along a second granite dome--still not North Dome--and I was rewarded with outstanding views of Half Dome and immense masses of granite that I'm not familiar with enough to identify.

Well below and across a small forested ravine, I saw another granite dome sticking out. I could see people on it, so I figured that must be North Dome, and was surprised that my hiking book had not warned me what a long climb down it was at the end. I thought about not going any farther, as I had excellent views to the east, and the sun was in the wrong position to photograph Yosemite Valley to the west. It didn't seem as though the view I would get from North Dome would be so much better as to justify the extra effort. But thankfully I put those thoughts out of my head and kept on.

I reached a junction indicating it was .5 miles to North Dome, and started down a steep portion with tricky footing at points. I reached a large smooth section of sloping granite at which there were several other hikers. Two iron roads had been anchored into the granite here, and they were holding a rock in place, but I didn't really see how that was going to help me get down or back up again later. I asked to backpackers below how the rest of the trail was, and if there were any "slip and you die" spots. "No, this is the worst of it," they assured, "just a slip and you get hurt spot." So I slid down on my ass and kept going.

I passed though that small forested ravine and started climbing up the granite of North Dome itself. Just as I started a hiker coming the other way joked, "Nothing to see here. Go back." The winds whipped up as I headed out on North Dome. I could see Yosemite Valley below to the east, and of course, Half Dome looming in its immensity a short distance to the west. At the high point, I picked out the highest rock and climbed on top of it. Apparently I chose correctly, as the rock had a US Geological Survey marker embedded in it.

20080912 Half Dome from North Dome
Half Dome from North Dome

I would have liked to have stayed there some time and watched the light change on Half Dome as the sun shifted in the sky, but I also wanted to get out of the mountains before dark, and I wasn't sure how long that would take, and get home to Sacramento that night. So I started back.

In the ravine the two backpackers who had reassured me earlier were setting up camp. Back at the tricky granite slope, I managed to get up on all fours--this time there was nobody else there, so I couldn't ask for a hand. I was really pushing myself to hike quickly, and I really wore myself out on this hike. At some point on the way back I realized I had been calculating wrong--I had set out at 12:45, not 11:45, so it took me 2 1/4 hours to make it out there, not 3 1/4. So I ended up getting back to the car at 5:05 when I had been worried about not getting back before 6:00. Despite being tired, I was able to get back more quickly because I didn't repeat the side trip to the arch at Indian Rock.

I drove out of the park and through the towns of Groveland and Big Oak Flat, after which comes a pretty amazing section of sharply twisting road with hairpin turn after hairpin turn. Since the road is taken by so many tourists to and from Yosemite who are not used to driving it, there is always somebody taking it extra cautiously and slowly to get stuck behind. I was fine with that, and enjoyed the road (I do like curves), but the red Jeep driver in front of me was really irritated, and even started to pass on one hairpin turn, before dropping back behind the lead car again.

From there I enjoyed the view of the beautiful golden foothills dotted with a surprisingly large number of dark green oak trees in the setting sun, and at one point I pulled over for a photograph.

Just after the sun set, a pickup driver flashed his headlights at me. I knew my left headlight was out. I had tried to replace it, but when I couldn't immediately figure out how to, I just threw the new bulb in the trunk and decided I would get it replaced when I had my oil changed. Only I forgot to mention it at the garage. But I didn't know why he would be flashing his lights at me for one headlight out, so I stopped at a gas station and discovered that neither light was working on low beam (although both worked on high beam). I had no choice but to sit there and figure out to install the new bulb. I took out 4 screws, only 2 of which needed to be out, before I figured it out, and got my hands very dirty in the process. The gas station was very busy with people streaming in and out, all ignoring me completely.

20080912 My Oasis

Tired and dirty, I was anxious to get home, but rather than taking the most direct route, I was in Oakdale on my way to Modesto because I have long wanted to photograph the State Theatre at night. I stopped off for a meal at an old Sno-White Drive In, then proceeded to Modesto to get the shots I was after although I was in a hurry and didn't do as good of a job as I would have liked, or take as many different takes on the subject as I normally would. There were some other neon signs I wanted to check in Modesto, but I decided to skip them, stopping impulsively only to photograph the Valli Motel sign just before Stockton on the way home on CA 99, formerly US 99E.

20080912 State Theatre
State Theatre, Long Exposure

20080912 Valli Motel
Valli Motel

I arrived home pretty late, which is always a mistake after I've been gone a while. The cat needs attention after being left alone, and he gets it, even if it means waking me up repeatedly all night long, which he did.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sacramento's Vintage Neon Signs

[Other Sacramento neon sites of interest:

Agilitynut's Sacramento page

Roadside Peek's Sacramento search

What the monkey did the 15th week of his year

20080309 Sammy's Astro Club
R.I.P Astro Club Neon

Radio City Music Hall was my first photograph of a neon sign, back in 1986, and I shot some neon at night in Italy in 1987. But my hobby of photographing vintage neon signs (and occasionally vintage signs that aren't neon, or new neon signs, but it is the vintage neon that is my favorite) started innocently enough when I was pursuing a totally different obsession.

My high school friend from Montana, Eric, came to visit me in Davis in July of 2000 while his wife attended a conference in Berkeley. He had got me started on the hobby of collecting "classic" or "vintage" video game systems--you know, what was, at the time, garage sale, thrift store, or dumpster items, and now is eBay gold. I took him on a whirlwind tour of thrift stores in the greater Sacramento area, and it truly is one of the best cities in the country for thrift store shopping.

In West Sacramento we stopped at the Goodwill (now long gone) and he pointed to the sign for Sammy's Astro Club and commented that it was cool. I handed him my compact 35mm camera and told him to take a picture of it. Later he pointed at a vintage plastic sign that we drove by and commented on it as well. That's what made me start noticing these signs.

