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A Look at Sacramento's Skyscrapers
Ever drive through a city and wonder what those tall buildings that stick up and out from others really are? Well as a former city planner and urban design administrator is definitely one of the things that comes to my mind.
Sacramento's skyline has changed significantly over the last fifty years. In the 1960's the only skyscrapers that could be seen approaching the City by freeway were a few unattractive boxy state buildings. Function definitely trumped any desire for architectural style. Sadly, you had to look really hard to make out the dome of Sacramento's magnificent State Capitol Building.
Beginning however in the 1980's as the City of Sacramento began to adopt design guidelines for the downtown and developers recognized that an attractive building was good for leasing things began to change. All six of the city's tallest skyscrapers have been built since 1989. I call out these tallest buildings mainly because these are the ones that stand out as you drive through or walk around the City.
The six tallest buildings in the City of Sacramento as of January, 2013 are;
1) Wells Fargo Center Height 429 ft Constructed 1992
2) US Bank Tower Height 402 ft. Constructed 2008
3) Bank of the West Height 396 ft. Constructed 2009
4) US Bank Plaza Height 380 ft. Constructed 1991
5) Renaissance Tower Height 372 ft. Constructed 1989
6) State Cal EPA Building Height 372 ft. Constructed 2000
In subsequent pages I will look at the history and development of each of these six tallest buildings. Some of these buildings have extraordinary interiors, museums and great places to eat. Many have an interesting history as well. Together they help form the first glimpse of the urban fabric we see as we drive through or fly over Sacramento. Granted there are many interesting buildings in Sacramento that did not make this list of height over achievers. However stick with me and let me begin to tell these stories of Sacramento's skyscrapers beginning in the early months of 2013.
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Heilbron House: A Reminder of What Once Was
Situated amongst a maze of banal state office buildings , Heilrbon House is a reminder of what once was a magnificent neighborhood of Sacramento in the late 1800's. However to glimpse at this magnificent Italiante home shows the tremendous amount of detail that went into its construction.
The house was constructed for August Heilbron, a German immigrant, in 1881. He wanted to have a home that was close to the State Capitol. The home was designed by Nathaniel Goodell the same architect who designed the Governor's Mansion in Sacramento. Homes of slightly less size were part of the neighborhood up until just around World War 2. Beginning then the neighborhood was razed to allow for construction of state buildings.
Over the years I can remember that this building was once the home of a savings and loan and open to the public. Now it is owned by the California Department of Parks and Recreation who uses it as an office building. The building is not currently open to the public which is a shame.
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Sacramento History Museum
Situated in Old Sacramento, the Sacramento History Museum is housed in a building designed to depict the 1854 Sacramento City Hall and Water Works. The original building included functions including the mayor's office, police department, court offices and jail. The building was demolished in 1913. The Sacramento History Museum was completed in 1985, about twenty years after revitalization efforts in Old Town commenced.
Today it is a modern three story building filled with exhibits that span from the time when Native American people occupied the site up to Post World War 2. The exhibits are well maintained and there are even interpretive spaces for children to sit and learn about the City's history.
The only thing I found as a visitor was that there was no clear chronological flow progression as you walked through the museum. I was also not given a map of the exhibits or asked if there was anything in particular I was looking for or anyone pointing out new exhibits. However all of the staff were friendly.
So would I recommend seeing the museum for someone visiting Sacramento? If you were really interested in the City of Sacramento and its history I would say yes. Otherwise if time was limited I would pass on it and visit the California State Railroad Museum which is right next door.
Hours of operation are from 10 am to 5 pm daily. Tickets are $ 6.00 for adults, $4.00 for youths 6 tp 17, and children 5 and under are free.
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cal state university at sacramento
California State University at Sacramento, formerly known as Sacramento State, is the largest comprehensive university in the Sacramento area. While only founded in 1947 today it has over 29,000 students. It offers bachelors, masters and doctoral credentials in over 200 degree programs.
