“Sacramento’s Urban Pioneers” at Midtown Village Cafe

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In the 1970s, a wave of young people, including Sacramento State students and state employees, moved to Sacramento’s central city, drawn by inexpensive rents, beautiful homes and tree-lined streets. Many shared an interest in craftsmanship, sharing techniques to restore older homes and create unique works of art, and used these skills to fix up their own houses or started businesses to help others turn faded homes back into gems. Tim Holt, publisher of Sacramento’s Suttertown News weekly newspaper, called them “Sacramento’s Urban Pioneers–New People in Old Houses.” They left a legacy of art, craftsmanship, entrepeneurship, neighborhood activism, and restored historic homes. Join us for a presentation by Susan Ballew of photos capturing life in Midtown before the term "Midtown" had been coined, followed by a panel discussion featuring stained glass artist Mickey Abbey, Suttertown News publisher Tim Holt, and home restorers Bob and Roberta Rakela.

Challenges faced during this era included disinterest in maintaining central city neighborhoods by the city of Sacramento, whose redevelopment plans considered Victorias and bungalows "obsolete forms of housing," problems obtaining home loans from banks due to redlining, and the technical difficulties of repairing century-old homes by hand. The panel will share some of their stories of tenacity, creativity and celebration. They connected with each other and formed organizations to promote a better quality of life in Sacramento’s urban core, and protection for these historic neighborhoods, that have survived to the present day. Their efforts also marked the turning point for Sacramento’s central city, and facilitated its transition from a disused neighborhood targeted for demolition into the cultural and entertainment destination for our region, and home to thousands of Sacramentans willing to pay a premium to live among the restored architectural treasures that line Midtown streets.

The Preservation Roundtable will also feature presentations by Friends of the McClatchy Library about their new book Memories of McClatchy Library, Sacramento County Historical Society’s new book Daisy’s Legacy and upcoming Taste of History event, preservation project updates by City of Sacramento Preservation Director Roberta Deering, and updates about the Sacramento Intermodal Depot’s planned rehab and expansion by City of Sacramento Senior Architect Greg Taylor.

Sacramento Preservation Roundtable "Sacramento’s Urban Pioneers"

Saturday, December 8

9:00 AM-Noon

Midtown Village Cafe, 1827 I Street, Sacramento

Brunch, coffee, beer and wine are available for purchase. There is no price for admission and this event is open to the public.

The Sacramento Preservation Roundtable is a quarterly forum for local history and historic preservation organizations, hosted by Sacramento Old City Association. For more information about SOCA, visit http://www.sacoldcity.org.

Note: The astute and cynical will note that a marketing organization called "Sacramento Regional Marketing Campaign" used the name "Urban Pioneers" as part of a campaign to attract Bay Area young professionals to Sacramento about ten years ago, in the wake of the dot-com bust. This earlier use dates from the mid-1970s, and the "pioneer" of that era was considerably less plastic, more crafty, and if the photos for this presentation were any indication, a lot hairier.

  • David Watts Barton

    Nice, William. I moved downtown in 1980 and lived there, on and off (or nearby) for the next 30 years.

    But this raises another question for me: What are we, or “the City of Sacramento,” ignoring or neglecting NOW that we will later regret or come to value?

    • William Burg

      As a region, we’re ignoring and neglecting our farmland and open space, by continuing plans to turn it into new suburbs! Another reason why this generation moved to the central city was to live closer to the place where they worked, instead of distant suburbs–what we now call “New Urbanism” before the term existed. A return to the center puts investment and attention back in the urban core instead of the periphery. There are two reasons why this is the most critical development issue in the region–recent efforts to promote our region’s agricultural industries are undercut if we keep turning farmland into suburbs. We can’t stay the “Farm to Fork Capital” if the farms keep getting farther away from the forks. It’s useful to note that, in 1950, Los Angeles County was the #1 producing agricultural county in the state–a status they lost as the orange groves and farms gave way to suburbs. Even Los Angeles is turning away from sprawl and reinvesting in its core city–we can learn from their mistakes!

      The other, even more critical issue is flood prevention: the more concrete and asphalt we put on top of valley soil, the less water the land can absorb, increasing the likelihood of flood, and the bigger, more complex levee systems we must build to protect that vast horizontal expanse. As I’m sure you witnessed last month in New York, mother nature trumps human nature–if we don’t limit our flood risk, we risk losing the treasures of the built environment, our economic base, and the people and places that make up our city’s culture. Related to that is the issue of carbon footprint and climate change: the single most effective thing you can do to reduce it is live closer to work and drive less. “Green” housing, high-efficiency appliances, hybrid or electric cars, etcetera, all pale in comparison to simply having a short commute and walking more often. The folks talking on Saturday figured this out 40 years ago, and it has taken this long for the message to reach the mainstream.

      Compare Portland to Sacramento. About 30 years ago, Portland established an urban growth boundary, invested in transit and rebuilding their urban core. At about the same time, Sacramento built a basketball arena atop a rice field and planned for more suburbs on farmland. Today, which city has a better reputation for urbanity, vitality, and culture?

    • R.V. Scheide

      South Sacramento.

  • David H. Lukenbill

    Nice article William.

    I was one of those who moved to midtown in the 1970’s, working at Sacramento City Colelge and renting the lovely old two story house with wide porch ten feet above the sidealk, and garage so narrow the only cars that could get in was VW size, off Capital Avenue and 26th Street.

    I remember Juilian’s Kitchen real well, ate there a lot, she became a riend and we followed her to Mums on Freeport, and Mario’s Italian Cellar, what a great place that was.

    Nice memories all around from Midtown and Sacramento back then, so thank you.