That fall I got a new APS camera with 3X zoom, and it came with 10 rolls of film. I was used to shooting one roll of film a year. What was I going to do with all this film? I started exploring Northern California using guide books and taking pictures of old buildings. Architectural photography had always been my primary interest when traveling. But this time, I started shooting the old signs as well.

In 2001, I got a digital camera, but my hobby was put on hold that fall by severe back pain that knocked me out of commission for a year. I took a handful of neon shots in 2003 and 2004. And then in 2005, I read about Flickr in Consumer Reports, and decided to join to share my baseball photos and all the family photos I had scanned. But I wasn't using much of my pro account's capacity. And then I remembered my old neon shots.

I posted them and Mike, who goes by illtakeyourphoto!, discovered them, and became my first Flickr contact. He used to live in Sacramento, and was also a vintage neon photographer. Through him I met several other people with similar interests, and it stimulated me to return to shooting neon.

At first I had no idea what I was doing with a camera, and was just interested in preserving the image of the sign. I ran around shooting everything. In the time since, I've had the luxury of going back and revisiting the subjects, and have been trying to improve my photographs. So here's a little rundown of what the city has, or, in some cases, had, to offer.

Click on small images to see larger ones, and sometimes additional information.

I've excluded Rancho Cordova, Elk Grove, Roseville, Folsom, Freeport, Davis, Woodland, and farther outlying areas for brevity, although they probably are considered part of the Sacramento metropolitan area. I'll write other blog entries for those (well, probably not Elk Grove, which I'm hoping will just disappear from the face of the earth).

I've divided the signs by 6 regions, Downtown, Midtown, East Sacramento, North Area, South Area, and West Sacramento. Within those regions I have put an additional header for a street that I have blogged or will blog separately. When I have already written a blog entry on a street, I have not included additional details in this entry, but have instead provided a link to that blog entry.

In the case of old signs that have had the neon broken off and been repainted before I got to photograph them, I have only included ones that I still find interesting. There are still a few of those I want to photograph but have not gotten to yet.


Before the mass popularity of the automobile and the building of freeways, people had to live close together in an efficient manner, and "Kay Street" was the main street of Sacramento. But suburbia, modern "drive in shopping centers," and shopping malls killed K Street. Following the popular thinking of the time, city officials tried to revive it by choking off access to it--the pedestrian mall was a common fix used disastrously all over the country. The city is still clinging to this idea.

20080322 Fong Liquor
Fong Liquor Store
1126 I Street
Status: extant

Probably from the 1940s. In 1948, this was Fong Liquor No. 3, the other 2 being on J and K Streets.

20080503 Ramona Hotel, 1930
Ramona Hotel
600 J Street
Status: extant

Circa 1930.

20080706 Neon Shoe
United Cobblers
912 J Street
Status: extant

This sign was a mystery to me for a long time. When I first photographed it, there was an art studio directly below it. I thought it probably went with the studio, and was new art. But it stayed when the art studio left and a tattoo parlor moved in, so that didn't make sense to me. I researched it and found that United Cobblers were located there from 1959 or 1960 until they closed in 1998. According to a Sacramento Bee article, the business moved a few times, and was likely originally founded in 1928.

But then the artist who created it, Derek Smith, commented on my photo on Flickr. He created it for the Art in Public Places Project of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission. It was commissioned by the Downtown Partnership, and meant to be "coherent with the business," which was United Cobblers, at the time.

So it's not all that old, but it is magnificent, and I'll leave it in this blog entry for anyone else who is wondering about its origins.

20080130 Rodney's Cigars & Liquors
Rodney's Cigar & Liquor Store
1000 J Street
Status: extant

Rodney's has been at this address since at least 1982, but earlier was a block east, at 1100 J Street from at least 1948 to 1970. They don't appear in the 1938 Yellow Pages, so 1938 to 1948 is probably when they opened for business.

Fred Mayes Jewelers
Fred Mayes Jewelers
1006 J Street
Status: base extant, but no neon and radically altered

The clock still looks the same, but all the neon tubes have been broken off the main sign and it has been painted over.

20070604 Fred Mayes Clock

According to two sources I have seen, the clock dates from 1925. Dan Flynn's Inside Guide to Sacramento says that the clock was originally for Tom B. Monk's jewelry shop at 1006 J Street. Monk was also mayor of Sacramento from 1938 to 1945. His shop operated here from the 1940s until 1963, when Fred Mayes bought the jewelry store. But Monk originally had his shop on 1009 K Street, and in 1925 the business was Wiesen & Monk Jewelers. By 1929, Wiesen and his new partner Bailey were operating elsewhere, while Monk continued to operate on K Street under just his name.

If the clock is from 1925, it was probably moved and has been altered a couple of times. It's likely that the neon was added at a later date, as neon signs were only introduced commercially in 1923.

20080706 Sacramento Sewing
Sacramento Sewing
1022 J Street
Status: extant

The business operated here from at least 1953 to 1996. The 1948 Yellow Pages places them across the street, at 1021 J Street.

20040508 Masonic Temple
Masonic Temple
1123 J Street
Status: extant

Building circa 1920, but that predates the commercial production of neon signs in 1923.

20040902 Crest Theatre
Crest Theatre
1013 K Street
Status: extant

While retaining the shell of the older Hippodrome Theatre, the Crest as it is opened on October 6, 1949. The theater was closed from 1979-1986, but seems to be doing well now. For additional photos of this gem of a theater, click here.

2000 Espresso Metro
Espresso Metro
1030 K Street
Status: kaput

It couldn't have been a very old sign, but it was cool, and is now long gone.

