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Friday, February 22, 2008

U.S. Route 40: Auburn Boulevard

[See also my other blog entries on US 40, West Sacramento's Motel Row, and North Sacramento's Del Paso Boulevard. I periodically update these entries as I gather more information and photos.]

As automobile ownership, travel by car, and building of highways exploded all over America, the highway routes just outside of city limits were where auto camps, then motor camps, then motor hotels, and finally motels sprang up to meet travelers' needs. The motel row approach to the city of Sacramento from the west along the Lincoln Highway, and later US Route 40, was locally known as the Davis Highway--what is today West Capitol in the city of West Sacramento. The approach from the northeast was to the once-separate city of North Sacramento along Auburn Boulevard. Dozens of mom and pop motels lined the route, trying to lure in visitors with bold neon signs.

Auburn Boulevard begins where it crosses the freeway that supplanted it as US Route 40--to the north it is Roseville's Riverside Avenue in Placer County. But heading south, it is Auburn Boulevard, beginning in Citrus Heights, and ending at El Camino where the city of Sacramento meets an unincorporated part of the county formerly known as Ben Ali, and now part of the larger community of Arden Arcade.

During World War II, plans were made for a post-war freeway in the Sacramento area, supposedly for defense purposes. In 1947, the North Sacramento Freeway opened, bypassing the city of North Sacramento, and that section of Auburn Boulevard from El Camino north to just past Marconi, where Auburn Boulevard curves in a more easterly direction.

In addition to the freeway bypass, the proximity of the railroad tracks helped to speed the decline of the businesses along this section of old Route 40. This portion of Auburn Boulevard did not even remain a main thoroughfare for residents, as the overpasses across the railroad tracks for major streets that used to intersect Auburn Boulevard now make them pass over it. This makes just following the old route difficult at times. Instead of keeping straight on Auburn Boulevard, a few times the road curves to the right and a stop sign, and you have to make a left-hand turn to continue on Auburn Blvd. A larger detour is required when you get close to Business 80 (originally the North Sacramento Freeway) and Marconi. This area, from El Camino to Business 80, once lined with motels and restaurants, is now predominantly light industrial, as a result of being bypassed.

The motels and restaurants along the next stretch of Auburn Boulevard survived quite a bit longer. When the Roseville Freeway was proposed to bypass this stretch, the Auburn Boulevard Improvement Association was formed to fight it. They sought to make Auburn Boulevard an express way, rather than having a freeway bypass it altogether. In 1948, the State Motor Hotel Association joined in the struggle to prevent construction of the freeway. But in the world view of most Americans at the time, it was self-evident that freeways were essential for progress and security. Nobody ever asked why. The Ben Ali-Roseville Freeway opened on April 24, 1956.

Government officials have never had much sense of history, or sympathy for small business owners. After forcing through a freeway that cut off the businesses and led to their decline, a new generation of officials viewed the surviving businesses as blight, and sought to have them demolished. This is what happened to three motels I was lucky enough to see, before progress swept them aside: The Rolling Green, The Ritz, and the Pacific Motel.

The destruction of the Pacific Motel particularly upset me. I remember how delighted I was to see the place. Not only was the fabulous neon sign in perfect condition--and those old signs with exposed neon tubing require continual maintenance, which can be quite expensive over the years--but the grounds were immaculately groomed, with a lovely flower garden. This was not some absentee landlord neglecting a property, and the owner did not roll over for county officials. He fought, and lost, and the result is that today we are blessed with a cheaply constructed shopping center, the kind developers purposefully build not to last, but to tear down in 20 years.

Here's what little history of the route I've been able to preserve with my research and photos, starting from the border with the current city of Sacramento and heading out towards Citrus Heights and the limits of Sacramento County:

As US 40 left the former city of North Sacramento, it passed under the railroad tracks via a subway, then curved to the north from El Camino onto Auburn Boulevard. Before the subway was put it in, it was a dangerous crossing point, and the curve was originally dangerous too, and was realigned at least twice.

