During the period of native-American occupation there were no known village sites in the area of Oak Park. The Spanish and Mexican periods produced no events, or settlements in the area. Even John Sutter’s vast land grant did not include the area of Oak Park. However, Sutter did send out hunters in the 1840 to kill a good many of the Tule Elk throughout the area as part of an effort to raise cash by trading hides and tallow. At about the same time, Sutter began buying domestic cattle and allowing them free range on all the lands surrounding his fort. It is likely that some of these cattle took up pasturage in the Oak Park area.
During the first years of the gold rush (1850-51) some settlers came to the Oak Park area, but they could not establish title to the lands they occupied until 1865 when a United States government survey was completed. However, they could set out fences and markers and occupy their plots by Preemptive Right. These plots were usually identified by local landmarks and terrain characteristics, rather than by the neat orderly lines of an official survey-such as the orderly blocks (lettered and numbered) that define the original streets of central Sacramento. Later, when these lands were subdivided for suburban occupations, those original borders created odd shaped plots and lots that are still a defining characteristic of the landscape.
Another feature of the agricultural tenancy was that most of the farms were owner operated. The soil was not considered of top value and so the farmland values in the area were modest and people of modest means could afford to buy them. In 1854 one 80 acre parcel was acquired by Thomas Palmer for $200. In 1860 Palmer paid $1,200 for an additional 160 acre tract. Another 160 acre tract sold for just $600. During this period farms, with houses and improvements included, were generally valued from $30 to $75 per acre.
Production of hay and small grains dominated the 1850s in this area. Horses, mules and oxen were used to haul everything so animal feed was needed to sustain the long line of wagons moving goods to and from the mines in the foothills. As the demands of the mining industry began to recede, farmers in the area began to produce more fruits, vegetables, dairy products, hogs and horses for the growing permanent population of Sacramento. One of the areas’ first grape vineyards was started.
The initial development of Historic Oak Park took place on the land previously owned by farmer William Doyle. Doyle was a 26 year-old Irish-born blacksmith when he came to the United States in 1853 and worked in the shops of the Harlem River Railway Company in New York City. He moved to California in 1855, first stopping in San Francisco and then Sacramento soon after. Once Doyle was established here, he married a young Irish widow with one son. Soon they had a daughter, and the family then used their savings to buy a 230 tract of land just beyond the city limits to the southeast.
The Doyle family moved onto the land and built a house in 1874, when Doyle was in his late forties. The house was located on the corner of the Sacramento Drainage Canal, which ran down 31st Street and then turned west along Y Street. Alhambra is Spanish for water, and this is how the current street got its name. However, the drainage ditch was far from exotic, it was damp and always filled with murky water and decaying vegetation. It could be smelled, long before it could be seen. It is surmised that this is one reason Doyle got a good deal on the property. He built a bridge from his house across the canal to Y Street.
Doyle worked the 230 acre ranch for about thirteen years until 1887 when he sold it to real estate promoter Edwin K. Alsip. Doyle retained the home site and lived there until his death. It remained intact until it was dismantled in 1948. The home site is currently occupied by the Highway 99 and 50 Interchange.
Edwin Alsip had a vision for a new real estate subdivision. The land to the east of 31st Street was already held by a variety of speculators and the land to the north of the American River was owned by the Haggin Ranch, so Alsip focused his attention on the land to the south of Y Street, outside the city limits.
The concept was to divide up the Doyle ranch into small lots that would be affordable for the working class. They reasoned that they could make larger profits in this manner than by selling off the land in estate sized plots. A profusion of small houses would lead to the development of commercial buildings and, perhaps even a small town would be developed. The Oak Park development group would offer reasonable terms of purchase and the promise of amenities. One of the most interesting of the amenities was the promise of an electric street railway to provide transportation from Sacramento to this new suburban destination.