20060218 The Broiler
The Broiler
1201 K Street
Status: extant

This restaurant was an institution at 1013 J Street from around 1950 into the 1990s, but they picked up and moved to a new building. Now you have to walk inside the lobby to see the classic sign.

20061028 Esquire Imax Marquee
Esquire Imax Theatre
1211 K St.
Status: extant

Up the street from the Crest, the neon marquee for the Esquire Theatre is still there, even though the place was gutted and is now an Imax theater, and recently requested subsidies from the city. The original Esquire Theatre opened March 15, 1940. I have a few more photos of the theater here.

20081003 Greyhound
Greyhound Bus Lines
715 L Street
Status: extant, threatened

The building was constructed in 1937, but expanded and remodeled in 1947. Plans are to move the Greyhound Station to a new transportation center. I'm guessing this building would then be demolished, since a high-rise would be more profitable.

20070211 Hotel Berry
Hotel Berry
729 L Street
Status: extant

20081006 Posey's
Posey's Cottage
1100 O Street
Status: extant

This was a longstanding meeting place of California politicians and lobbyists until it became the victim of construction--work on the light rail and other projects made it inconvenient to get to, and difficult to park near. It started losing $15,000-$30,000 a month and closed. Today some of the interior furnishings can be seen in the nearby California Museum. It moved around a bit when first opened, but settled at this address by 1961.

20090309 Downtown Garage
Downtown Garage
501 T Street
Status: extant, no neon

Currently JC Auto Service, this has been Hashisaka Brothers Garage (1960s), Tom's Auto Repair (1956), and Mike's Auto Service (1953), but the sign looks to be even older than that. I've seen a photograph of a nearly identical sign in a book on Stockton.

20080706 Hotel Marshall

and around the corner:

20080820 Hotel Marshall
Hotel Marshall
1122 7th Street
Status: extant

Originally built as the Clayton Hotel in 1911, it was still listed as the "New" Clayton Hotel in 1947, but by 1948 was the Hotel Marshall.

1130 7th Street
The Hof Brau
Status: base extant, but no neon and radically altered

It operated here from at least 1938 to 1996.

20070901 Old Ironsides
Old Ironsides
1901 10th Street
Status: extant

The bar opened shortly after prohibition ended in the 1930s.

E-Z Coin Wash
Corner of 10th and T
Status: extant, no neon

20071223 Schroeder's Shoe Repair
Dun Rite Shoe Repair
2022 10th Street
Status: extant, no neon

Now Schroeder's Shoe Repair, Dun Rite Shoe Repair dates back to at least the 1940s, when it was at 1325 1/2 5th Street. They appear to have moved to 10th around 1958.

20080521 Lim's Market
Lim's Market
2100 10th Street
Status: extant, no neon

Dates back to at least 1948.

20080211 Wakano Ura Chop Suey
Wakano Ura Chop Suey
2217 10th Street
Status: extant

The restaurant has been there since the late 1950s, but is even older than that, as it used to be at 1219 1/2 4th Street, and even before that was at 1224 3rd Street in 1938.

20081018 Jim-Denny's
Jim and Denny's Restaurant No. 2
816 12th Street
Status: extant

Now called just Jim Denny's, it is listed in early directories as Jim and Denny's, after the proprietors, Jim Van Nort and Dennis McFall. It is a vintage diner with just a few stools at a counter that used to be open 24 hours to serve people near the bus station. From what I can glean from Sacramento Bee articles, Jim and Denny opened their first restaurant at 907 16th St. in 1934, and opened the present location in 1940. Jim Van Nort cooked at the restaurant until 1988, when he retired and underwent coronary surgery. The restaurant only stayed closed a few months before opening under new ownership. I know it has been closed for at least one stretch since then, after another ownership change. Jim Van Nort died in 2001.

20081003 Jim-Denny's

20040820 Torch Club
Torch Club
15th Street
Status: extant

The Torch Club is still in business after 70 years, just not where it used to be. In 1982, it was at 1612 L Street. In the 1960s, it was at 730 L Street. Before that it was at 601 J Street. Like every classic bar, it opened just after prohibition ended.

20050731 Cabana Lodge
Cabana Lodge
16th Street
Status: kaput

The motel is still there, but the owner chose to get a small, plastic, back-lit sign rather than repair this one.

20051126 Simon's
1415 16th Street
Status: extant

Not vintage, although it certainly looked that way to me. Simon's only opened in 1984. Perhaps they reused part of the sign from the old Donner Club, which used to be there.

20061210 Mercury Cleaners
Mercury Cleaners
1419 16th Street
Status: extant

Circa 1946-1947.

20071223 Family Laundry
Family Laundry
2110 16th Street
Status extant

And right nearby is Harry's Cafe, which has a retro sign.

20080902 Flame Club
Flame Club
2130 16th Street
Status: extant

A bar opened here shortly after the repeal of prohibition under the ownership of Anthony J. Nevis, but I haven't been able to determine if it was called the Flame Club. Certainly the sign appears to date from the 1930s or 1940s. The first year that the city directories use business names consistently rather than the names of owners, 1953, has it listed as the Flame Club. It looks like a seedy dive bar from the outside, but it is currently patronized by the young and affluent, and has an extensive selection of microbrew beers.

20061209 Cardenas Cigars
Cardenas Cigars
2201 16th Street
Status: extant

It's a vintage business, but this is a new location for it. I'm not sure if the sign is old or new.


20051221 New Roma Bakery
New Roma Bakery
1800 E Street
Status: extant

It has been New Roma since at least 1960, but the 1953 directory just lists the location as "J.G. Petrovich, baker."

