Boulevard Park History
The origins of a residential neighborhood called “Boulevard Park” date back to 1905, when the land previously used for the California State Fair’s stock grounds and racetrack (then known as “Agricultural Park”) was cleared and subdivided into lots of varying sizes, all contained within the area bounded by B, H, 20th and 23rd Streets. Properties sold fast. Single-family dwellings were followed by multiple family residences—duplexes, fourplexes, and, starting in the 1920s, the occasional apartment building. Larger homes were on the south side of the development, not far from the H Street trolley line. Smaller ones—including the popular five-room bungalows—tended to be on the north side near the railroad tracks along the B Street levee. As stipulated by its creators, the entire development originally was strictly residential, lacking any shops or businesses.
Distinctive landscape features of Boulevard Park include the grassy, tree-filled median strips running down the centers of 21st and 22nd Streets and the three large “center block parks” shared by the residents whose homes surround them. A fourth alley park, indicated in the original plans for the neighborhood, was never realized.
Residential development around the south side of Agricultural Park, predating Boulevard Park, was spurred by the existence of the fairgrounds as well as the construction of a horse-drawn trolley line along H Street connecting the downtown Central Pacific Railroad passenger station to the fairgrounds, eventually extending to what is now McKinley Park. Most Victorian-era homes in the Boulevard Park area date from this period.
Boulevard Park is home to two historic districts. One, on the National Register of Historic Places, celebrates the original Boulevard Park development on the former site of Agricultural Park. The other, on the Sacramento Register of Historic and Cultural Resources, incudes the Boulevard Park subdivision as well as residential development to the south and east made possible by the trolley line.
Key Dates in Greater Boulevard Park History
Prior to the early-1800s – The Valley Nisenan people (or Southern Maidu), a Native American tribe, live by hunting, fishing, and gathering in the fertile drainages of the Bear, Yuba, and American Rivers down to the Sacramento River. The southern portion of what is now the City of Sacramento is controlled by the Plains Miwok people. Both the Nisenan and Miwok participate in an extensive east-west trade network between the Pacific coast and the Great Basin to the east of the Sierra Nevada.
1769 to 1822 – Spanish control Alta California, including the Mission settlement period.
1823 – Following the Mexican Revolution, the Mexican Republic is declared which includes Alta California.
1824 to 1847 – The Mexican Republic grants large tracts of land in the interior to Mexican citizens in California (Californios) to increase the population away from the more settled coastal areas where the Spanish settlements had been concentrated.
1839 – Captain John Sutter arrives in California and is allowed by the Spanish Governor to lay claim to land in the Central Valley to establish his new empire, in an area encompassing the present Sacramento city boundaries.
August 12, 1839 – Sutter lands on the American River at a site just northwest of the area. Construction of Sutter’s Fort, southeast of the area, begins two years later. Native American labor is used for much of the fort’s construction and operation.
January 24, 1848 – Gold is discovered by James Marshall at a sawmill under construction for John Sutter in the foothills of the Sierras, bringing a surge of prospectors in the California Gold Rush of 1849.
1849 – the City of Sacramento is established. Captain William H. Warner, aided by future Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman, surveys and lays out Sacramento's street grid, including a system of public squares. One of these squares, later known as Grant Park, is bounded by B, C, 21st, and 22nd Streets.
September 9, 1850 – California becomes the 31st State.
1852 – The State Agricultural Society holds its first meeting and prepares for the first State Agricultural Fair to be held in San Francisco in 1854. The State Fair is held in Sacramento in 1855 and later in 1859 after being held at other locations.
1860 – The State Agricultural Society receives $15,000 from the state to purchase land bounded by E, H, 20th, and 23rd Streets to establish livestock stables and pavilions for 400 animals. The Agricultural Park becomes the first permanent location of the California State Fair, held every September. Part of the grounds is a half-mile horse racing track, which operates seasonally. The second grant of $25,000 is issued to construct a brick wall along the perimeter of the grounds.
1861 – The American Civil War breaks out. California joins the Union side. In support of the Union, the Agricultural Park racetrack is named Union Park Racecourse, operated by the Union Park Association.
July 1, 1862 – The Pacific Railroad Act is signed by President Lincoln enabling the Central Pacific Railroad to construct its portion of the nation’s first Transcontinental Railroad, part of which is built on the levee along B Street in Sacramento.
1862 – The Union Park Association and the State Agricultural Society purchase 6 blocks of land to the north—bounded by C, E, 20th, and 23rd Streets—to enable enlargement of the racecourse to a complete 1 mile.