This is where the Curve Inn Motel used to stand, but now either an office building or part of the wider overpass that replaced the subway occupies the space now. The curve is still there, and shortly after it you hit an exposed section of cement that was the surface of US 40, as opposed to the more recent asphalt. The subway, made irrelevant by the overpass, was filled in as part of the Sacramento light rail project. Then comes . . .

Chima's Food Store
1530 Auburn Boulevard

Stevenson's Grocery Mart in 1955, and Eng's Market in 1965, somehow they keep managing to sell groceries at this little store.

M&M Mobile Home Park
1750 Auburn Boulevard
20080228 M&M Mobile Home Park

In the 1950s, it was pretty much the same, but named M&M Auto Court & Trailer Park

A&M Bottle Shop
1840/1838 Auburn Boulevard
20061110 A & M Liquor Store

Sometimes it's not the name but the address that changes over the years. This placed opened sometime from 1957-1961, and is still in business.

Railroad Cafe
1844 Auburn Boulevard
20080228 Railroad Cafe

This was Bushers Club from at least 1952 to 1994, and the business was even older, being listed at 3040 Auburn Boulevard in 1950. I didn't see it as Bushers, but here is my friend Mike's photo. It opened as the Railroad Cafe in April of 2007. I just had a nice burger there the other day.

Oak Haven Mobile Park
2150 Auburn Boulevard

It has been around since at least 1939, when it was Oak Haven Trailer Camp. I don't know, staying in a trailer camp sounds more fun to me than a mobile park.

The Sands Motel
2160 Auburn Boulevard
20060118 Sands Motel

The motel is still there, but the county decided the sign was not solid enough. Apparently it took quite a lot of effort to tear it down. My photo here is not my own idea, but now I can't find the photo I copied to give credit to the person I copied it from.

Pacific Motel
2224 Auburn Boulevard
Pacific Motel

I've already told you about how I feel about this one. Wanton destruction. Developers Lux Taylor and Skip Maggiora wanted to built a shopping center, and in addition to their parcel of land, they wanted the land where the Pacific Motel and the Ritz Motel stood. Officials from the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency were threatening to use eminent domain to take the land if the owners would not sell to the developers. Patel in an article in the Sacramento Business Journal in 2002: "If Maggiora wants to build a store, he should build it on his land only. This is not real fair."

Ritz Motel
2228 Auburn Boulevard


Rolling Green Motel
2230 Auburn Boulevard
Rolling Green Motel


Casa Grande Mobile Village
2314/2312 Auburn Boulevard, or 3402 Killeen Circle

49'er Motel
2720/2730 Auburn Boulevard
20060115 49'er Motel

Or earlier the 49'er Lodge, from at least 1948 to 2006. Now a lovely garbage-strewn vacant lot.

Transtar International
2840 Auburn Boulevard
20080303 Transtar International

I've always been curious about this thing: a merman on horseback? Surely it couldn't have anything to do with Telstar International. In the 1960s and 1970s it was Zorba's Bar and Oven, but the building looks like it dates from when it was a nightclub called Cleopatra in the 1950s, as there are classical columns on the front of it.

Tradewinds Motel
2844 Auburn Boulevard
20080303 Tradewinds Motel

Since at least the early 1970s, but before that it was the Town & Country Motel.

Johanna's Restaurant
2906 Auburn Boulevard
20071221 Eddie's Irish Village Coffee Shop

This place was a recent discovery of mine--it was Eddie's Irish Village Coffee Shop in the late 1960s, when the Econo Lodge next door was Eddie's Irish Village Inn. It has been Johanna's since at least 1990. It's not of the age I really admire for diners, the 1930s and 1940s, but it's still pretty cool.

La Rosa Blanca
3032 Auburn Boulevard
20051101 La Rosa Blanca

My very favorite Mexican restaurant. It's small, vividly decorated, and serves great food. It has been La Rosa Blanca since at least 1982, and in the 1960s and 1970s was Mission La Palma.