20070623 Sam's Hof Brau/Hamburger Mary's
Sam's Hof Brau
1630 J Street
Status: extant

It closed around 1993 and became Hamburger Mary's and then Hamburger Pattie's.

20050807 Wessler Body and Paint Shop
Wessler Body and Paint
2011 J Street
Status: extant

20080913 D.R. Woodard & Pink Clouds
D.R. Woodard Cleaners
2201 J Street
Status: extant

Detail shot:
20071108 D.R. Woodard

20080905 Al Nielsen's Big O Tires
Al Nielsen
1615 L Street
Status: extant

I need to research this one. Possibly this is a vintage sign with a new "Big O Tires" addition.

20050722 Distillery
The Distillery
2107 L Street
Status: extant

Okay, there's no neon on this one, but I love those old multi-bulb cocktail glasses.

20050803 W.F. Gormley & Sons
W.F. Gormley & Sons Funeral Chapel
2015 Capitol Avenue (formerly M Street)
Status: extant

DeLux Barber Shop
1902 P Street
Status: extant

Now part of the Zebra Club.

20051215 The Press Club
Press Club
2030 P Street
Status: extant

Only the "BANQUET ROOMS" part is neon, presumably a holdover from when this was Dick and Eddie's.

20071227 Round Corner
Round Corner
2333 S Street
Status: extant

The neon was recently repaired and it was given a fresh coat of paint.

Crystal Ice Cold Storage Co.
Photo by Ken Bennett
Crystal Ice
1812 17th Street
Status: ???

A friend at work gave me this photo. I never saw the sign lit--when I found it, it was leaning up against a wall behind a chained link fence. It is no longer there, but I believe my friend Dave van Hulsteyn may have made a deal with a developer to restore it. My shot:
20061112 Crystal Ice

20070424 John Ellis Auto Repairing
John Ellis & Son
910 19th Street
Status: extant

I think Dave van Hulsteyn repaired this one recently.

20050722 A&P 21st St. Liquor Store
A&P 21st Street Liquor Store
1101 21st Street
Status: extant, no neon

20080820 Lucky Cafe
Lucky Cafe
1111 21st Street
Status: extant

20060123 Town House
Town House Restaurant of Sacramento
1517 21st Street
Status: extant

20060216 Coronet Portraits
Coronet Portraits
2116 21st Street
Status: extant

Before moving into the upscale home at this location, Coronet Portraits was at 904 J Street in the 1950s, but the sign looks to be older still. I've never seen it that way, but here's a shot of it lit.

20051215 Pine Cove
Pine Cove Tavern
509 29th Street
Status: extant

20080122 Swanson's Cleaners
Swanson's Cleaners
830 29th Street
Status: extant

It's protected behind plastic, so it ought to work fine, but I've never seen it lit.

East Sacramento
East Sacramento is neatly defined by the borders of the Capital City Freeway (or , currently Business 80) to the west, U.S. Route 50 to the south, and the American River to the north and east.

20090119 Luis's Mexican Food
Luis's Mexican Food
1218 Alhambra
Status: extant, but threatened

Luis Leyva was a Mexican immigrant who 5 times was deported before landing permanently in the United States. After being chef at the Mexico City Cafe in Stockton, he opened up Luis's in 1965. He was well known for his charitable work, and for all the photos hanging in the restaurant of him posing with anyone of note who ate there. The restaurant closed in September of 2004, less than a year after Luis's death, and there are plans to demolish it and put in a drugstore.

Luis Jr. opened a restaurant called Luis Jr.'s in 2004 in the old Ramona Hotel building, only to have the Church of Scientology purchase the building to use as their Sacramento headquarters. The small sign there is similar to the larger sign for his father's restaurant, and hopefully he will take it with him and open a new restaurant after negotiating a buyout on his lease.

20060129 Luis Jr.'s

20071209 Former Regal Petroleum
Regal Petroleum Corporation
3201 Folsom Boulevard
Status: extant, but no neon

20070426 Philipp's Bakery
Philipp's Bakery
3300 Folsom Boulevard
Status: extant

20051101 East Lawn Cemetery
East Lawn Cemetery
4300 Folsom Boulevard
Status: extant

20071120 Hilltop
Hilltop Tavern
4757 Folsom Boulevard
Status: extant

20051101 Socal's Tavern
5200 Folsom Boulevard
Status: extant

The "Socal's" neon dates from the early 1970s, although the base of the sign may be that from the Clover Club bar that was here in the 50s and 60s.

20051030 Espanol Italian Restaurant
Espanol Italian Restaurant
5723 Folsom Boulevard
Status: extant

The building of Interstate 5 through Sacramento's historic west end (what remains of it is now Old Sacramento State Historic Park) forced the restaurant to move from the Commercial Hotel to the site of the old Square Deal Restaurant in 1965. The name derives from its origins in a boarding house for Basque sheepherders, but the Luigi Brothers bought the restaurant in 1959 and gradually converted the menu to Italian.

20070424 A&A Appliance
A&A Appliance
6800 Folsom Boulevard
Status: extant

Another shot:
Photo by illtakeyourphoto!

20050722 Petite Beauty Salon
Petite Beauty Salon
5528 H Street
Status: extant

It was recently removed while they redid the roofing, but afterwards it was replaced.

20050722 The Fireside
The Fireside
5539 H Street
Status: kaput

20051104 Club Raven
Club Raven
3246 J Street
Status: replica extant

The old sign was too far gone to be repaired, but Pacific Neon was able to build a replica that could fool anybody. Detail shot:
20071122 Club Raven

20051106 Club 2-me
Club 2-me
4738 J Street
Status: extant

I'm not sure about the sign, but the bar looks old enough. Stop next door for a pasty.

