Boulevard Park Historic District
The Boulevard Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a draft of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2014, The Gombach Group.
Streetcar Suburbs were a common form of residential development in the United States from the 1830s through the 1920s. Powered by horses and mules, small steam locomotives, steam-powered cable cars, and finally electricity, streetcars allowed American cities to expand beyond typical pedestrian ranges. The first commuter suburbs were intended for the relatively wealthy, but over time streetcars became affordable to gradually less affluent segments of American society, eventually becoming available to tradespeople and skilled laborers. Suburban development required streetcars to move new suburban residents to their workplaces and commercial districts, and often the same investor owned both streetcar and land company. Electrification, from the late 1880s on, provided higher speeds, allowing greater horizontal growth of streetcar suburbs, and another product to sell residential customers: electric power. The most successful streetcar magnates, like Henry Huntington in Los Angeles, owned both a streetcar company, a real estate company, and an electric power company. Often, the streetcar company was marginal or operated at a loss, but the profits from the other two companies more than made up the difference.
With the advent of paved streets and the growth of automobile ownership, streetcars became less of an essential component of suburb development. Paving and automobiles made spaces between streetcar lines easier to sell, and required less infrastructure investment. As American urban planners moved towards single-use zoning and larger lot sizes, streetcar lines in low-density suburbs could not carry sufficient passengers to remain profitable, and many were abandoned after developments were completely built out and subsidy to the streetcar line was no longer available. The 1935 Public Utilities Holding Company Act prevented utility holding companies from managing more than one public utility at a time. This encouraged power companies to sell or abandon their streetcar lines, as they could no longer conceal their relatively low receipts, especially in the face of competition from public-subsidized paved streets and private automobiles. The Great Depression and World War II slowed and sometimes halted the growth of American suburbs and their streetcar lines, and the era following the war saw the nearly complete replacement of streetcar suburbs with automobile suburbs. Streetcar suburbs close to urban centers often became part of the urban center, with higher residential densities and conversion to multi-unit housing and office uses. Those farther from city centers were often adapted to become automobile suburbs, or suffered economically due to a lack of effective transportation within the development.
The blocks within the Boulevard Park Historic District were originally platted out for John Sutter Jr. in 1849, as part of Sutter Junior's plan to sell lots to settlers coming to Sacramento as part of the California Gold Rush. Streets were originally laid out at regular 320 foot intervals with 80 foot streets. This street pattern is still found throughout Sacramento's original city limits. Prior to 1849, they were part of the New Helvetia land grant held by John Sutter Sr., granted in 1839 by the Governor of California to Sutter. Prior to Sutter's arrival, the area in the vicinity of the district was the land of the Nisenan (or Southern Maidu,) a Native American tribe.
The first California State Fair was held in 1854 in San Francisco, under the auspices of the California State Agricultural Society, founded the same year by the California state legislature. In 1861, the State Agricultural Society voted to make Sacramento the permanent home of the State Fair, and obtained a plot of land between E, H, 20th and 22nd Streets to use as stock grounds and a racetrack. This plot was expanded in 1862 with an additional six-block lot running between B, E, 20th and 22nd Streets. In 1870, a horse-drawn streetcar line was built from the Central Pacific passenger depot downtown to the fairgrounds along H Street, terminating at East Park on 31st Street. The streetcar helped visitors reach the fairgrounds, but also drove residential development along the streetcar route. Some of Sacramento's most prominent homes, including that of Albert Gallatin at 1526 H Street (later the California Governor's Mansion) were located along the streetcar line. Electrification of the streetcar lines in the 1890s, and the growth of Sacramento's industrial waterfront, accelerated the growth of middle-class streetcar suburbs towards the eastern end of the city.
In 1905, the California State Fair relocated to a new, larger site on Stockton Boulevard. The Park Realty Company, under the management of Clinton L. White, purchased the racetrack property from the State Agricultural Society. Subdivision and sale of the property was promoted by the real estate firm of Wright and Kimbrough. Demolition and grading of the park took place shortly after the conclusion of the 1905 State Fair. The property was originally intended as an entirely residential subdivision, with no non-residential lots. Prices for Boulevard Park lots varied widely. The smallest 40 by 80 foot lots on the north end of the property, adjacent to the busy Southern Pacific railroad tracks, cost $300. The four blocks on the south end, from F to H Street between 20th and 22nd, featured the largest lots, 60 by 100 feet, selling for as high as $1,725. These four blocks also had additional deed restrictions. They were to be used exclusively for residence purposes, only one house was to be erected per lot, the house would cost no less than $2,500 and two stories in height, no relocated old buildings, no flats or double houses, and no fences in the front yards. The houses also had to have a 25 foot setback from the house to the sidewalk, at least 11 feet from the front porch steps to the sidewalk, and no building nearer than three feet to the adjoining lots on either side. All four blocks were originally platted to have small 100 by 140 foot parks located in the center of each block, but only three of these alley parks were created. For unknown reasons (possibly due to the construction of Grant Park) one of the parks was never created and the property was added to the back lots of the adjacent property owners.