1869 – The completed Transcontinental Railroad links Sacramento to the East. As a lure to easterners in the following years, the Agricultural Park is advertised as a resort. State Fair activities expand and gain popularity.
1871 – A new horse-drawn streetcar line is constructed to improve access to the fairgrounds, which brought visitors from the Central Pacific passenger depot downtown to the fairgrounds on H Street, terminating at East Park (renamed McKinley Park in 1902). Streetcar lines are electrified in the 1890s. Streetcar service down H Street spurs Sacramento’s eastward expansion.
1872 – Leland Stanford, one of the legendary Big Four railroad magnates and President of the Central Pacific Railroad, approaches photography pioneer Eadweard Muybridge to confirm with documentary photographs whether a trotting horse had all four hooves off the ground at once. Some of these earliest photographic experiments were undertaken at the Union Park Racecourse in Sacramento in May 1872. Muybridge produces the famous high-speed photograph of Governor Leland Stanford’s prize-winning racehorse named Occident, showing all four hooves off the ground at the same time. After additional photographic experiments in Sacramento in 1873, 1876, and 1877, Muybridge creates high-speed photographic emulsions and shutter systems of an “astonishing speed” of 1/1000 of a second. This immediately precedes his creation of serial photography and early forms of motion pictures.
More about Eadward Muybridge and the Union Park Racecourse Historian details Sacramento's horse racing past
1897 – The Capital City Wheelmen, the first bicycle club in the greater Sacramento area, establish bicycle racing at the Union Park Racecourse as the sport gains popularity.
1903 – The first automobile races are held at Union Park Racecourse but are limited to Friday mornings.
September 1904 – The last State Fair is held at Agricultural Park. The State Fair begins operation at a larger site on Stockton Boulevard in 1909.
December 21, 1904 – Agricultural Park is sold to Park Realty Company by contractor James McGillivray. The grandstand is demolished, and the land is graded for new residential land use in an expanding city.
1905 – Together with real estate firm Wright & Kimbrough, the Park Realty Company lays out residential lots for sale in a development named “Boulevard Park,” one of Sacramento’s first subdivisions. As an amenity, 21st and 22nd Streets are made wider to create median parkways. The new residential community is marketed for its concrete sidewalks, modern utilities, and alley park centers in three of its blocks (the alley park between F, G, 20th, and 21st Streets, shown in the map below, is never realized).
July 17, 1905 – The first 35 lots are sold in the Boulevard Park subdivision. As an incentive to establish a residential presence in the area, special builder’s rebates are offered for houses built within a year. New homes under construction demonstrate the Colonial Revival, Neoclassic, Cube, Prairie, and Craftsman styles popular at the time.
1906 to 1909 – Development of the Western Pacific Railway between 19th and 20th Streets results in the relocation of over 100 homes from the area west of Boulevard Park.
1907 – The main freight line of the Northern Electric Railway (later reorganized as Sacramento Northern) begins operation down C Street through Boulevard Park to McKinley Park and south on 31st Street (later renamed Alhambra Blvd.). A streetcar line from downtown is added as part of the lease agreement, ending at 18th Street.
1910 – The First Park Center Club is founded for the alley park bounded by G, H, 20th, and 21st Streets. The corporation’s purpose is to “engage in and promote outdoor and indoor sports…”
1912 – Boulevard Park’s fire station (E. C. Hemmings, architect) at 417 20th Street, originally known as Chemical Company No. 3, is completed and is intended to serve the north side of the city.
1912 – The East Boulevard Park subdivision, bounded by C, E, 23rd, and 25th Streets, is opened for lot and home sales by Wright & Kimbrough on land that had been an asparagus field.
1913 – Northern Electric’s C Street streetcar line is extended eastward to serve Boulevard Park and East Boulevard Park, connecting downtown to McKinley Park.
1920 – The shelling plant of the California Almond Growers Exchange (later renamed Blue Diamond Growers) is constructed at 1809 C Street (George C. Sellon & Co., architects).
1925 – Plant 11 of the California Packing Corporation (Cal-Pak), later owned by Del Monte, is constructed at 1721 C Street (Philip Bush, architect). Later, the California Almond Growers Exchange is expanded to include the Cal-Pak plant.
The 1940s and after World War II – Many of the larger single-family homes are converted into group living facilities, such as boarding houses, care homes, guest homes, and recovery centers.