20051106 Bar on J St.
Achilles Heel Tavern
4900 J Street
Status: extant

Now Chargin's Bar & Grill

Shakey's Pizza
Shakey's Pizza
5641 J Street
Status: ???

This is the original Shakey's Pizza location, opened by Shakey Johnson himself in 1954. He sold out to a company from Southern California in the late 1960s. When the restaurant experienced a fire in January of 1996, it was never reopened. When the East End Bar & Grill opened there, the owners wanted to keep the original sign in addition to their own, but apparently there is some sort of ordinance against that. The city asked Capital Neon to store the sign for two months. A year later, they finally moved it to the Sacramento Archives and Museum Collection Center, where about 30 historic neon signs reside, including one for the Rosemount Grill.

Some of their collection of historic artifacts get shown at the Discovery Museum in Old Sacramento. I'm thinking I need to become a member and go at least once a month just to see what turns up.

20071117 Eppie's
3001 N Street
Status: extant, threatened

The once extensive Eppie's chain is down to one operating restaurant, in West Sacramento. This site looks ready to reopen at a moment's notice, but has been closed since 2004. Somebody still has access to it, though, as there was a banner put up inside recently for this year's Eppie's Great Race.

20070101 Muzio Baking Company
Muzio Baking Company
1708 34th Street
Status: extant

I'm not sure how "vintage" it is. I know they have been there since at least 1988.

South Area


From 15th Street to Stockton Boulevard, Broadway was the old U.S. Route 99. I'm working on more detailed blog entries for that stretch.

20071007 Sim's Diner
Quick Lunch
513 Broadway
Status: extant

Now Sim's Diner. This is a real oldie.

20071007 New American Poultry Co.
New American Poultry Company
519 Broadway
Status: extant

Right next door to Sim's Diner.

20080309 Rukhala Monument Co.
Rukhala Monument Company
1001 Broadway
Status: extant, no neon

It must have been a neon sign at one point, although there are no visible holes for the neon tubes now.

20090607 Joe Marty's El Chico
Joe Marty's El Chico
1500 Broadway
Status: extant

Joe Marty (1913-1984), former Major League Baseball Player and player and manager for the Pacific Coast League's Sacramento Solons, opened a bar on J Street in 1938, and in 1954 moved it into the corner of the Tower Theatre building, naming it Joe Marty's El Chico (before that El Chico Cafe had occupied the space).

I went to eat there and photograph the neon sign at night in July of 2005, only to discover that the venerable establishment had been closed by a small fire at the end of June, 2005. The owner, David Garibaldi, indicated to the Sacramento Bee that he was anxious to reopen as soon as possible, and proclaimed, "There's not a chance that this won't happen. Joe Marty's is coming back." All the historic baseball memorabilia had survived.

In December, the Bee ran a story indicating that despite frustrating delays and complications, the bar and grill would be opening again soon. An article in March, 2006 indicated that it would be reopen by the end of June.

But it never reopened, and there has been a sign outside for more than a year indicating that the space is for lease.

20010828 Original Tower Records sign
Tower Drug Store
1518 Broadway
Status: extant

Where founder of Tower Records, Russ Solomon, got his start selling music. It now houses the Tower Cafe.

20080225 Ready for Blast Off
Tower Theatre
Broadway & Land Park Drive (2508 Land Park Drive)
Status extant

Opening night was 1 November, 1938. Unfortunately, the theater has been divided for multiple screens.

20080103 Pancake Circus
Pancake Circus
2101 Broadway
Status: extant

The building was built around 1963 or 1964 as Al & Myrle's Platter, I believe. It became Pancake Parade around 1969 or 1970, and Pancake Circus in 1970 or 1971.

20080704 Ring Up Rivett
Ring Up Rivett
2300 Broadway
Status: extant

A flooring company recently closed after more than 120 years in business. They moved from downtown to Y Street (now Broadway) around 1925-1926.

20070114 ??? Center
Pet & Pigeon Center
3322 Broadway
Status: extant, but broken

It says "Pet & Puppy Center" on wood on the other side, but before the neon was broken, it said "Pet & Pigeon Center" on this side, according to someone who once lived above it. The long-vanished business went by both of those names, as well as Pet & Poodle Center, over the years.

20080503 Primo's Swiss Club
Swiss Club
3406 Broadway
Satus: extant, no neon, threatened

The elegant building dates from 1910, while the Swiss Club opened here sometime from 1953-1955. Kevin Johnson's company now owns the vacant property, and tried to demolish it, but was blocked by the city. Perhaps he won't have that problem if he wins the race for mayor (as looks likely).

20080113 Stilson Bros Cleaners
Stilson Brothers Cleaners
3519 Broadway
Status: extant

Jasper P. Stilson was working for Spurgeon's Cleaners in 1922, but by 1923 was operating Stilson Brothers cleaners. It's still in business.

20070623 Land Park Drugs
Land Park Pharmacy
4404 Del Rio Road
Status: extant

20071111 The Maine Line
The Circus Tent
8011 Florin Road
Status: extant

Currently the Maine Line.

20060123 Gunther's Ice Cream
Gunther's Ice cream
2801 Franklin Boulevard
Status: extant

An absolute classic--both the neon sign, and the ice cream shop. According to the Sacramento Bee, it opened 2 blocks away in 1940, and moved to its current location in 1949.

20060304 Beauty Bank
Beauty Bank
3639 Franklin Boulevard
Status: extant

I don't know anything about this sign or its age yet.

20071104 Chuck's Liquors
Chuck's Bottle Shop
5620 Franklin Boulevard
Status: extant

The font on the sign was changed when it was repainted and fixed.

20080917 Marie's Do-Nuts
Marie's Do-Nuts
2950 Freeport Boulevard
Status: extant

This sign is circa 1970, although the doughnut shop is older, having previously been Cooper's Donuts.

