There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sacramento's Southside Park from the bus

Sacramento author William Burg has written two books for Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" photo histories. Given the nature of this blog one would expect I would have started with Burg's first book, "Sacramento Streetcars," which the publisher promises "presents an aspect of local history hidden today under asphalt on many downtown streets: an era when Sacramentans could ride to the department stores on K Street, to Joyland in Oak Park, to the public baths in Land Park, or to the Alhambra Theatre—all for a 7¢ token."

But, no, instead I started with Burg's latest offering, "Sacramento' Southside Park."

For those unfamiliar with the format, the book is broken up into an introduction and eight chapters. Each chapter opens with a partial page of explanatory text, and the rest of the chapter is composed of historical photos and maps with lengthy captions.

Burg does a nice job, within the constraints of the book's format, to provide an interesting snapshot of the area of Sacramento that stretched generally from K Street south to Broadway (then Y Street) and from the river to around 14th Street.

Southside grew up around riverfront and the railyards as immigrants were drawn to the jobs in Sacramento. "The neighborhood's population," Burg says, "became a diverse mix of Portuguese, Italians, Slavs, Japanese, Chinese, Mexicans, Russians, and other ethic groups. During World War II, many African Americans moved to the Sacramento area seeking wartime employment. At about the same time, immigrants from India, in the region that is now Pakistan, moved to Sacramento and established the oldest mosque in the western United States."

But the diversity we would celebrate today had a different reality at the time.

"The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), whose loan programs made new homes in the suburbs possible for millions of Americans, instituted the policy of redlining risky neighborhoods. Neighborhoods were designated as risky if they were occupied by nonwhites or even considered likely to attract nonwhite residents. ... As loans became harder to obtain, people were less able to improve their homes and neighborhoods became more dilapidated."

Eventually, the city turned this blight into an economic opportunity.

"Redevelopment programs were developed by the federal government to to replace substandard housing for the poor with new, high-quality housing," Burg says. "However, most cities, including Sacramento, used these programs to expand the central business district. New housing units produced by the programs were for fewer than the number of units destroyed during redevelopment, and often the replacement unites were far more expensive than the neighborhood's original housing." As Burg explains, the revitalization of the city business district was a financial success, "But the neighborhoods, and the people who lived there, were gone."

I'm being unfair in focusing my discussion of the book on this example of economic injustice that burdened this area. The book is filled with the faces of people who lived and prospered in the area, ethnic organizations that sustained communities and civic improvement efforts that continue today.

Reading the book, you thirst for more. The snapshots, frozen in time, suggest a larger story, a historical novel perhaps that could bring to life these people who defined Sacramento's Southside Park.

Now I will have to order Burg's "Sacramento Streetcars."

As a postscript I have to add this photo:

This is the only known photo of "The Arizona Gang," a legendary band of young toughs from the 1880s so famous for its nefarious activities that the section of Southside south of R Street was named the "Arizona District."

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