Boulevard Park Historic District

Brief Historic Context

Sacramento Historic District Plans (November 2019)

Development of the blocks that became Boulevard Park began with the State Agricultural Society’s decision to make Sacramento the permanent home of the State Fair in 1861. At that time, a plot of land – bounded by E, H, 20th, and 22nd streets – was set aside as the location for the State Fair’s fairgrounds. The fairgrounds included a racetrack and stock grounds and were quickly expanded in 1862 to include an additional six blocks between B, E, 20th, and 22nd streets. A new horse-drawn streetcar line was constructed in 1871 to improve access to the fairgrounds, which brought visitors from the Central Pacific passenger depot downtown to the fairgrounds on H Street.

The start of streetcar service down H Street spurred Sacramento’s eastward expansion. Residential development up until this period had been primarily concentrated in the central business district downtown, where the commercial waterfront, railyards, industries, and state government offices were located. The availability of employment opportunities attracted large numbers of people to the downtown area who not only worked in the businesses downtown but often lived in the immediate area. The introduction of streetcars in the late nineteenth century shifted residential development to outlying areas of the city. New residences and businesses, including some of the most prominent homes in Sacramento, sprang up along the streetcar line on H Street. The emergence of residential suburbs to the east of downtown accelerated with the electrification of the city’s streetcar system in 1890.

In 1905, the State Fair moved to newer, larger fairgrounds southwest of the city, and the old fairgrounds were sold to the Park Realty Company. The fair’s relocation left behind an ideal situation for the creation of a new residential neighborhood: several lots of available land inside the city limits, in an already established neighborhood with ready access to streetcar service, city sewers, and city water supplies. Together with real estate firm Wright and Kimbrough, the company took charge of subdividing and selling lots in the new development. Lots on the southern end, which were closer to the streetcar line, were larger and more expensive than those that were farther north and close to the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. In a time when zoning restrictions had not yet come into existence, deed restrictions were placed on the four largest blocks in the southern end in order to encourage the creation of a quiet, uniform, residential neighborhood. The restrictions prohibited non-residential development, the construction of multi-family properties, and relocation of older houses. They also stipulated that houses had to be set back twenty-five feet from the sidewalk and no closer than three feet to the lots on either side.

Wright and Kimbrough’s design for Boulevard Park also called for several notable landscaped features that reflected the influence of the “City Beautiful” movement, which had been introduced at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and sought to create modern, ordered, park-like cities and neighborhoods. In accordance with these principles, Boulevard Park was laid out along two wide boulevards, 21st and 22nd streets, each of which featured landscaped central medians that were planted with Canary Island date palms, Gingko biloba trees, and Mexican fan palms. The streets were also lined with landscaped parking strips in which rows of street trees were planted. English elms and sycamores were the most common trees planted along the streets, but other vegetation was also used. Among the most innovative elements of plans for the subdivision was the decision to create small 100 by 140-foot parks in the center alleys behind the four largest blocks on the subdivision’s south end. Ultimately, only three of these “alley parks” were completed, all of which have survived in the present historic district. Additional greenspace was provided by turning a block between C, B, 21st, and 22nd streets, which had been donated to the City by John A. Sutter Jr. in the nineteenth century for use as a public plaza, into Grant Park.

Boulevard Park’s “City Beautiful” design also integrated Progressive reform ideals. While lots on the development’s southern edge, which were larger and closer to the streetcar lines, were intended to attract affluent residents, the smaller, less expensive lots on its northern edge offered working-class residents the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of suburban living at an affordable price. In addition, the subdivision enjoyed access to modern amenities, such as paved streets and sidewalks, modern plumbing, and use of the city’s sewers and water lines.

Wright and Kimbrough’s designs for a quiet, pastoral neighborhood were impeded by the expansion of streetcar and railroad services, which brought more noise and industrial development to the area. In 1907, the main freight line of the Northern Electric Railway began operation down C Street through Boulevard Park and added a second streetcar line as part of the lease agreement. Two years later, the Western Pacific Railroad opened a new transcontinental line that ran between 19th and 20th streets. As a result, several light industrial businesses were built on lots adjacent to the B Street rail line at the neighborhood’s northern edge. In spite of the disruption, the neighborhood was almost completely built up by 1915.

Because most of the parcels in Boulevard Park were developed during a relatively short and condensed period of time between 1905 and 1915, houses in the neighborhood were primarily built in the Arts and Crafts and Revival styles that were popular in the early twentieth century. Many of these were constructed in the Foursquare style, creating a unique concentration of these housing types in Sacramento.

Over the subsequent decades, several duplexes, apartments, and flats were constructed and a few older houses that predated the neighborhood were moved into Boulevard Park. Although these buildings did not conform to the original developer’s intention to create a neighborhood with a uniform character and design, the newly introduced buildings were compatible in scale and character to the rest of the neighborhood. In the decades after World War II, the end of streetcar service to the area in 1946 and exodus of affluent residents from the city center to suburbs outside the city limits transformed Boulevard Park from a mixed-income suburb into a working class neighborhood.

Prepared for the City of Sacramento, Community Development Department by Page & Turbull, Inc.