20080712 Capital Nursery Co.
Capital Nursery
4700 Freeport Boulevard
Status: extant

20071104 Raley's
4850 Freeport Boulevard
Status: extant

Another shot:
Photo by illtakeyourphoto!

20071104 Gem Auto Wash
Gem Auto Wash
5150 Freeport Boulevard

Circa 1956-1958.

20070512 Hollywood Hardware
Hollywood Hardware
5303 Freeport Boulevard
Status: extant

Formerly at 5151. I guess this stretch of Freeport Boulevard used to be Hollywood North, as the old city directories list the following businesses in the area: Hollywood Beauty Shop, Hollywood Jewelers, Hollywood Pastry Shop, Hollywood Bottle Shop, and Hollywood Vogue Women's Apparel.

20080228 idle hour
Idle Hour
6814 Fruitridge Road
Status: extant

Only the cocktail glass is neon, and it's not working, but the rest of the sign is delightfully whimsical.

20070317 Matsuda's
8501 Jackson Road
Status: ??

I've been informed they are no longer Matsuda's. Whatever they become, I imagine they would just repaint the sign, as it no longer has any neon anyhow.

200702115 Old MacDonald's Farm
Old MacDonald's Farm
Jackson Road
Status: extant, neon broken

This is a long ways out of town, but I don't know what other blog entry I would include it in, so I threw it in here.

20070721 Muir Way Market
Muir Way Market
2736 Muir Way
Status: extant, no neon

20080810 Yorozu
The Yorozu
2615 Riverside Boulevard
Status: extant

Moved from the 1300 block of Fourth Street, where it dated back to at least the 1940s.

20071104 Vic's Ice Cream
Vic's Ice Cream
3788 Riverside Boulevard
Status: extant

20080224 Market Club, 1933
Market Club
2630 5th Street
Status: extant

This is a great old diner originally created to serve the workmen of the produce market. You probably can't see the neon up top unless you look at the large version.

20080819 Curtis Park Beauty Salon
Curtis Park Beauty Salon
3440 24th Street
Status: extant

20060304 Seven Stars Baptist Church
Seven Stars Baptist Church
4450 24th Street
Status: extant, no neon

20060304 Repurposed Sign
5531 24th Street
Status: extant, no neon

I haven't gotten around to researching this one yet.

Stockton Boulevard
South from Broadway along Stockton Boulevard (3000 block and higher) was the path of old U.S. Route 99. I'll be writing a more detailed blog entry on this stretch eventually.

20060220 Coca-Cola Bottling Plant
Coca-Cola Bottling
2200 Stockton Boulevard
Status: extant

The building dates from the 1930s.

20080216 Colonial Theatre
Colonial Theatre
3522 Stockton Boulevard
Status: extant

Opened June 7, 1940. Click on the photo to get a full description of the theater published on the day it opened.

20090411 Luigi's Pizza Garden
Luigi's Pizza Garden
3800 Stockton Boulevard
Status: extant

A great neighborhood tradition. Luigi's opened in 1953, and just opened another restaurant in midtown last year.

20060220 Luigi's Pizza Garden


20060527 K-mart
5100 Stockton Boulevard
Status: extant

Circa 1965-1967.

20080228 San Juan Motel
San Juan Motel
5700 Stockton Boulevard
Status: extant

20080228 It Takes a Mobile Village
Holiday Mobile Village
7628 Stockton Boulevard (aka 7800 Whispering Palm Drive)
Status: extant

Another shot:
Mobile Village
Photo by illtakeyourphoto!

20070417 Trails Charcoal Broiler
Trails Restaurant
2530 21st Street
Status: extant

It's a real beauty of a diner, with a great vintage neon sign, wheel wagon chandeliers, and general western theme. America's Mermaid, Esther Williams was once owner or part owner of the restaurant, which opened circa the 1940s.

20051016 Guild Theater
Guild Theatre
2828 35th Street
Status: extant

It used to be the Oak Park Theatre, and may have originally been the Victor, as their website claims, but my research doesn't back that up. In the early 1950s it became the Guild, Sacramento's first art house theater.

North Area

20051210 Geneva's Big Burgers
Ben's Big Burger
863 Arden Way
Status: extant

Now Geneva's Big Burgers, they have a wide menu with a lot of good food. There are some metal pieces on top of the building that I assume are remnants of an old sign.

20060214 Wonder Bread Bakery
Wonder Bread
1324 Arden Way
Status: extant

Auburn Boulevard
Part of old Highway 40 and the Lincoln Highway, and covered more extensively in another blog entry, U.S. Route 40: Sacramento's Auburn Boulevard.

20080217 Swift Dodge Sacramento
Swift Dodge
2301 Arden Way
Status: extant

Their website says they opened in 1966, and the building looks to be of that age, so I assume the signage is too, although it may have been added later.

20080228 A&M Liquor
A&M Bottle Shop
1838 Auburn Boulevard

20060118 Sands Motel
Sands Motel
2160 Auburn Boulevard
Status: extant (neon arrow only)

Pacific Motel
Pacific Motel
2224 Auburn Boulevard
Status: kaput

Ritz Motel
2228 Auburn Boulevard
Status: kaput

Another shot:
Long Gone
Photo by illtakeyourphoto!

