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Friday, January 30, 2009

US 99: Oak Park's Broadway

1907 Oak Park

The two neighborhoods that I find most fascinating and appealing in Sacramento are the old city of North Sacramento (incorporated into Sacramento in 1964), and the first suburb of Sacramento, Oak Park, which was annexed in 1911. Both have a rich history, long family traditions, and great architecture. Both have also long been problem spots for the city, known mostly for crime and abandoned buildings. For decades developers have spent millions of dollars to lobby politicians to zone undeveloped areas so they could put in strip malls and tract housing ever farther out in the suburbs, while beautiful buildings and houses close to the city center have been allowed to decay, often to the point that they have to be demolished.

Oak Park is such an old neighborhood close to the city center that it is hard to picture it as ever having been on the periphery of the city, but it was at the end of the nineteenth century, when it was developed as Sacramento's first suburb. It was subdivided and lots were sold starting in 1887. It wasn't until the years around 1910, though, that the neighborhood expanded most rapidly, leading to the 1911 annexation.

Any piece written on the history of Oak Park has to mention, or at least prominently feature a photo of, two main elements: the Oak Park arch, and Joyland.

The iconic image of Oak Park is the "1889 OAK*PARK 1903" sign backed by a row of palm trees running down the center of the street, and usually with a streetcar in view. I believe, but have not for certain verified, that this was at the trolley terminus on 35th, the "main street" of the community, in front of the Joyland (now McClatchy Park).

Ah Joyland. Joyland was an investment from the streetcar company. Not only did they make money off the amusement park, they made money transporting people from downtown to the park on weekends, when ridership would otherwise be low, because not as many people from Oak Park would be commuting to jobs downtown as on weekdays. In June of 1920, Joyland was extensively damaged by fire, and although some rebuilding was done, the park never fully recovered. In 1927, newspaper heir Valentine McClatchy purchased the park and donated the land to the city, The land now comprises C.K. McClatchy park, named after the Sacramento Bee founder.

Into the 1950s Oak Park still had a prosperous business district. A 1951 article in the Sacramento Union touts the quaintness of the Oak Park shopping district in comparison to the modern chrome and tile shopping center, comparing 35th Street between 4th and 5th Avenues to Main Street in a small town. A photograph accompanying the article shows 4 lanes of traffic, parked cars lining the street, old painted advertisements on the sides of brick buildings, and large neon signs advertising business after business. It is disorienting to me to look at the picture and try to determine where it was taken, as what remains today bears no resemblance whatsoever to the photograph.

At first, the car was a friend to the development of Oak Park. Sacramento Boulevard (now Broadway) carried the Lincoln Highway and later US Route 99 through the heart of Oak Park on the way south through the Central Valley. But the growing popularity of the automobile in the first half of the twentieth century led to people moving farther and farther from the city center, and that trend exploded in the years following World War II. In 1940, 62% of the population of Sacramento County lived within the borders of the city of Sacramento. By 1960, that figure was down to 38%. The middle class abandoned traditional neighborhoods like Oak Park to pursue modern luxuries: extensive ranch houses, large yards, garages and driveways, and easy access to modern drive in markets.

The redevelopment of downtown Sacramento's west end starting in the mid 1950s further hastened the decline of Oak Park. As slum housing downtown was demolished, the former residents looked for new places to live, and as the middle class moved to the suburbs, the working class and poor moved to the neighborhoods they had abandoned. Oak Park and Del Paso Heights particularly attracted the displaced black population, as unlike the rest of the area, there were no racial restrictions on home ownership in these neighborhoods.

In contrast to the rosy picture painted by the 1951 newspaper article, a 1961 report from the City Planning Commission addresses the problems of the business district, and its "general obsolescence" (while that remark was made specifically about businesses along Stockton Boulevard, the phrase nicely sums up the overall tone of the report on the Oak Park business district). In addition to the need to address the deteriorating residences in the area, the plan has two primary remedies: more parking, and a pedestrian mall on 35th Street. I don't know why the pedestrian mall cure was such a popular notion at the time, but it was put into effect--with disastrous results--on K Street in downtown Sacramento and Fulton Street in Fresno. No such effort was put into attempting to save Oak Park's business district.