The campus located off of Highway 50 in Sacramento is relatively new by college standards. It was founded in 1947 and moved to its current location right off the American River in 1953.
Aside from being a good place to go to school, the campus is a nice place to access a particularly nice portion of the American River. While the campus does have a few interestingly designed buildings its real attraction is its location adjacent to the American River. To access this area take the Power Inn Road/Howe Avenue exit off of U.S. 50. Follow the signs to Sacramento State University which will place you on College Town Drive. The entrance to the university is about a mile and turn right onto State University Drive East. Look on the left handside of the street for Parking Structure # 2 ( a multi-level lot) and park your car. Take the Guy West Foot Bridge, a minor replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, across the river and then follow the footpath down to the river.
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Walk and Look at the Second Street Space
Second Street is one of the two north-south streets in Old Sacramento. The majority of the buildings are recreations of what Sacramento looked like in the late 1800's. Much of this work was done with through the financial assistance of the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency. Several of the buildings are done so well with wide sweeping verandas and porches they are worth looking at even though they may house some tacky gift stores and restaurants.
For a quick five minute walk start at the California Rail Museum and walk south. In the middle of the walk you will see on your left hand side a tunnel that connects old Sacramento with Sacramento downtown proper. The tunnel has some interesting art and will take you to the Downtown Mall.
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American River Bike Trail
Sacramento is fortunate to have one of the best bike trails in California. It is called the American River Bike Trail but sometimes referred to as the Jedediah Smith National Recreation Trail. It extends some 32 miles from downtown Sacramento out to Folsom Lake. The trail for all but one mile is completely separated from motor vehicles making it a delight to travel on.
Many Sacramento cyclists use the bike trail to commute to work. Others like myself just love to get out on it for a few miles. There are many places to stop and rest. There is only about a 435 foot elevation increase as you move from downtown Sacramento to Folsom Lake.
Now if you don't have a bike you can also walk in separate pedestrian areas along the Bike Trail. There are several great places to do this including out near Sacramento State University, Lake Natoma, and Goethe Park.
For a good map of the bike trail use this link;
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Union Pacific: Building America in 150 Years
On the last two days of September, 2012 the Union Pacific, in conjunction with the California Department of Parks and Recreation hosted a celebration of rail in the Western United States. There were many locomotives, passenger cars, exhibits, and live entertainment during these two days. Union Pacific Railroad brought an impressive number of displays to Sacramento to celebrate the 150 years of rail. It was in 1862 that construction men from the Union Pacific Railroad started in Sacramento to meet the Central Pacific Railroad in the east which was building the transcontinental railroad in the United States.
Most of the exhibits were unique in that the trains were not normally on view. They had been stored by the railroad in another location and not open for view. Crowds were light in the morning but grew significantly toward noon. I enjoyed the exhibits and the free admission into the California Railroad Museum.
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An Ok Zoo That Is Hemmed In From Growing
The Sacramento Zoo is a very small zoo located on just 14 acres in Land Park. it opened in Land Park on a much smaller site in 1927. The Sacramento Zoological Society was formed in 1957 to help fund new exhibits and education at the zoo.
While the zoo is tiny it is clean, well run and has a great group of volunteers. There are approximately 400 animals to be found here. A good portion of the zoo has older cages and is in need of some updating. However as funds from the Zoological Society and other groups make funds available the Zoo has managed to add new exhibits.
The Sacramento Zoo is best suited for smaller kids who have limited experience seeing other animals. Older kids will likely be bored particularly if they have seen other zoos.
The last time I was at the zoo was around two years ago. The giraffes are my favorite thing to visit at this zoo. There is a Giraffe Encounter area where you can feed the giraffes which is a lot of fun. The exhibit featuring the tigers and cats is also done well, being improved from years past.
Parking is easy at the zoo and there is no cost for parking even though you might have to walk a ways.
The zoo is also moderately priced with general admission being $ 11.25 and children 2-11 being $ 7.25. Seniors get a 75 cent reduction in tickets.