Rolling Green Motel
Rolling Green Motel
2230 Auburn Boulevard
Status: kaput

20080303 Tradewinds Motel
Tradewinds Motel
2844 Auburn Boulevard
Status: extant, neon not working

20050810 12 Mile House
12 Mile House
5919 Auburn Boulevard
Status: extant

20080406 Rocky's 7440 Club
Seven Four Forty Club
7440 Auburn Boulevard
Status: extant

20060308 Meissner
Meissner Sewing Machine Company
2417 Cormorant Way
Status: extant

Del Paso Boulevard
The route of old Highway 40, and before that, the Lincoln Highway, from the Sacramento River, to where the highway turned onto El Camino. This is my favorite part of Sacramento, because it was built in the Art Deco age. You can read much more about it in my never-finished blog entry, U.S. Route 40: North Sacramento's Del Paso Boulevard, which has been described by friends at work as both "very detailed" and "really long."

20060203 Bud's Upholstery
Original Auto Wrecking
1301 Del Paso Boulevard
Status: extant, no neon

20080321 Another Shot of Iceland
1430 Del Paso Boulevard
Status: extant

By day:
20050804 Iceland

20071013 American Ice Co.
1434 Del Paso Boulevard
American Ice Company
Status: extant

20050719 Arden Motel
Arden Motel
1700 Del Paso Boulevard
Status: extant, but radically altered

20071214 Lil Joe's
Lil Joe's
1710 Del Paso Boulevard
Status: extant

20070715 Cardinal Lanes
North Bowl
1721/1725 Del Paso Boulevard
Status: extant

The lower sign and the letters across the building in this shot are now gone:
Photo by illtakeyourphoto!

2000 B & W Liquor
B&W Liquor
1910 Del Paso Boulevard
Status: extant, but radically altered

20071013 Nite Hawk Club
Nite Hawk
1822 Del Paso Boulevard
Status: extant

20090607 Sunland Liquors
Sunland Liquor
2000 Del Paso Boulevard
Status: extant, no neon

20001103 Jack's Club
Jack's Club
2113 Del Paso Boulevard
Status: kaput

Tony Baloney's Delicatessen
Tony Baloney's
2202 Del Paso Boulevard
Status: extant, but no neon and radically altered

20050830 Big D's BBQ
Erwin's Frostie
2300 Del Paso Boulevard
Status: extant

20051105 Cafe Formosa
Cafe Formosa
2424 Del Paso Boulevard
Status: extant

20071013 Allied Trailer Supply
Allied Trailer Supply
1050 El Camino
Status: extant, no neon

Also along the historic Highway 40 route, between Del Paso Boulevard and Auburn Boulevard

20060120 Emigh's Casual Living
Emigh's Casual Living
3535 El Camino
Status: extant

20080222 Stockman
Stockman Club
10219 Fair Oaks Boulevard
Status: extant

20080222 Fair Oaks Deli
Fair Oaks Coffee House & Deli
10223 Fair Oaks Boulevard
Status: extant

20050914 Townhouse
Town House
10236 Fair Oaks Boulevard
Status: extant

20051020 Four Oaks Bottle Shop
Four Oaks Bottle Shop
2142 Grand Avenue
Status: extant

20050808 Sunrise Drive-In
Sunrise Drive-In Theatre
8149 Greenback Lane
Status: kaput

And then there was one. When this drive-in closed in 2004--spurred by health and safety citations, after hanging on for so many years--it left Sacramento 6 as the only drive-in in town. Everything has been demolished for a new housing development. Just what we need--more people living in the suburbs and commuting in SUVs. Another shot:
Sunrise Drive-In Theatre
Photo by illtakeyourphoto!

20051129 Orangevale Liquor
Orangevale Liquors
8940 Greenback Lane
Status: kaput

That's the address it was at when I photographed it, but originally it was across the street. The liquor store has returned to that side of the street in a new building, but the sign is gone.

Western Piano Company
Western Piano Company
2920 Marysville Boulevard
Status: kaput

Another shot:
Photo by illtakeyourphoto!

20051006 Taqueria Zapotlanejo
Eat & Run
3300 Marysville Boulevard
Status: extant, no neon

And later Del's Drive-In, Dena's Diner, Burger Time Drive-In, and Taquería Zapotlanejo. The place has been vacant since at least 2005.

20061011 Crazy Hydraulics
Crazy Hydraulics
3643 Marysville Boulevard
Status: extant, no neon

I'm sure it must have been neon at one point. Interesting shape.

20080107 Faith Tabernacle
Faith Tabernacle Pentecostal
2911 Rio Linda Boulevard
Status: extent

20050828 Flying V Filling Station
Flying V Filling Station
1576 Silica Avenue
Status: ??

No, there was no filling station at this address. This used to be home to Pacific Neon. Now Volvo Rents is there, and the sign is no longer in sight.

20050829 Hagen's Orange Freeze
Hagen's Orange Freeze
2520 Walnut Avenue
Status: extant

20080125 Plaza Hof Brau
Sam's Hof Brau
2500 Watt Avenue
Status: extant

Now Plaza Hof Brau, the "Hof Brau" part of the sign is of 1959 vintage. This is my favorite restaurant--it is a delight inside and out and serves delicious food at low prices. I hope it stays just the same for another 50 years.

20050726 Tower Records
Tower Records
2514 Watt Avenue
Status: extant, but threatened

Russ Solomon started selling records out of his father's drugstore in the corner of the Tower Theatre building, but I believe this is the first Tower Records location, opened circa 1960. The delightful sign on the Tower Theatre is preserved, thanks to the city of Sacramento, but this one is in unincorporated land in Sacramento County, and county officials have not shown any desire to preserve vintage neon.

20050726 Tower Books
Tower Books
2538 Watt Avenue
Status: extant, but covered with a "FOR LEASE" sign

20070520 Country Club Lanes
Country Club Lanes
2600 Watt Avenue
Status: extant

The bowling alley opened in 1959, and the rest of the complex was open by 1960. They've added some neon details to the front that weren't there when I first moved to the area, but the sign with the name is older, although I don't know if it dates back to 1959.

