Sac History Happenings

News and developments in Sacramento and California history

March 14, 2012
Sacramento's West End

WestEnd1.jpgSacramento's old West End is the subject of a new featured historic photograph collection in the Sacramento Public Library's website. The West End extended from the waterfront to about 7th St. between I and L. This was Sacramento's original business district during the eventful days of the Gold Rush. Names hallowed in California history such as Mills, Brannan, and Sutter were associated with the area and its buildings. In fact, "The Big Four" -- Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker -- planned the Central Pacific Railroad in this very neighborhood. The West End was truly the heart of Sacramento, but by 1950 the area, exacerbated by waves of foreign and domestic immigrants drawn to the city by World War II employment, had become an overcrowded slum, sometimes described as the worst skid row west of Chicago. During the late 1950s and early 1960s most of the West End was razed and redeveloped, although a two-block-wide sliver adjoining the waterfront survives today as Old Sacramento.

A look at the photos presented in this online exhibit provides valuable insight into the problems facing downtown today. They were taken about 1960 when the bulldozing of the West End had barely gotten underway, and show a neighborhood whose architectural integrity was mostly intact. Several historic hotels, among them the Western, the Golden Eagle, and the Dawson House, still existed along with the 1852 D. O. Mills Bank, the "Big Four" building, and others. The structures were certainly rundown but could have been rehabilitated. Indeed, The Bee warned in 1958 that Sacramento had been given an unparalleled opportunity to create a historic district which would rival that of New Orleans.

But it was not to be. Redevelopment was all the rage nationwide, with its associated "out with the old and in with the new" philosophy characteristic of the postwar era. Sacramento's answer to its downtown's ills was to build a shopping mall replacing the old retail districts on J, K, and L streets, which would presumably bring back the old customers who had fled to the suburbs. The anchor tenant of this development, Macy's, insisted that it would not build in downtown Sacramento unless a freeway offramp was located conveniently nearby, meaning that Interstate Highway 5 was built east of the river rather than west. Fortunately, the freeway took a swing east to preserve Old Sacramento rather than barrel straight along the river and cut the city off from its waterfront.

WestEnd2.jpgSo what do we have today? A rebuilt but half-empty shopping mall located in the middle of a moribund downtown that no one seems to really know what to do with. Sacramento could have possessed a world-class tourist attraction, but chose instead to follow the call of "progress." Old Sacramento does an admirable job of contextualizing its old buildings and sites, but the entire old downtown could have more effectively presented the history and culture of Sacramento and California (as well as that of the varied ethnic communities that resided within the West End).

Take a look at these photos and their accompanying captions at http://cdm15248.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/featured (the upper photo presented here shows the old D. O. Mills Bank building at 226 J Street with a redevelopment project sign attached, while the lower image shows the old Merchant's Exchange Hotel at 114-120 I Street). Then visit Old Sacramento to enjoy what we have left, and imagine what might have been.

About Comments

Reader comments on Sacbee.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Sacramento Bee. If you see an objectionable comment, click the "report abuse" button below it. We will delete comments containing inappropriate links, obscenities, hate speech, and personal attacks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. See more about comments here.

What You Should Know About Comments on Sacbee.com

Sacbee.com is happy to provide a forum for reader interaction, discussion, feedback and reaction to our stories. However, we reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments or ban users who can't play nice. (See our full terms of service here.)

Here are some rules of the road:

• Keep your comments civil. Don't insult one another or the subjects of our articles. If you think a comment violates our guidelines click the "report abuse" button to notify the moderators. Responding to the comment will only encourage bad behavior.

• Don't use profanities, vulgarities or hate speech. This is a general interest news site. Sometimes, there are children present. Don't say anything in a way you wouldn't want your own child to hear.

• Do not attack other users; focus your comments on issues, not individuals.

• Stay on topic. Only post comments relevant to the article at hand. If you want to discuss an issue with a specific user, click on his profile name and send him a direct message.

• Do not copy and paste outside material into the comment box.

• Don't repeat the same comment over and over. We heard you the first time.

• Do not use the commenting system for advertising. That's spam and it isn't allowed.

• Don't use all capital letters. That's akin to yelling and not appreciated by the audience.

You should also know that The Sacramento Bee does not screen comments before they are posted. You are more likely to see inappropriate comments before our staff does, so we ask that you click the "report abuse" button to submit those comments for moderator review. You also may notify us via email at feedback@sacbee.com. Note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us the profile name of the user who made the comment. Remember, comment moderation is subjective. You may find some material objectionable that we won't and vice versa.

If you submit a comment, the user name of your account will appear along with it. Users cannot remove their own comments once they have submitted them, but you may ask our staff to retract one of your comments by sending an email to feedback@sacbee.com. Again, make sure you note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us your profile name.

hide comments

On October 14, The Sacramento Bee will temporarily remove commenting from sacbee.com. While we design the upgrade, we encourage you to tell us what you like and don't like about commenting on sacbee.com and other websites. We've heard from hundreds of you already and we're listening. Please continue to add your thoughts and questions here. We also encourage you to write Letters to the Editor on this and other topics.



About Sac History Happenings

California and Sacramento have a long, rich, vibrant history. And our region is blessed with an abundance of historical resources maintained by museums, libraries, archives and societies. This blog aims to alert readers to the latest developments in local/state historical education and research.

Send tips concerning upcoming exhibits, tours, lectures and meetings, as well as new books, magazine articles and online collections to the blog's contributors.

The Contributors:

Michael Dolgushkin

Michael Dolgushkin is Manuscript Librarian at the California State Library History Section. He is co-author of San Francisco's California Street Cable Cars and is a frequent contributor to the California State Library Foundation Bulletin. Contact him at mdolgushkin@library.ca.gov.

Amanda Graham

Amanda Graham is a Certified Archivist working in the Sacramento Room of the Sacramento Public Library. She earned a BS in History from Southern Oregon University and a MS in Information Studies with an emphasis in archives from The University of Texas at Austin. Contact her at agraham@saclibrary.org.

Pete basofin

Pete Basofin is Director of Editorial Research at The Sacramento Bee. He previously worked at The St. Petersburg Times and Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune. Contact him at pbasofin@sacbee.com.

October 2013

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31    

History headlines on sacbee.com