The Zoo is open 9 am to 4 pm during the summer and from 10 to 4 pm the rest of the year.
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Fairytale Town For the Kids
Fairytale Town has been part of Land Park since 1959 when it was developed by a partnership of the City of Sacramento, Junior League and several area businesses. My kids went there many times when they were young either to check out the attractions or to attend neighborhood birthday parties.
According to its website Fairytale Town's mission is to promote the imagination, creativity and education of area children. To do so the park has a vast array of attractions including 25 play sets, many farm animals, and two stages. All of this is situated on 2.5 acres across from the Sacramento Zoo.
Among the most popular attractions are the Crooked Mile, Old Lady and the Shoe, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Sherwood Forest. Animals are brought from adjacent pens into the park in the afternoon for children to learn about and pet. There is also a magic storybook key that can be purchased at the park to unlock some of the tales and songs of the nursery rhymes.
Fairytale Town represents cheap entertainment and a little education for local and out of town kids. Kids older than seven or so will quickly tire of the attractions and want to move on to something more exciting outside of the park.
Tickets for children 2-11 and adults are $4.00 during the week and $5.00 on weekends. Children under 2 are free. If you are planning on also attending the Sacramento Zoo across the street on the same day a combined ticket will save you a couple of dollars.
Hours of Operation: March 1 – October 31 (weather permitting)
Open Daily, 9AM – 4PM
Guests who are in the park by 4PM may stay and play until 5PM
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California State Capitol: Building Interior
There are a number of ways to see the interior of the California State Capitol. First, walk through it at your own pace. The building is open on the north side seven days a week. Second, take a free tour. Tours of the Capitol Building are given every hour on the hour from 8 am to 5 pm on the weekdays and 9 to 5 pm weekends. The tours are led by docents who on my latest tour was a young man who worked as an intern and was quite knowledgable about the building. There is a tour information office in the basement of the State Capitol. There you can get information on special exhibits and make sure you are signed up for the tour that meets in the middle of the basement. The tours last about an hour. No climbing of steps is required. Elevators move you from floor to floor.
The interior of the State Capitol still glistens in beauty from the major work that was performed on it between 1975 and 1982. It is worthy of a visit. The views of the rotunda from the second floor, seeing some of the historic state offices of the Treasurer and Governor, and viewing the operating chambers of the Assembly and Senate make this worthwhile for young and old.
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California State Capitol: The Building Exterior
Seeing the magnificent neoclassical California State Capitol building is high on nearly everyone's list who visits Sacramento. When it is first seen coming from Capitol Mall east it appears to be perfectly framed with respect to the street and area.
However finding the right location for the California State Capitol building was far from easy. There were several different locations and at least seven plans that were reviewed before deciding on this one. The building was designed by architects Reuben Clark and M. F. Butler. Work was commenced on constructing the building in 1860 but it took nearly 14 years to complete. In addition, the original budget of $100,000 grew to nearly $2.5 million by the time it was finished. There is a great exhibit in the California State Capitol Museum detailing the physical, political, and economic problems with completing the building.
A major renovation of the State Capitol Building occurred between 1975 and 1982. It was partially done to make the retrofit the building for earthquakes as well as provide some needed cosmetic changes.
Today's neo-classical building draws from earlier designs in the U.S. State Capitol Building and several other older state buildings. A central feature of the building is a portico opening into a grand rotunda which leads to a dome. A series of granite archways and fluted Cornithian columns support and brace the portico. The dome itself is 210 feet high or about the height of a fourteen story building.
To fully admire the beauty of the building you need to walk completely around it. I suggest starting on the west side of the building and then circling south to N Street and then around the building to L Street and back. While the other views are not quite as magnificent as the west view it provides some great views of the dome framed by some beautiful trees.
For a great history of the State Capitol building and its construction visit the below web site.