Sale of lots in Boulevard Park began on July 17, 1905. According to Wright & Kimbrough advertisements printed on July 19, thirty-five lots, primarily along 21st Street, were sold on the first day of sale. According to the same article, Henry C. Stevens, electrician with the Central California Electric Company, purchased the first lot. According to a July 22 advertisement, only six lots remained on the 21st Street boulevard. Construction of new houses on the Boulevard Park lots began in late 1905, according to Sacramento building and plumbing permit records. On August 12, 1905, an advertisement promised a 5%-10% rebate to any purchaser who completed a house on the lot prior to July 1, 1906. The amount on the rebate was based on the expense of the house constructed on the lot; more expensive houses received a larger rebate. On September 1, 1905, Wright & Kimbrough offered reduced prices for a lot on 20th Street, reiterating their rebate offer. This hard-sell strategy suggests the developer's interest in seeing the neighborhood develop quickly. Wright & Kimbrough's construction of many buildings on the lot, rather than waiting to sell the lots to individual customers, reinforces this desire to quickly fill the neighborhood with homes. Despite this hard-sell approach, the sale of all of the unimproved lots took years.
In September 1907, the Northern Electric Railway, an electric interurban railroad, began operation between Chico and Sacramento. Its main freight line ran down C Street through Boulevard Park. As a condition of its street operation permit, Northern Electric operated a local streetcar that served Boulevard Park, providing service to downtown Sacramento and to McKinley Park, approximately one mile to the east of the district. While freight traffic on C Street may have been somewhat disruptive to Park Realty's future development plans, the trains were smaller and shorter than Southern Pacific's main line, which ran on an elevated berm on B Street a block away, and the second streetcar line provided an amenity to make up for the increase in noise and street traffic. Northern Electric's streetcar and interurban line to downtown Sacramento started operation in October 1907, but through freight traffic on C Street did not begin until the completion of the belt line in 1910.
In 1909, a transcontinental steam railroad, Western Pacific, entered Sacramento running between 19th and 20th Street. While this railroad operated outside of the Boulevard Park district, the operation of a steam railroad half a block away from the district, and the resulting increase in industrial uses adjacent to the railroad, meant the neighborhood became less quiet and pastoral than Wright & Kimbrough's original intent. However, limitations on commercial use, included as conditions on property deeds, meant that the firm's advertising motto of "No stores, no saloons, no wash houses, no wood yards" within the district was mostly accurate. Along the neighborhood's northern edge, several light industrial customers set up shop in lots adjacent to the B Street railroad berm, including a plumbing shop on the alley between B and C Street.
Despite these industrial intrusions, Boulevard Park lots sold briskly, especially on the southern edge of the neighborhood. Lots on the northern edge were relatively affordable to tradesmen, while the larger lots were within the price range of Sacramento's upper middle class. Much of the neighborhood was built out by 1915, with 162 surviving buildings in the district having a construction date of 1915 or earlier. Construction of some lots continued throughout the district's period of significance, with 74 surviving buildings in the district constructed between 1916 and 1946. Despite the developers' initial prohibition against double houses or flats, several duplexes and apartment buildings were built, universally of dimensions, architectural style and character compatible with the neighborhood. At least three buildings constructed prior to 1905 were moved into the district from other parts of the city, relocated no later than 1915. These buildings were compatible in character and size with the district as built, if not in architectural style.
The design of Boulevard Park was the product of civil engineer William Mullenney, under the direction of Park Realty Company president Clinton L. White. Mullenney was a former City Surveyor of the City of Sacramento who also worked as a civil engineer. Mullenney designed the new neighborhood using the latest principles of "City Beautiful" design, including boulevards with landscaped medians, street trees, paved sidewalks and streets, modern plumbing and sewers, and both private and public parks. Lots were oriented towards the landscaped boulevards. The south end closest to the streetcar line had the largest, most expensive lots. Deed covenants prohibited business uses, front fences or barns, and mandated large, expensive houses. The south end also included private parks located in the center of each block. Clinton L. White built his own home on one of the prime corners of the new neighborhood in 1908, the same year that White became mayor of Sacramento. Samuel Warder McKim, Director and Vice President of Weinstock-Lubin & Company department store, also purchased a lot and built a home in Boulevard Park in 1908.