At the time of the report, the South Sacramento Freeway, which would bypass US Route 99 through the heart of Oak Park, was under construction. This would be another blow for the struggling neighborhood. The freeway opened to traffic on 22 November, 1961. Not only did this create blight right next to a historic residential area, it cut off the business district from wealthy Curtis Park. There were no handy exits for the business district, as it was too close to the enormous interchange--today's ironically named Oak Park Interchange--between the South Sacramento Freeway, the 29th-30th Street Freeway (completed ca. 1966), the W-X Street Freeway (late 1960s), and the El Dorado Freeway (US 50, ca. 1970).

As the neighborhood became more ethnically diverse and declined in prosperity in the late 1960s, tensions between residents and police increased, and finally exploded in the Oak Park Riot of 1969. In the week following, several more businesses closed their doors and moved to the suburbs and the transformation of the prosperous "town within a city" described in that 1951 Sacramento Union article into one of the city's worst neighborhoods, with a reputation even worse than the reality, was complete.

NBA star Kevin Johnson grew up in Oak Park, and did not forget it. He founded the non-profit St. HOPE Development Co. and operates the for-profit Kynship Development, and has bought many properties in hopes of rehabilitating the neighborhood. The one real success story so far has been the south side of Broadway, where 3rd Ave., 35th St., and Broadway converge, the 40 Acres Complex. The Guild Theatre has been restored, and there's a bookstore, an art gallery, and a Starbucks. I'm no fan of Starbucks, but if they're helping to save a historic building in a historic neighborhood, then more power to them.

Not much has been done on the other properties, unfortunately, and the city was forcing the issue. A Sacramento Bee article on Johnson's company's struggles that mentioned plans to demolish two historic buildings resulted in a lot of pressure on Johnson to save them, and efforts have been made to establish historic districts in Oak Park that would make it more difficult to demolish such buildings. Of course, now that he has been elected mayor, resistance from the city may decline.

So, that brings us up to date on the history of Sacramento's Oak Park, now let us turn our attention to the route of old US 99 and the businesses, buildings, and signs that sprouted up alongside of it.

Before the freeways, US 99, headed south from the junction with US 40 in downtown Sacramento down 15th or 16th (16th was originally two-way and was the route of 99, later it became one-way north bound and 15th carried south-bound traffic). Upon reaching Broadway (or Y, as Broadway was originally named) at the Tower Theatre building, 99 turned east. At Alhambra, now reached just after passing under the freeway, the street divides. US 99 diverted at an angle southeast onto Sacramento Boulevard (originally Sacramento Avenue, now Broadway), entering the heart of Oak Park. At a Y, the current route of Broadway follows the old 99 route from Martin Luther King Boulevard (formerly the continuation of Sacramento Boulevard) to Stockton Boulevard (formerly Upper Stockton Road) along what was called Leland Stanford Avenue, but is now Broadway. From Leland Stanford Ave./Broadway, 99 headed down Stockton Boulevard towards Galt, Lodi, and Stockton. U.S. 50 also shared this route for many years on its way to the Bay Area via Altamont Pass, and the Lincoln Highway, which preceded both of these highways, most likely followed this route, or one very close to it.

Instead of bypassing it on the South Sacramento Freeway, which is now CA 99 (as there is no more US 99), let's take a more leisurely journey down what remains on the historic highway route, beginning at Broadway and Alhambra, passing through the heart of Oak Park, and finishing at Broadway and Stockton Boulevard.

3121-3123 Broadway, 2529 Sacramento Blvd
20080113 3121-3123 Broadway

A typical example of the brick buildings of Oak Park. Several cleaners have done business here, at least as early as 1933.

3125-3133 Broadway, 2547 Sacramento Blvd
20080113 3125-3133 Broadway

Furniture and washing machines you could buy here over the years. Dates back to at least 1927.

