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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.)

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.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Point Reyes: Arch Rock Revisited

Above Arch Rock

My friend Erik and I wanted to go hiking at Point Reyes National Seashore sometime this week. He suggested Tuesday, but the forecast for Olema suggested that was the day of the week with the most rain. I chose Thursday, when there was just a chance of showers. And I decided we would just start out on Bear Valley Trail, and take some route that would take us across Woodward Valley Trail, which I enjoyed a lot on my own last year. The tides were all wrong for any visits to the shore this week.

We ended up hiking in the rain all day, and never made it onto Woodward Valley Trail

I picked up Erik at 7:45 and we headed down a route I drove just from visual memory: I-80 to Vallejo, CA 37 to US 101 North, exit at what turned out to be San Marin Drive (which I just recognized from a building on the hillside), west to a school, then right on Novato Boulevard, north to Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, west to a stop sign at a bridge, right to CA 1 at the north end of Point Reyes Station, then south to the turn off for Point Reyes, and finally the turn off for the visitor center and the Bear Valley Trailhead. It took about 2 hours and 20 minutes, given that we were coming from the northeastern suburbs of Sacramento, and had to drive through downtown in rush hour.

We decided to hike Bear Valley Trail to Old Pine Trail, veer off there to go to Sky Trail, then take a short jaunt over to Woodward Valley Trail, take it down to Coast Trail, and then head back to Arch Rock and the end of Bear Valley Trail to take that trail all the way back to the car.

The first two legs worked out. We headed along the easy and wide Bear Valley Trail (it's a road), with a steady rain on us. A creek flows alongside most of the trail. Frequently fallen trees span the creek, and have ferns and moss growing on them. All around the trees lacking their leaves were fully covered by other green plant life. Plenty of milkmaids (small, white wildflowers) grew off the side of the trail.

Along Bear Valley Trail

In what seemed like very little time, we reached Divide Meadow, where there are pit toilets, and the junction with Old Pine Trail. On that narrow trail, we started climbing through the forest. There was at least one clearing along the trail, and a couple of points where we were on the edge of a hillside, and could look down on banks of fog. I stopped to take a photograph of some witch's butter, with my camera protected by a plastic freezer bag. We were keeping our cameras underneath our jackets while we hiked.

Witch's Butter

Shortly after that photo stop, the rain let up. It was still drizzling a bit, and the saturated trees were dripping, but it was drier overall. After reaching the top of our climb, we made a short descent to Sky Trail.

Erik Arriving at Sky Trail

There were plenty of signs there, with arrows, trail names, and exact distances. I thought I knew where I was going well enough--just a short jog towards the coast to Woodward Valley Trail, so I didn't check the signs. Erik did, and was confused, because the sign indicated that Woodward Valley Trail was the opposite direction. But he trusted me, and followed along.

Along Sky Trail

I could tell we were going too far, and getting too close to the coast, and not heading over in the direction that I remembered Woodward Valley Trail as being. Erik then mentioned the sign, and I checked my map, and indeed we were going the wrong direction. But we kept going, since we had gone so far already, and just headed down to Coast Trail from there. There were great views, that just don't translate into photographs, of the shore and Point Reyes in the distance, coming down the last portion of Sky Trail.

Just before reaching Coast Trail, we took stock of the situation. We could head north on the Coast Trail to Woodward Valley Trail, and head back on it. This would make it a very long hike, with quite a bit more climbing. Or we could just head south to Arch Rock and head back to the car on the easy Bear Valley Trail. The voice of reason told me that we should go the easier way and take our time taking pictures, rather than try to make up for my blunder.

Ice Plant Above Arch Rock

And that's what we did. Along the way, we saw a variety of wildflowers--ice plant, monkey flower, Douglas iris, and others. Down at Arch Rock, we took the unofficial trail down to the creek--an unofficial trail that has crumbled quite a bit since we last hiked it. Unlike last time, the creek was too swollen from rain for us to make a comfortable crossing.

Arch Rock

Erik Thinking About Crossing

Instead, we headed back farther south along the coast trail, crossing the creek the easy way, on a bridge, and then worked our way over to the cliff across the creek from Arch Rock on the south. There we had nice views of the arch that gives the outcropping its name. It looks like people climb down from there, with the only difficulty being the chance of the cliff crumbling beneath you. We decided there wasn't enough reward for the risk--we had already been down there last year, and the tide was too high to explore the beach at all. Honestly, it was the rational decision--it's not because we're wusses.

From there we headed back on easy and wide Bear Valley Trail. As we got close to Divide Meadow, the rain picked up again. After that, we encountered an interesting bird. I get highly frustrated trying to photograph birds, as they don't let me get anywhere close. To compound the difficulties, it was dark, and I didn't have a good telephoto lens. But the bird let us get surprisingly close. In fact, I'm sure we could have gotten closer. But when we got to a certain point, we were concerned that the bird must be injured, or else it would have taken off. We chose not to stress it further, and left it alone.