On the north end, near the Southern Pacific main line, lots were smaller and less expensive, but still featured landscaped and paved streets. While too costly for the very poor, they were affordable to clerks, railroad employees, craftsmen and small business owners. City Beautiful design principles encouraged home ownership for working people, in the hope that more pleasant cities would make them better citizens. While lots on the north end were not as tightly restricted as those on the south end, they still featured design elements including the street median boulevards, orientation of lots toward the boulevards, paved streets and sidewalks, and street tree plantings. As built, the north end also featured close access to a streetcar line and a city park.
One block, between 21st, 22nd, B and C, was originally platted for homes until Park Realty encountered a problem. Originally designated as a city park block by John Sutter Jr., the lot was sold to a private party by Sam Brannan, but Brannan never paid Sutter for the land. Decades of court battles over the land title were ignored while the racetrack was on the lot, but legally the block belonged to the city of Sacramento. Faced with a potential quagmire, Park Realty surrendered the block, now known as Grant Park, to the city of Sacramento for its use as a public park.
21st and 22nd Street are the primary streets of the district, designed as boulevards. While the Boulevard Park development generally followed the gridiron street pattern laid out for the city of Sacramento, these boulevards are unique. Sacramento streets were originally designed for a width of 80 feet from curb to curb. 21st and 22nd Street within the district are 100 feet wide, with a 16 foot wide landscaped center median. Medians were typically landscaped with grass, with Canary Island date palms planted on each intersection. Smaller trees of various species, including Ginkgo biloba and Mexican fan palm, are located on some street medians, generally on the inner portions of the median nearest the alleys with varying species of low-lying shrubs and ground cover plants. Lots in Boulevard Park were oriented towards the landscaped boulevards, unlike the rest of the central city, where lots are oriented towards the lettered streets. This deliberate design maximized the number of lots with aesthetically pleasing street frontages. Boulevards of this type were common features of City Beautiful neighborhoods, and intended to denote the most desirable and elegant neighborhoods of a city.
Codes, Covenants & Restrictions (CC&Rs) in Boulevard Park
Purchasers on the southern edge of Boulevard Park were required to sign a deed that included permanent restrictions on the property. Buyers of the small lots on the northern end did not include all CC&R requirements, but followed similar rules regarding building setbacks and front fences. Not all of these rules were strictly obeyed throughout the district's period of significance, but they limited incompatible development sufficiently to create a visually and aesthetically coherent neighborhood. The CC&Rs in place in Boulevard Park did not include racial covenants.
A copy of the CC&R document is included in the deed for 2115 G Street:
Clinton L. White, President, Park Realty
Clinton L. White was born in Springville, Iowa in 1850, and moved to California in 1874 after graduating from Cornell College. He moved to Sacramento after eight months in Placer County, and worked for Sacramento attorney George Cadwalader before receiving his own law license in 1877. From 1881-1882 he was a Deputy Attorney General of the State of California. In 1892 he became a member of the Board of Freeholders who crafted a new charter for the city of Sacramento, adopted in 1893. His social and political circle in Sacramento included figures like Hiram Johnson, one of the best-known figures of California's Progressive movement and Governor of California 1911-1917. White served as Mayor of Sacramento from 1908 to 1909, was a delegate to the 1912 Republican National Convention in Chicago, and in 1916 he was a delegate to the Progressive National Convention. In addition to his legal practice and political career, White was a board member of the People's Bank and had agricultural real estate holdings in the northern Sacramento Valley. White died in 1925.
As a Republican of this era, active in local reform politics since the 1893 charter change, Clinton L. White was a Progressive as well as a businessman, and his real estate project in Boulevard Park reflected his social ideals and political affiliation as well as his business interests. As the president of Park Realty, the corporate body that purchased the Boulevard Park property, Boulevard Park's organization and design carried the stamp of Progressive "City Beautiful" ideas. He built his primary residence in Boulevard Park, on one of its most prominent corners.
Charles Wright and Howard Kimbrough, Wright & Kimbrough Realty
Charles E. Wright founded his real estate company in 1894 and took on partner Howard Kimbrough in 1896. They functioned as owner-agent and subdivider for many real estate projects within the city of Sacramento and in the unincorporated county, and diversified their business into city real estate, farmland, rental and leasing, insurance, building and advertising. In 1904 the firm began colonization of the Florin area, a project that pioneered ideas of low-cost housing in new developments in the Sacramento region. Wright & Kimbrough also pioneered constructing houses in their developments on speculation. This differed from earlier Sacramento developers' approaches, who generally sold only unimproved lots, leaving the purchaser to construct a building on the lot. The company had its own design department, and offered standard designs that could be customized to a customer's specifications if they selected Wright & Kimbrough as the house builder. Boulevard Park became Wright & Kimbrough's first major real estate development, and their later projects were often based on sales and building models established by the Boulevard Park development. Some Wright & Kimbrough staff, including salesman Ben Leonard, later established their own suburban development firms, also using Wright & Kimbrough practices as their model.