1946 – Streetcar service in Boulevard Park ends.
1953 – Sacramento Northern’s heavy rail freight traffic on C Street ends as the route is de-electrified.
The 1960s and 1970s – Some older homes are razed and replaced with apartment buildings, especially along with lettered streets that have deeper lots.
The 1970s – Boulevard Park and nearby residential neighborhoods begin a wave of gentrification and urban renewal, with homeowners taking an increased interest in rehabilitating their properties.
1982 – The Boulevard Park Neighborhood Association is founded. Early issues involve zoning and land use, crime prevention, architectural preservation, and quality of life for neighborhood residents.
1985 – The Sacramento City Council adopts Ordinance 85-076, designating the Boulevard Park Historic District along with nineteen other historic districts (then called “preservation areas”), later to be included in the Sacramento Register of Historic and Cultural Resources.
1988 – The 15th annual Home Tour of the Sacramento Old City Association (now Preservation Sacramento) features nine Boulevard Park homes.
1990 – A casual conversation during a Fourth of July gathering leads to musing about the history of the neighborhood and to the revival of the Boulevard Park Neighborhood Association, an organization committed to improving the quality of life for Midtown residents, and to exploring and sharing the history of their homes with others.
December 1990 – The first issue of “The Preservation Times” is published by the Historic Boulevard Park Committee, consisting of Deborah Condon, Marilyn Dressler, Judy Peterson, Edward Cox, Margaret Buss, and Charlie and Julie Sneed.
December 16, 1990 – The first annual Boulevard Park Neighborhood Association Holiday Party is held at the home of Ralph Bonds and Sherry Hopkins-Bonds in the 2100 block of H Street.
February 1, 1991 – The first “official” Board of the revived Boulevard Park Neighborhood Association is formed. The officers are Charlsey Cartwright, Charlie Snead, Dale Kooyman, David Ripley, Vincent Bezdecheck, and Bill Wemple.
July 1991 – BPNA volunteers, together with the Sacramento Tree Foundation, plant over 75 trees throughout the neighborhood.
September 1991 – Eleven Boulevard Park homes are open to the public for the 18th annual Sacramento Old City Association (now Preservation Sacramento) Home Tour.
October 4, 1991 – BPNA celebrates its one-year anniversary at the Hart Senior Center.
1994 – The brochure Boulevard Park: A Walking Tour is developed by the Historic Boulevard Park Committee members Margaret Buss, Deborah Condon, Ed Cox, Karen Goldsmith, and John Skarstad. The brochure includes 19 Boulevard Park homes, with hand-drawn images, history, and architectural information on each home and on the neighborhood as a whole.
1996 – The Sacramento City Council approves implementation of the Neighborhood Preservation Transportation Plan (NPTP), a pilot program to calm traffic in Central City residential neighborhoods.
September 1997 – G and H Streets are converted to two-way streets with bike lanes.
2003 – The 29th annual Home Tour of the Sacramento Old City Association (now Preservation Sacramento) features homes in Boulevard Park and Marshall School neighborhoods.
2004 – BPNA begins a year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the historic Boulevard Park subdivision.
2007 – The 34th annual Home Tour of the Sacramento Old City Association (now Preservation Sacramento) is held in Boulevard Park.
October 3, 2011 – The original Boulevard Park subdivision, located on the footprint of the former Union Park Racecourse, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, based on Master’s thesis research conducted by local historian William Burg.
December 2019 – The Sacramento City Council adopts additions to the city’s Boulevard Park Historic District along with changes to other historic districts, as well as Sacramento Historic District Plans.
Boulevard Park Historic District Brief Historic Context
Based on a chronology created by Boulevard Park residents Ed Cox and Deborah Condon with augmentations from the late historian Leslie Crow, the firm of Page & Turnbull, and historian William Burg.
C Street streetcar line at 23rd Street (1913).
Chemical Company No. 3 on 20th Street.
Looking north from 21st and G Streets (1910).
Views of Agricultural Park from the promotional brochure published by the Sacramento Bee in 1894, Where California Fruits Grow.
BPNA Annual Spaghetti Dinner (September 2004).
Sacramento's Boulevard Park
by Paula Boghosian
Available at www.arcadiapublishing.com
KCRA Video - Sacramento's Horse Racing Past
1873 Map of the City of Sacramento showing Agricultural Park, the Central Pacific's Transcontinental Railroad alignment along B Street, and the H Street streetcar line.