Poor Birdy

From there it was an uneventful trip back to the car, a quick stop at the Cheese Factory on the way back, and a mercifully easy trip back to Sacramento, considering how close to rush hour it was.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sacramento Area Pizzerias

Shakey's Pizza
Shakey's Pizza

Sacramento's best known pizzeria has got to be Shakey's. Sherwood "Shakey" Johnson started the chain, which at one time had more than 700 restaurants, at 57th and J Street in East Sacramento in 1954. The location stayed open until a fire on January 8, 1996. That was more than 8 months before I moved to the area, but the guide book I bought was written earlier. When I finally got a car in 1999, I set off to eat at the original Shakey's Pizza, only to find it boarded up.

Sherwood Johnson sold his interest in Shakey's in the late 1960s, and there is no local connection with the franchise now, so the original Shakey's never reopened. The owner of the restaurant that took over the location wanted to keep the old Shakey's Pizza sign up, but there is an ordinance against having two signs. The Sacramento Bee reported that the sign would be preserved in an unspecified museum. The nearest Shakey's to Sacramento now is in Oroville.

Luigi's Pizzeria and Fun Garden
20060220 Luigi's Pizza Garden

Luigi's first opened on Stockton Boulevard, the old Highway 99 route, in 1953. Two Italian brothers bought it in the 1960s, and have continued to run the place. When I first visited, I arrived before the place was supposed to open, but one of those brothers waved me in, and told me in an Italian accent that they were open just as soon as the ovens were hot. According to The Sacramento Bee, he doesn't mind being called Luigi, even though his name is Celso. My meatball sandwich was wonderful.

20060319 Meatball Sandwich

When I went there on a Friday evening, the place was packed with locals, who seemed to all know each other, and who had probably been eating pizza there their whole lives. Recently Luigi's Slice opened in Midtown. The atmosphere there is much trendier than at the original location, but the pizza is made the same way.

20070302 Luigi's Pizza

Zelda's Original Gourmet Pizza
20080121 Zelda's

Since 1978, this Midtown restaurant has been the premiere place to get Chicago style pizza in Sacramento. Because it's Chicago style, it takes 1/2 hour to cook, so they advise calling in your order ahead of time. The restaurant is dimly lit with dark wooden booths in a narrow dining area on one side, and a bar on the other side. It's quite the cozy environment.

20080121 Booth @ Zelda's

20050818 Wenelli's Pizza

From the outside, it looks like a new suburban strip mall, but the old wood paneling inside first indicated to me that the place had some history. Articles posted inside explain--the pizzeria opened as the first Round Table Pizza in the Sacramento area in the late 1960s. Two women who had worked there for $2.65 an hour, before becoming managers of other Round Table locations, pooled their life savings and reopened it as Wenelli's in 1993. Business was slow at first, and one article mentions that they were in tears at the end of the first week, but they've been in business 15 years now.

20070419 Pete's Special

Romas Pizzeria
20090530 Salami Pizza

I knew this was a substantial omission from my original posting of this blog entry, as I had seen Romas named the best pizzeria in Sacramento in some local poll once, but I had never gotten around to eating there. It's a long ways from anywhere I have lived, and it doesn't look promising from the outside, in a small, nondescript shopping center on Franklin Blvd.

The vintage sign (plastic) is obscured from the road by trees, or I might have been more curious. What finally led me to visit the place was that I saw it was the top pizzeria choice in Sacramento on Yelp. I headed there the same afternoon.

Like Wenelli's, the outside of the shopping center has been updated, but not in a way that is at all interesting. Inside, however, it is mostly vintage: old light fixtures, wood-panel wainscoting, booths with mismatching vinyl from being partially recovered (unfortunately the lumpy padding was not redone), an old electric sign for the restaurant with a scene of a creek in which the water appears to move. But dominating the dining room for a restaurant named after the city of Rome is a large 1960s wallpaper image, framed, of . . . Venice. Well, they're not too far away from each other.

I was there at 4:00 p.m. on a Saturday, but the place was doing good business. There were three guys with two pitchers of beer and a combo 'za discussing the day's softball games. Two families came in and had their usual orders confirmed by the waiter without the involvement of a menu at any point.

I had the salami pizza, and it was terrific. The crust was crisp on the bottom, the sauce was fantastic, and the amount of salami on the pizza was quite generous. I burnt my tongue because I couldn't wait to scarf it down.

20050926 za

I was living in Davis when I read in The Sacramento Bee about the authentic New York style pizza at Giovanni's in South Sacramento. Since that is my favorite style of pizza, I headed out to find the restaurant that very night. I had to stand in a long line just to put in my order, but the pizza was everything I hoped it would be. You don't need any toppings if you have a well-done New York style pizza like they serve at Giovanni's--with great crust, sauce, and cheese. But their home-made sausage is excellent as well. They've opened up a second location on Folsom Boulevard, which is just as cavernous as the first, and I see in the Yellow Pages that there is a Giovanni's listed on Fair Oaks Boulevard too, but I have never been there.

20061028 Mushroom and Olive Slice

Another Midtown pizzeria, advertised by a neon slice of pizza in the window. As the name suggests, they sell pizza by the slice here. Other than the huge, doughy outer crust, it's good pizza, and if you ask for it, they are quite generous with the fresh garlic.

2001 Davis Woodstock's Pizza

For my 6 years of life in Davis, this was my pizza joint. It has a great college-hangout atmosphere--something that is generally lacking in Davis, despite the fact that it is a university town. You can get pizza by the slice for lunch or after 9 p.m. I also visited frequently on Wednesday nights for their beer specials.