Surf Motel
3204 Auburn Boulevard
20080228 Surf Motel

For a plastic, back-lit sign, it has a pretty cool one, but still I resisted photographing it. I love neon. The motel probably had a neon sign when it was the Palms Motel in the 1960s, but since at least 1971 it has been Surf Motel. Then I saw this lovely shot on Flickr. I've since seen two more like it, and knew I needed a photograph of the sign as well, only I took mine at night.

Golden Tee Inn & Restaurant
3216 Auburn Boulevard

It was built in 1964, after the freeway was, but was still an interesting place. The restaurant had a real Rat Pack feel. I never got a photo, but once again, a contact of mine on Flickr got a shot.

Orbit Station
4716 Auburn Boulevard
20050827 Sacramento Orbit

It's a pleasure to support this old googie gas station--it usually has some of the lowest prices in the area.

Cricket County Kitchen
4745 Auburn Boulevard
20050822 Cricket Country Kitchen

That's what it has been since 1986, and it is a delight inside--decorated with much kitsch, and model trains running around above your head. I'm no sure how old it is, but in the 1970s it was Pat & Mae's Restaurant.

12 Mile House
5919 Auburn Boulevard
20050810 12 Mile House

We're all the way out in Citrus Heights now, but this is the most historic structure in my overview. It operated from 1884-1998, when a Bay Area investor who had purchased the property shut it down, telling the Sacramento Bee she had no emotional stake in the property--it was just an investment. Ah, the discrete charm of the bourgeoisie. The previous owner who operated it for many yeas and told the Bee of finding hand-made nails in the place, traveled from out of town to come back and visit the place one last time before it was closed.

Rocky's 7440 Club
7440 Auburn Boulevard

20080406 Rocky's 7440 Club

An old bar with utilitarian name, a great old neon sign, and a newer neon sign. Here's my friend Joe's close-up shot of the sign.

Sam's Classic
7442 Auburn Boulevard


This is a great old drive-in restaurant that I neglected for too long. I stopped there for a chili cheeseburger and a Dr. Pepper on the way back from a hike recently. The burger was not photogenic, but it was delicious.

If you've traveled throughout the Central Valley, you might recognize this building as an old Sno-White Drive In. There were once nearly 200 such franchises in California, and a few still survive. It was still a Sno-White in 1970, but by 1975 was Lou's Burgers.


Lodge Coffee Shop
8191 Auburn Boulevard
20050810 Lodge Coffee Shop

This was probably built in the 1960s, when A-frame coffee shops seemed to be all the rage, which would make it after US 40 was already bypassed by the freeway. It was previously called Ski Lodge Coffee Shop.

From here, Auburn Boulevard passes a major bus station for connecting Sacramento County and Placer County routes, and heads across the freeway that bypassed it into Roseville.


Anonymous said...

What a great piece of history, thanks for not letting it die.

Troop 1309 said...

Seeing these photos makes me a little homesick. I grew up nearby. The 12 mile bar was a hang out of my great grandpa. He was a heavy drinking Irishman and Auburn Blvd was full of bars at one time. My mom tells of having to go into those bars as a kid and drag grandpa home.

The Golden T is great inside. It is like a time warp. My MIL used to be a regular there. We love the Cricket also. Great food!

Anonymous said...

The Sticky Wicket is just off Auburn on Madison. It was there when I moved to Foothill Farms in 1966.

Tom said...

The Rolling Green sign, and in particular the girl diving through the "slice of bell pepper" (part of the sign that was evidently removed due to height restrictions), were iconic to my brother and myself when we were growing up. Driving back home from whatever we were doing downtown, we'd always look for that sign to let us know we were getting close to home.

Thanks for keeping the memory alive.

Anonymous said...

Seddy's Club at 4311 Auburn Blvd, Pat & Mae's,
Browns Hardware a little farther down, Will's Point, And a real oldie Panorama Market which was was later a Lumber Jack I think. Oh and Mac's Place & Cisco's. My mom used to drag me along to several of the bars along Auburn Blvd that were her hang outs. All of them had toys in the 'back' to keep me entertained.