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Farmers Market- Caesar Chavez Plaza
Farm fresh produce is sometimes hard to find when you are visiting the downtown of a big city. Well if you happen to be in downtown Sacramento on a Wednesday during the spring to early fall be sure to drop by Caesar Chavez Plaza for one of the larger farmers markets in the area. This certified farmers market brings in fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers, cheeses and baked goods from the surrounding area. It is open every Wednesday from at least 10 am to 2 pm. The market is provided by the Downtown Sacramento Partnership in coordination with certified farmers markets.
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Beautiful Capitol Park
Capitol Park, located just east of the State Capitol Building, is one of my favorite places in Sacramento. The park has trees from all over the world. There is a gorgeous rose garden that appears to be in bloom nearly the entire year. With its numerous concrete paths it is a place to stroll, reflect and relax. On weekdays it is a frequent place for legislative staffers and state employees to sit on a bench and enjoy their lunch.
The park also contains a number of memorials;
1) Civil War Memorial Grove- a little grove contained trees from the famous battlefields of the Civil War which was planted here in 1897.
2) California Vietnam Veterans Memorial- A touching memorial containing bronze statues showing military life in Vietnam and a memorial to the men and women who lost their life there. ( See Special Page on Memorial)
3) California Fire Fighters Memorial- A memorial to the men and women who protect us from fire and to those who have lost their life fighting it.
4) Father Junipero Serra Memorial- A life like statue of the man who came to Spain as a missionary and who founded a string of twenty one missions in California in the 1700's.
Capitol Park is open all week from sunrise to after sunset. There are no picnic tables in the park and alcoholic beverages are not allowed.
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Gorgeous Italian Renaissance Cathedral
Partially because it is so hidden by other surroundings buildings few tourists and even City residents ever visit the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. To miss doing so is indeed a mistake of seeing something lovely.
The church was the dream of Patrick Manogue who was also Sacramento's first bishop. He modeled the church after L'Eglise de la Sainte-Trinite (The Church of the Holy Trinity) in Paris. He wanted a church downtown that was close to the State Capitol. After securing a site the church was completed in 1889. At the time and for many years there after it was the largest church of its size west of the Mississippi River.
Architecturally the church is considered to be of Italian Renaissance style. The church tower reaches to 225 feet tall. The church is approximately 100 feet wide and 200 feet long and seats about 1,400 people.
A major renovation of the church began in 2003. It added additional chapels, a gorgeous hanging crucifix and the dome was reopened and painted. The completion in 2005 resulted in a beautiful interior that is indeed a community jewel.
The church is open for tours after mass on Wednesdays at approximately 12:40 p.m. and Sunday at 11:40 a.m. There is no charge for the tour but donations are welcome. Private tours and group tours are available upon request and adequate notice by contacting the church
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The Eagle Theater is relatively easy to spot. It almost looks like a small school house from its exterior. However this unpretenious little building is actually a reconstruction of the first theatre built in the State of California. I have only been in the building twice and on the day I came by to snap the picture I couldn't gain access to the building.
Rewind the clock to 1849 when the young town of Sacramento was nothing more than a tent city for adventurers on their way to the foothills to seek their fortune in the gold fields. The town had a large number of bars and gambling establishments but lacked in culture. So in 1849 an enterprising group of individuals started construction of the Eagle Theatre. When the building was completed later that year it was a small wooden frame, canvas colored building with a tin roof. The building was relocated after a severe flood in 1850 and fell into a general state of disrepair over the next few years.
In the early 1970's there was a great deal of work occurring to redevelop old Sacramento and make it a tourist attraction. The Junior League working with other local groups was instrumental in securing funding for construction of a new Eagle Theatre. In 1974 the new theatre opened. After some problems and ownership changes the California Department of Parks and Recreation took over control of the Eagle Theatre in 1996. They continue to operate it today.
During weekdays at the Eagle Theater there is a film shown to elementary school children about the history of Old Sacramento. During weekends on July and August the Eagle Theatre hosts authentic Melodramas, Variety Shows, Can-Can, and the Golden Melodeon Review hosted by Mark Twain and Uncle Sam from 11am to 5 pm.
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