2549 32nd St
Immaculate Conception Catholic Church

3300 Broadway, 2660 Sacramento Blvd
This was Leigh A. Paine's Drug Store, built around 1927 or 1928. By 1949, it was the office of lawyer John Harby Paine, who is listed there in 1996. Last year it was in the process of being refurbished.

3322 Broadway, 2710/2714 Sacramento Boulevard
20070114 ??? Center

A bicycle store, a dairy store, a liquor store, and then a pet store with oddly varying names: Pet & Pigeon Center, Pet & Poodle Center, Pet & Puppy Center. Then vacant for many years before becoming a studio.

3324/3326/3328 Broadway, 2718/2722/2726 Sacramento Blvd

There's a sign still visible at 3324 for Blakely's Beauty Salon, and before that it was Venezuela's Beauty Salon since at least 1965, but was a series of shops before that. Next door, 3326 was a beauty salon in the earlier days--the 1930s and 1940s, before being put to various uses. 3328 was a barber shop from at least 1932-1970, but has been vacant a lot since then.

3402/3406 Broadway, 2758/2760 Sacramento Blvd
20080521 Ogg Building, 1910

The Ogg Building built in 1910 as a post office, grocery store, and library branch--and that was just the ground floor! Upstairs there were 2 apartments and 2 doctors' offices. 3406 has had the most continuity, housing Bill & Joe's Lunch from the 1930s to 1950s, and then the Swiss Club from around 1954 up to the millenium. Primo's Swiss Club closed there in 2004, and it has been vacant since.

20070114 H A I R  C U T S

20080503 Primo's Swiss Club

3418 Broadway, 2778 Sacramento Blvd
20071222 Morning in Oak Park

The basic structure was complete around October of 1914, hence the "1914" on the side of the building, but it didn't open as Sacramento Bank until January of 1915. Then it has a dome over the entrance. It was a Bank of America in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, before being place by a less substantial, but more modern, Bank of America down the street. In the 1960s and 1970s it sat vacant. In the 1980s and into the early 90s, it was often used as a church. It was refurbished and opened as the present US Bank on October 11, 1995.

3456 3rd Ave
20080521 Hotel Woodruff

Opened in 1925 or 1926 as the Hotel Woodruff, and was still listed as that in 1980. This is one of the Kevin Johnson refurbished buildings.

2828/2830 35th St.
20051016 Guild Theater

The exact origins of this place have been hard to track down. A book on Sacramento theaters says this was the Victor Theatre from 1915-1926, the Oak Park Theatre from 1931 to 1947, and the Guild Theatre from 1952-1969. The Sacramento Bee says that it was the Victor Theatre as early as 1907. There is a Victor Theatre listed at 2812 35th St. in 1919, and one listed at 2830 in 1925, but there is no Victor Theatre listed in Sacramento in the November 1923 telephone directory. According to an old advertisement in the Sacramento Bee, it opened as the Oak Park Theatre on October 31, 1931 and is still listed as that in the 1949 Polk city directory, despite the fact that the book says it closed 2 years earlier.

So I'm not quite sure about the Victor Theatre origins, but it was the Oak Park Theatre in the 1930s and 1940s, and after being closed for a couple of years, reopened as Sacramento's first art house theater, the Guild, for the 1950s and 1960s. Subsequently it was used as a church, and even had a huge baptismal fount installed. I then found an article about volunteers cleaning it up and working to restore it--but I'm not sure what came of that. Kevin Johnson's group then bought it and it is now open again at the Guild Theatre, although performance there are not too frequent.

3501 3rd Avenue
20080113 3501 3rd Ave

The Gostic Brothers built this structure for their meat market around 1912, and it continued as a meat market through the 1940s before becoming a thrift store, and then sitting vacant.

3503 Broadway, 2801 Sacramento Blvd
20080113 Old Shell Station

Six Day Tires was originally a Shell Station.

3514 Broadway

The Main Event Beauty Complex was another grocery store in the 1940s and 1950s.