The architecture of Boulevard Park is eclectic, reflecting the fact that many property owners purchased vacant lots and built homes in styles they preferred, but several factors made Boulevard Park a visually consistent neighborhood. The deed covenants mandated particular setbacks, minimum sizes and cost requirements on homes in the featured southern end of the development area. Features constructed prior to sale, including concrete sidewalks, paved streets, street trees and the boulevard median strips, gave the neighborhood an overall framework, and subsequent houses fit into the framework. Varying lot sizes, with the largest on the south end and smallest in the north, resulted in gradual differences in building sizes. Houses constructed over the period of significance reflected the changing tastes in architecture and housing styles of Sacramento residents across class lines.
The aforementioned City Beautiful features of Boulevard Park gave new residents an aesthetically pleasing background to build a house, and a minimum cost for those houses. As a result, larger houses on the neighborhood's southern end were often architect-designed rather than prefabricated kits or standard patterns. As the homes of prominent city residents, doctors, bank presidents and politicians, they set the tone for later development in the district. Styles reflected the architectural tastes of the early 1900s, including Colonial Revival and Classical Revival. Wright & Kimbrough's standard pattern Foursquares and Neoclassic row houses, with additional architectural detail added at the request of the buyer, give streets visual consistency, but their intermittent use between homes of other styles prevents a monotonous effect. As the period of significance progressed, Craftsman homes became the dominant building style, ranging in size from the modest California bungalows of the northern end to the massive "Ultimate Bungalow" designs like the Cranston-Geary residence, designed by master architect George Sellon. Other buildings from this era reflect the influence of Prairie design, incorporated as elements of Craftsman or Colonial Revival designs, with only a handful of buildings that can accurately be called Prairie style buildings. Later buildings on the southern end reflect architectural directions of the 1920s,including limited use of Spanish Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival.
As early master builders, Wright & Kimbrough's built-to-order homes represent significant and distinguishable entities within the Boulevard Park district, embodying the distinctive characteristics of their type, period and method of construction. Most reflect a high degree of integrity.
As the neighborhood aged and many of the district's wealthy residents relocated to newer neighborhoods, economic and population pressure encouraged conversion of large single-family homes to multi-unit housing. Especially during World War II, massive demand for workforce housing was met by conversion of former single-family homes to apartments and boarding houses. These supplemented existing apartments and met a need, but caused a marked change in neighborhood composition.
Little residential construction occurred in the district during the Second World War, but many formerly single-family homes were converted into multiple-unit buildings, either by dividing existing buildings or conversion of basements into living spaces. Many of the district's Neoclassic Row Houses, whose main floor was raised about seven feet off the ground, were converted to multiple-unit buildings by turning the area under the main floor into apartments. In some cases the property was raised to permit a standard-height apartment, but in other cases the apartment was built in the existing building with a low ceiling, typically seven feet or less. Foursquares and other larger house types were more readily converted into apartments by creating separate entrances and kitchen facilities. Some foursquares and larger house types also had apartments added to basement spaces. These alterations reflect the changes in neighborhood composition during the later portion of the district's period of significance. Other buildings retained their existing single-family configuration, but were converted for use as boarding houses, orphanages or care homes for senior citizens. The neighborhood still maintained its visually pleasing appearance and its stately architecture, but it was no longer the home of bankers and politicians. Even the home of Clinton L. White, Park Realty president, was converted to an orphanage. A neighborhood designed with City Beautiful principles, intended to give working people an ownership option farther from the dangers of high-density urban living, was an urban neighborhood of multi-family dwellings by 1946. These uses generally did not require significant exterior alterations to the buildings, but in some cases the buildings were altered sufficiently to prevent their inclusion as contributors to the district.
Due to the relative scarcity of construction materials during the war, conversion of existing residential building stock was easier than construction of new apartments. After the war, construction materials and manpower were again available. Instead of converting existing single-family homes to multi-unit residential, properties were demolished and replaced with apartment buildings. These postwar apartment buildings, unlike the earlier apartment buildings constructed in the district, are generally not architecturally consistent with the existing building stock in architectural style or building footprint, and thus are not contributors to the district within the identified historic contexts.
† William Burg, Historian, California Office of Historic Preservation, Boulevard Park Historic District, Sacramento County, CA, nomination document draft, 2011, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.