Monday, June 2, 2008

California Vanity Post

Yer humble host usually posts about Louisville, but for a change of pace here is one about California.

Ay Califas! How I miss you sometimes! Specifically the urban life I lead in the heart of Sacramento. The biggest US city you never heard of. A nondescript place that was about as big as Canton or Springfield in 1940, is today the size of metropolitan Cincinnati

(mouse over this and the other images, click, and they will enlarge)

Closing in on the older parts of town, the grid of the old city is becoming visible. There are two rivers, the Sacramento being navigable (and actually tidal even this far inland). This was the original route of the Delta Queen. The Delta Queen is now docked in Old Sact, on the "embarcadero". Of the features on the map, "The Forties" is Sacramento's
Zooming in on the old city, AKA "Midtown", the relentless, Manhattenesque street grid is quite visible, a checkerboard of perfectly square blocks. One of the few interruptions is Sutters Fort, which is a park as well as a historic site, surrounded by an upscale Grafton-Hill esque neighborhood, including a high rise apartments.

Alkalai Flat is an old blue collar area for railroad workers (the yards and shops are awaiting redevelopment), now a Mexican barrio, as is Southside Park neighborhood.

Lavender Heights was the gay district, in the heart of Midtown, and walking distance from my place in Capital Park, my neighborhood.
Zooming in even closer, Capital Park works a bit like Central Park in NYC, breaking the grid, but having the captial builidng as the centerpiece. North of the park is the tail end of downtown, which is expanding eastward. K Street was the old shopping street, but now is a transit mall for the light rail, which also ran close to my place, with a station at the state archives.
Enlarging the yellow box, my immediate neighborhood. This was sort of a cool place as there were little grocerys and sidewalk cafe restaurants nearby, though parking was a real hassle, you just parked and walked places, not relying on the car that much. Famous former resident was Jerry Brown, who lived a zen-spartan existence in a little apartment nearby while governor.
And zooming in even closer, my apartment, top floor, with kitchen facing the light well and living/dining and bedroom facing the hotel/senior housing to the right (east). Actually no view but suprisingly light and airy. The senior housing was a high-rise, with a bunch of telecom/cable TV stuff on top.
This was a very interesting place. My landlady was this lefty Southern belle from Valdosta, GA who was a photographer. The place was really half offices for lobbyists and half residents. My next door neighbor was a security gaurd at the capital, and across the hall was the Sierra Club and some sort of offshore oil producers PAC. At the end, facing the park, was a suite held by the California Republican Party. Below them was an interior decorator and two punk rockers.
The entry. Good place to hang out. This apartment was my trick pad...I would cruise Lavender Heights and bring my tricks here as it was close, walking distance. There were a lot of little buildings like this "on the grid", though mine wasn't a pink fairy palace as some of the others. Casa de Rey was notorious. We nicknamed it Casa de Reynas, House of the Queens.

The nice lobby area.
And a hallway. There was one of these phone-booth size elevators ith a wire accordian cage door that you used to go up. Three stories but tall. Ten foot ceilings on my floor. You can sort of see the light coming in from the light wells here, into the hallway.
And some other views. Fremont Park was one of the few parks here..every so often a block or square would be developed as a park. In the case of Fremont Park there was a community garden across the street where I had a small plot (red box is my apartment).
And a view of the part of downtown across from my apartment. I went to mass every so often in the Cathederal. Bishop Quinn was pretty cool. The Elks Building and the older hip roofed building near City Hall Plaza were the tallest in town for decades as an unofficial rule kept high rises below the Capital dome. Thus Sacto had a dense, but low rise thing going on, almost like a provincial European city.

Sacto folks have a cute habit of nicknaming their high rises (the firt big ones) this case the Darth Vader Buidling (AKA The Ratchet Wrench Building). There was also the "Miami Vice Building", as it looked like something from that TV show. All of these high rises are after my time (except the Darth Vader building).

J Street was the site of the raucous, Mardi-Gras -esque StPatricks Day parade, which packed downtown with throngs of revelers drinking on the street. City Hall Plaza is another one of those block parks, like Fremont Park, but focuses on City Hall.
And another view and another nicknamed high-rise (Ban Roll-On building). The Crest was a place for rock/folk shows and retro old movies. Next door (but now gone) was Club Can't Tell, punk/new wave venue (saw Los Lobos there).

The Senator was a grand old hotel, like the Biltmore. Now offices, it was recreated as a Marriott just down the street. State Supreme Court and State Library have locally well known mottos carved into their piedments: "Into the Highlands of the Mind Let Me Climb", and "Bring Me Men to Match My Mountains", which local wags assert is a reference to the rather buxom allegorical figure of Calfiornia in the frieze.

So a quicky tour of El Sacra Centro using found google images (Cool that I could find my old apartment online). I could probably do a supplemental pix post of some of these places.

I have to say this was a great (but short) time living here, a truly walkable place where one could lead a true carless existence. There was a lot of street life, but it was pretty safe, even with the visible queeny gay presence. One thing to note about this neighborhood, this midtown/old city area is that it had a real mix of types, with some concentrations, but not the hard divisions one sees here in the midwest.

And the town had some really great gay bars.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love to see this post! I'm a former Daytonian(?) and now a current Sacto resident. And you're right, it's the best city that no one pays attention to. Anyone that's ever visited me here has loved it--can't be said the same about Dayton I'm afraid.

It's funny that you show your old apartment, I walk past it four times every weekday on my five block commute to work/lunch. I have lived close by this place for my three years here now and I love this area.

I think a few things have changed since you lived here, but they are probably all for the better. The Alkali Flats and Southside Park neighborhoods have really been coming around. There are many new condos in those neighborhoods and people have done a great job fixing up the old Victorians. Yes, the neighborhoods are rapidly gentrifying, however, they needed a pick me up. And really, you can't complain much about Sacramento's diversity. It's the most integrated city in the United States.

Midtown is just fabulous and easily one of my favorite places in the United States. I saw something like there are 80 restaurants within a 10 minute walk of my place. I also live within a four minute walk of two grocery stores--one major (Safeway). I also live right near our crappy light rail system (hey, it's not perfect here).

One thing you didn't mention was how great the weather is here. There is very low humidity here (except in the winter, which is mild compared to Dayton). It basically never rains June through September, and sometimes a few months on either side of those months. Summertime can get hot during the days, but it almost always cools down into the upper 60s for very pleasant nights. The winter time can be a bit dreary and foggy--but no snow! Avg January high is 51. This really helps contribute to the walkable environment.

And the best thing about Sacramento? The trees! I have yet to see a more beautiful tree canopied city. It's really quite amazing to see in the urban core. Even the suburbs have some amazing vegetation.

Let's also be fair to the Fabulous 40s, I think they're much better than Oakwood, though Oakwood is a nice community. East Sac just has such a small-town charm about it.

Oh, and by the way, there are even more gay bars open in Lavender Heights (K & 20) now. It's definitely the hot spot of activity in Sacramento.