3519 Broadway, 2833 Sacramento Blvd
20080113 Stilson Bros Cleaners

Jasper P. Stilson was presser in 1921 & a cleaner for Spurgeon's in 1922, but the 1923 city directory shows the Stilson Bros. in business as cleaners at this address.

20080113 Stilson Bros Cleaners

3621 Broadway

I believe the Paris Bakery building dates from the mid to late 1960s, when it was the Artic Circle Drive In.
Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd (formerly Sacramento Blvd) intersects, originally Leland Stanford Ave continued continued to Stockton Blvd.

3820 Broadway
Ray's Taco Rico
Photo by illtakeyourphoto!

Karl's Drive-In opened in the early 1950s, then became Joe's Drive Inn, before more than a 30 year run as Taco Rico.

3930 Broadway

When not vacant, an appliance store since the early1950s.

4307 Broadway
20080117 Old Timers Barber Shop

The aptly named Old Timers Barber Shop.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sacramento Googie

20071209 Northgate Orbit
Northgate Orbit Station

Googie is a term, derived from the name of a Los Angeles coffee shop, selected by Alan Hess to describe a style of building developed in the 1950s that is exaggeratedly modern--a style that fits a 1950s conception of space age design. The style on The Jetsons is very Googie.

This style is of the commercial vernacular, meaning that it is not a design movement within academia based on an intellectual philosophy and then executed by academically trained architects. Instead, it was developed by builders in response to the needs of the client. In this case, the need was primarily to catch the eye of the families speeding by in cars. It developed out of the post-war car culture and the shift of urban populations to the suburbs, and its birthplace and area of greatest development is the car capital of the planet, Los Angeles.

And the climate of Los Angeles plays a role in Googie design as well. Year-round mild temperatures freed the builder to use vast expanses of glass, as structures seem to float in the air.

Sacramento must have had its share of Googie design--most everything you can find in Los Angeles you can find in Sacramento on a smaller scale. But much of it would have been gone before I moved to the area and started exploring it. I see the listings in old city directories for Sambo's and Sam's Big Tops and diners/coffee shops with intriguing names I've never come across before, but most of the buildings are long gone

Here are the few I have gotten around to photographing and researching:

20070317 Country Club Lanes

Country Club Lanes

2600 Watt Ave.
Status: extant

This is easily the most substantial Googie structure in Sacramento, and worthy of attention from Googie fans across the nation. The bowling alley opened in 1959, but there is a lot more in this structure than just the lanes, and much of it was not open until 1960.

20090128 Country Club Lanes

Still in the hands of a private ownership group, the place has kept up with the times, and is regularly named best bowling alley in Sacramento Magazine's best of Sacramento roundup. One thing that hasn't changed is an old drinking fountain near the back entrance that looks right out of a 1950s school, and out of place with the glow-in-the-dark carpet and all the thin panel monitors.


Northgate Orbit

2240 Northgate Blvd.
Status: standing vacant

In recent years this old Orbit Station has been a car dealership, and it is available for lease for that purpose now.

20050827 Sacramento Orbit
Orbit Station
4716 Auburn Blvd.
Circa 1970-1971
Status: extant

Yes, I was surprised by the late date on this one, but it doesn't show up in the Sacramento Suburban directories until 1971. I even checked the cross street, Myrtle Ave., in case the address had changed. This is the best known and most often photographed Orbit building in Sacramento. The gas station usually has some of the lowest prices in the area too, which makes it easy for me to support them.

20090127 Orangevale Orbit
Orangevale Orbit
8994 Greenback Lane
Circa ??
Status: extant

This one lies too far away from the city center for me to find listings for it in old directories, hence I am unable to date it. In addition to these three, there were Orbit Stations at:

1340 Del Paso Blvd.
1834 El Camino
4101 Manzanita Ave.
4948 San Juan Ave.

plus one station listed as Orbit Seaside Service at 3920 Fruitridge Rd. I don't know whether they had the same Googie buildings or not.