20050810 Saving Center
Saving Center
3438 Watt Ave
Status: extant, no neon

20080622 Levitz Furniture
Levitz Furniture
4741 Watt Avenue
Status: extant, but threatened

The company just went out of business in early 2008, so I presume this sign is not long for this world. For the moment, though, it is fully functional and lighting at night.

20050917 Liquors
North Highlands Bottle Shop
5540 Watt Avenue
Status: extant

West Sacramento

20050829 Whitey's Jolly Kone
Whitey's Jolly Kone
1300 Jefferson Boulevard
Status: extant

Only the arrow is neon, but that's enough for me.

20080309 Sammy's Astro Club
Astro Club
1267 Merkeley Avenue
Status: kaput

From sometime between 1965 and 1973.

Davis Highway
West Capitol, formerly known as the Davis Highway, was the path of old U.S. Route 40, 50, & 99 and the Lincoln Highway. You can read more about this stretch of highway and the businesses along it in my blog entry, U.S. Route 40: West Sacramento's Motel Row. Most of these signs have recently been torn down to comply with a West Sacramento ordinance.

2001 The Experience Lodge
Imperial Lodge (later Experience Motel)
824 West Capitol
Status: kaput

200010 Capitol Bowl
El Rancho Bowl (now Capitol Bowl)
900 West Capitol
Status: kaput

20060129 Casa Mobile
Casa Mobile
1050 West Capitol
Status: extant

20050727 King's
King's Restaurant
1500 West Capitol
Status: kaput

20070926 Dude Motel
Dude Motel
1501 West Capitol
Status: kaput

20061122 Fremont Motel
Fremont Motel
1550 West Capitol
Status: kaput

20080309 Bye-Bye Golden Motel Neon
Golden Motel
1917 West Capitol
Status: in private collection

20050727 El Rancho Mobile Home Park
El Rancho Drive-In Theatre (later Mobile Park)
2000 West Capitol
Status: kaput

200010 Yolo Club
Yolo Club
2216 West Capitol
Status: kaput

20001020 Walnut Trailer Villa
Walnut Trailer Villa
2355 West Capitol
Status: kaput

20050726 Plaza Motel
Plaza Motel
2701 West Capitol
Status: kaput

Another shot of it:
Plaza Motel
Photo by illtakeyourphoto!

20050828 Market
Willie's Market
109 15th Street
Status: kaput

It was probably originally something else, but in the early 1970s it was Willie's Market.

The Ones That Got Away

I've seen many pictures in old newspapers and books of splendid neon signs in Sacramento that disappeared long ago, but there are also some that disappeared recently that I could have and should have gotten photographs of, but I blew the chance. Some, fortunately, were photographed by my Flickr pals illtakeyourphoto! and Dave van Hulsteyn, and a friend at work gave me prints of some old photos he took. Others I have never seen photos of, but would love to. All of these signs would fall into the "kaput" category.

The Hob Nail
Photo by Ken Bennett
The Hob Nail
2708 J Street
Status: kaput

A friend at work gave me a print of this photo he took, and the one below. The nightclub Harlow's now occupies the space that used to be the Hob Nail. The Harlow's sign isn't bad, but it's not even close to being as cool as this one.

Gerlinger Motor Parts
Photo by Ken Bennett
Gerlinger Motor Parts
2020 K Street

This company was in the process of expanding, with a huge new contract based on a railroad merger. They ran into some extra expenses and delays on their new building, and then the merger was nullified by federal authorities, and Sacramento's international railroad company went belly up.

Flamingo Motel
Photo by illtakeyourphoto!
Flamingo Motel
920 West Capitol

I think my first photograph of a Sacramento sign might have been the Brick Shot House just down the road from the Flamingo. It was a boring, plastic sign, but I was amused by the name. Meanwhile, I never got a shot of this one.

Photo by illtakeyourphoto!
Lunar Station
2791 Fruitridge Road

What a beauty, even when obstructed by a pole!

John or Jerry
Photo by illtakeyourphoto!
1844 Auburn Boulevard

Another one, like the Flamingo, on the old Highway 40 route that I have spent so much time researching.

Photo by illtakeyourphoto!
An old TV repair shop
On Franklin Boulevard near 47th

I'll try to research this one soon.

Food City
Photo by illtakeyourphoto!
Food City
4604 Franklin Boulevard

65 Club
Photo by illtakeyourphoto!
Club Sixty-Five
2995 65th Street

This is another one I would have been very excited to see.

Crown Cleaners.
Photo by illtakeyourphoto!
Crown Cleaners
5541 H Street

Electronics Parking
Photo by illtakeyourphoto!
Electronics store
2533 Del Paso Boulevard

It looks like they're converting this store into a church now.

Chop Suey
Scan by illtakeyourphoto!
Sun Sun Cafe
307 J Street

Okay, this is actually a found photo from before I was born, but I really like it so I put it in here.

330 16th Street

I remember seeing this one while shopping nearby at the Salvation Army. Even though the old drive-in was Taquería Jalisco, they kept the sign. I always meant to photograph it, but never did, and then it was gone.

RV lot sign
El Camino east of Del Paso Boulevard

It was ancient and rusting and beautiful.

White rooster sign
Fruitridge Road between Franklin Boulevard and Freeport Boulevard

My memory is pretty fuzzy, but I could have sworn I saw a great sign on an early thrift store run. But even though I looked for in my early days of shooting neon, I never saw it again.

Del Paso Theatre
2120 Del Paso Boulevard

I was out taking photos when I was surprised by the terrazzo sidewalk before a vacant lot. I researched at home and learned of the old Del Paso Theatre, and found out it had still been standing when I moved to the area, but I never saw it.