Jane’s Walk in Southside Park

On Sunday, author of “Sacramento’s Southside Park” and board member of the Sacramento Old City Association (SOCA) William Burg led a walking tour of Southside Park and the surrounding area.

“The tours stemmed from Jane’s Walk USA, a national organization that began in 2007 using neighborhood walking tours as a way to help people get in touch with their environment,” said Kay Knepprath, event coordinator and fellow board member of SOCA.

This is the event’s second year in Sacramento. The tour of Southside Park was one in a series of five tours that occurred throughout Sacramento on Saturday and Sunday.

While the morning was a bit gray and chilly, a group of about 20 gathered together just inside Southside Park at Callahan Bandstand – the designated meeting point – near Seventh and T streets for the two-hour event.

Callahan Bandstand.

As the group was waiting for a few more walkers, Citrus Heights resident Maria Burg, mother of William Burg, explained that while she was there in support of her son, she was also very interested in the history of the area being toured.

“I used to work downtown near this area, and we would always take walks during lunch, but we never quite made it over here,” Maria Burg said. “So, I’m really interested in walking around the area and hearing all about the history of the place and the neighborhood.”

William Burg began the walk just a little after 10 a.m. by saying, “The theme of the walk today, and all other walks, is how neighborhoods function and work. Jane Jacobs was not an urban planner, rather just a woman who, after moving to New York, had fallen in love with the sidewalks and streets that people walked and lived on.”

“In the past, urban planners such as Robert Moses felt that cities were places to work and shop, not live, and the areas they built often reflected that,” William Burg said. But he also noted how the people of a neighborhood greatly contributed to the growth and development of the areas they lived in, as was the case with Southside Park.

He said that it was in the early 1900s when Southside Park first really started to grow and professionalize. It was then that a group of local immigrants, wanting to make the neighborhood a better and safer place to live, formed the Southside Improvement Club.

The organization worked to accomplish a number of things, including closing down the old city incinerator on Front Street and removing the R Street levee to build a new one on Broadway. The club also encouraged the streetcar company to extend a line to Southside and, of course, convinced the city to create a park.

William Burg said that the area where Southside Park was built was originally made up of a vegetable garden, small peach orchard and small depression that stayed damp most of the year.

The owner of the latter portion, G.O. Hayford, wrote the city of Sacramento when he heard that planners wanted to include a pond in the park. Hayford thought that particular area of land would be easiest to convert, as it was already waterlogged.

The city began acquiring land for the park in 1906, and it was essentially completed by 1912.

“While development and redevelopment are large contributors to the change and growth of a neighborhood, transportation is also a strong factor,” he said. “Our own California Robert Moseses decided that the block between W and X streets would be an excellent place for Highway 50. The freeway now covers what was once a quarter of the park, which also took out two blocks of the neighborhood and a number of local community venues.”

William Burg said that while the freeway took away so much of the park, the neighborhood has adapted by making use of the large space under the freeway for the biggest farmers market in the city of Sacramento, which is held every Sunday morning.

As the group walked along, just past the freeway entrances near Sixth and W streets was a Japanese Tenrikyo Church next to an Italian and Portuguese club known as Tony Beretta’s. It was there that William Burg discussed how the neighborhood was a sort of League of Nations made up of various immigrant cultures including Italians, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese and more.

Because it was one of the few areas where non-whites were allowed to buy property, William Burg pointed out that many immigrant groups were able to form longstanding ethnic neighborhoods here.

While on the walk, the group was invited into a local mosque, which turned out to be the oldest mosque in the western United States, built by immigrants from what is now Pakistan, according to an imam there.

“Southside in the ’50s was changing a lot, and you’ll notice that all of these areas are mixed up. Some of them changed over time, but for the most part, this is a neighborhood where people were pretty much cheek-by-jowl,” William Burg said.

Farther down the street, the group was introduced to the different forms of housing. William Burg said that in the mid-19th to mid-20th century, land was very expensive, and people got around by walking or horsecart. So, an efficiently built neighborhood needed small and narrow lots for homes, which is where the Italianate row house style came in.

He then pointed out how, as the the area developed for electric streetcars, the neighborhoods became wider and got more bungalow-style housing, which had a broader roof and wider lot, which were apparent just across the street.

The group then made its way to Fourth and T streets, and William Burg said that in the mid-1960s many displaced people from downtown neighborhoods affected by redevelopment moved to the area.

A part of that population included prostitutes, who helped to give the corner the nickname “Hooker Hollow.” During that time, the neighborhood pulled together to combat prostitution and improve the living environment for the whole community.

Catherine O’Brien, director of business development for Stanford’s television station, was also on the tour that morning and mentioned that she had recently moved back to Sacramento.

“My husband is an artist and has a studio in the area,” she said. “So when we were looking for homes, a Realtor showed us property here, which we were really opposed to initially based on the history of the area. In the end, we realized what a different place it was now and currently live in a newly built infill home not too far from here.”

The group walked on working its way back to the original meeting area, where William Burg pointed out how the construction and development of Southside Park is similar to a number of other areas in Sacramento and across the nation, which was about building a heart – a desirable location such as a park – for a neighborhood to grow around.

For more information on the walks, visit the Jane’s Walks USA or SOCA websites.

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