Norm said...

I used to eat breakfast at Pat & Mae's after finishing my paper route in the mid-1960s. Usually a stack of pancakes and a slice of cherry pie!

Anonymous said...

Regarding the old Cleopatra club... If memory serves before it was Cleopatra's this was a dance club called the Trident and had an indoor pool so you could swim as well as dance! Thanks so much for stirring up some great memories...

Larry said...

thanks for the memories I would be nice to see pics and info on the mini golf, go cart pinball on auburn and walnut about 1976 and the pinball mini golf at aburn about where heritage hospital is now, played pin ball there in 1972 closed around 1974 Thanks Love to see the old history I'm getting older and forgot about

Anonymous said...

On the west side of Auburn Blvd. between the tire store and Crickets (but set back a little from the road) there was a very small motel boarded up, closed and in an unsalvageable condition. There was no sign. When your article started listing businesses I was hoping it would mention its name as I never knew it. I also remember Browns Hardware. Thanks for jogging my memory. Great article. ..Mike

Anonymous said...

Do you have any photos or history for the 5300 block of Auburn Blvd.? Foothill Pharmacy, L&L Liquors, and there was a bar across the street from that plaza.

Anonymous said...

I remember going down the little strip of Auburn where all the hotels were many times as a kid in the 80s. It was a sketchy area. I remember knowing/being told about the prostitution that happened in those hotels. In the streets around Auburn were drug deals going on during the daylight hours (common in many areas today, but was dangerous sounding back then). I always admired the signs and buildings, though, and wished that the area could be restored. I was sad when they started tearing them down.

Anonymous said...

I'm filling out my application for my Canadian old age pension and need to list my out-of-country employment: The Golden Tee in 1971s when I was 18 years old. My one and only job in the US before I left to live in Canada. A little googling and wow!, a trip down memory lane _and_ I can even enter the street address thanks to you researches and your site. Thanks!

unknown said...

When I came back to our area from living in Japan and Okinawa,in 1969 We stayed at the Ritz motel. It was very back then with a living room, as I remember. Now I drive down past what was and am sad that those days are gone forever

unknown said...

When I came back to our area from living in Japan and Okinawa,in 1969 We stayed at the Ritz motel. It was very back then with a living room, as I remember. Now I drive down past what was and am sad that those days are gone forever

Mimi Davidson (Henry) said...

Thanks for sharing all the old memories,but I'm so surprised that my very first employer wasn't mentioned. Eddies Brau Hof where they had the Big sign with pictures of a Turkey and Beef Roast you could see it from the freeway. It was also a bus trip that traveled through and to Reno etc. The travelers loved the food. I was 17 and my brother was 16 when we worked there back in 1976. I think the building next to it csught on fire once and then it was gone! Those were fun times and I would Love to see a picture of it! I don't remember the address,but it was close to Fulton,but down a ways.

Jim from Sacramento Saddlery. said...

Mimi Davidson, you failed to mention the steak sandwiches served in the back room. Ed, Chuck and their boys.

Gee Gee said...

My parents (Ted and June Vogel) owned the Wicket for many years. The Golden Tee was owned by a close friend so there was plenty of drives up and down Auburn Blvd back in the day.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I remember a hardware store along Auburn Blvd. in the 60's, called Brown's Hardware. It might have been near Madison. It had that great hardware store smell.

Unknown said...

I remember a hardware store along Auburn Blvd in the 60's, called Brown's Hardware. It had that great hardware store smell.

Right idea said...

THERE was a country store at the N/E corner of Auburn and College oak called Palmitiers which later became Blue Berry Hill. the old roof line can still be seen behind the fa├žade of the Mexican restaurant and bar there now. on the corner across the street a large lot soon saw the first SuperMkt in our area that was Panorama and the concrete block building is a 99 cent store today. Panorama put the much older Market out of business soon after opening.