20051009 Former Lyon's
Lyon's Restaurant
Circa 1966-1967
Satus: demolished March of 2007

This was one of my two favorite buildings in Sacramento (the other one has also been demolished), and so I ate at the Lyon's frequently, even though I didn't think much of the food. I assumed it had been something else originally, as I had never seen another Lyon's like this one, but no, it opened originally as a Lyon's that was open 24 hours and was quite the happening place late at night in the late 1960s (according to a friend at work). I've since seen another building similar to this in Hayward that currently houses a Chinese restaurant, but was originally a Lyon's.

When the long-closed Montgomery Ward next to the restaurant was renovated and changed into a Wal-Mart, this building got a new paint job, and a couple of months later it closed. Eventually it was demolished to allow for extra parking for the Wal-Mart. I'm sure Satan got a good chuckle out of that one.

20070327 Sam's Big Top
Sam's Big Top
2721 El Camino
Circa 1966-1967
Status: in use as Country Waffles

In the Sam Gordon Center. Sam Gordon had a restaurant empire, with Sam's Ranch Wagon, Sam's Hof Braus, and Sam's Big Tops, plus Sam's Town. He also had an ongoing business relationship with Denny's: he sold them the Sam's Hof Brau concept. He sold them Sam's Town, and then bought it back. And presumably he sold them this Sam's Big Top, as it was a Denny's by 1970. It was then for more than 20 years Walt's before becoming Country Waffles. The interior contains only hints of its original identity, like the hot pink tile back splash behind the counter.

20070424 Sambo's Pancakes
Sambo's Pancakes
Circa 1963-1965
Status: in use as restaurant El Patron

There were several Sambo's in the Sacramento area at one time, but as far as I know, this one is the only Sambo's building remaining. When it was a typical Mexican restaurant for the area (an inexpensive place run by Mexicans) it looked more like a Sambo's on the outside, and probably the inside too. But it was extensively remodeled before reopening as El Patron, a higher priced Mexican restaurant that is not very authentic.

20080616 Eggie's
The Coffee Hut
Circa: 1966-1968
Status: in use as Eggie's Restaurant

The Coffee Hut didn't last long, but it wasn't the building's fault. Eggie's has done just fine as a coffee shop under the boomerang roof the last 30 years.

20081108 Pancake Circus
Al & Myrle's Platter
2101 Broadway
Circa 1963-1964
Status: in use as Pancake Circus

The Pancake Circus is such a beloved Sacramento institution that I imagine most people can't imagine that it was every anything else, but it didn't become Pancake Circus until 1970 or 1971. It's only open for breakfast and lunch now, but still does a very strong business.

20070430 Early '60s Safeway
Circa 1960-1963
Status: in use as Tognotti's (auto parts)

This is much like the marina style Safeways in the Bay Area, but the curl up of the roof line at both sides is an added bit of flair I haven't seen elsewhere. There's another old marina Safeway in town that has not been treated sympathetically over the years.

20071225 Suzie Burger
Phillips 66
2920 P St.
Circa 1971-1973
Status: modified for use as Suzie Burger

When the chain link fence went up around this old service station, I figured it was done for. But instead it just got a renovation, and seems to be doing good business as Suzie Burger.

Phillips 66
Circa 1967-1968
Status: standing

This place seems to alternate frequently between being vacant and having some sort of auto-related business in it. Hmmm, I thought I had a photo of this place, but I can't locate one. I'll have to run out and correct that.

20080309 Land Park Ski & Sports
Woody's Smorgasburger
Circa 1963-1965
Status: in use as Land Park Ski & Sports

Wow! What a roof. There's a match for this building in Berkeley, which also used to be a Woody's Smorgasburger. I'd love to see some photos of the interior back in the day.

20090411 Sacramento Zoo Entrance
Sacramento Zoo
3930 W. Land Park Dr.
Status: still in use

The Sacramento Zoo first opened in 1927, but I would guess that the entrance dates from 1950s or 1960s.