Sacramento had a large working class, the largest segment of which was employed in the Southern Pacific Railroad Shops. The working class lived in small houses, located along the alleys, on the back-lots of stately Victorian homes, or they lived in rooming houses located on the second floor above commercial buildings that predominantly lined J and K Streets. These blocks included a variety of businesses which included light to medium industrial uses, as well as stables and saloons. It was a noisy, smelly place to live. Once they had saved enough, they could buy a lot somewhere away from central area and eventually build a house.
Alsip formed a select group of ten investors into a corporation called the Oak Park Association. The investors, who contributed $240,000, included: hardware merchant L.L. Lewis; hotelier and banker B.E. Steinman; J.R. Watson, a retired purchasing agent for SP; attorney James T. Devlin, delta rancher and businessman Solomon Runyon; and three San Francisco investors, W.J. Landers, Jacob Levi, Sr. and B.C. Hawes.
Alsip had the Doyle property divided into fifty-six whole, or partial, blocks. The north-south streets followed the Sacramento grid plan and were labeled 31st through 37th Street. The east-west streets were originally named Orange (now 1st Avenue), Magnolia (2nd Avenue), Madrone (3rd Avenue) and Cypress (4th Avenue). Lower Stockton Road was renamed Oak Avenue on the west (now Franklin). These streets were dissected on the diagonal by Sacramento Avenue (now Broadway). These streets defined blocks approximately 320 feet square, each of which were cut into sixteen individual lots, 40 x 150 feet.
A major marketing and advertising program was organized leading up to a public auction of lots on September 13, 1887. “No City Taxes! No City Taxes!” was the legend that bannered one of the advertising hand-outs. Alsip arranged for reduced excursion rail rates for auction attendees from Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Marysville and Stockton. Attendees were also treated to a free lunch and the music of a brass band. The auction of Oak Park lots was a resounding success with the sale of some 200 lots realizing about $40,000. However, three factors tended to slow the development of the new subdivision. Many of the new property owners were not middle class families, but real estate speculators—even Solomon Runyon and Harris Weinstock bought some lots and an H.A. Mayhew from Los Angeles had bought some $5,000 worth of lots- around 25 lots.
The founder of Oak Park, Edwin Alsip (third from left), in front of his real estate agency. One of Alsip’s Oak Park Investors, Solomon Runyon, is at the far left. Runyon’s house in Courtland, now known as the Runyon/Alchorn house, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (l.to r., Solomon Runyon, Harry Rivett, Edwin Alsip, Mrs. Belle Dockstader, R.H. Hawley, Neeley Stanely)
Photo courtesy of California State Library
Giving middle class families the ability to buy a lot on terms allowed them to buy a lot sooner, rather than later: ten percent of the purchase prices was due after the auction; one third of the purchase price was be paid off by ten days; and the remaining 2/3 could be paid at $20 per month at 5% interest. However, it would take more than a year to pay the average lot price of $200, and they still needed to save money to build a house. Long term home loans were not available as they are today.
Alsip and his inventors had spent around $7,000 in advertising and staging for the auction and they realized some $40,000 in sales. Even though the new community did not develop as rapidly as they expected, the model they had established had proved that it could work. Despite the shortcomings, Sacramento’s first suburb was born. Oak Park was not only Sacramento’s first suburb, it became the model which Alsip and many other Sacramento area real estate developers would use in creating subdivisions in the dynamic growth years to come.
In 1889, the Oak Park Association formed another company, the Central Street Railway, to provide the electric street railway to Oak Park. The building of the railway was slowed as the founders tinkered with the new technology of battery-powered trolley cars. Those cars suffered the same problems that electric powered automobiles still have today-how to balance the need to carry enough batteries to give the car a decent range between recharging, and the weight of the batteries themselves.
Sacramento’s First Trolley Car Suburb
In 1890, the original investors sold out their interest to one of the original investors L.L. Lewis, and a San Jose businessman J.H. Henry. In 1891 the electric street railway dumped the battery-powered cars and hooked up to overhead electric lines. By 1894 it was running eight lines, four of which connected Sacramento with Oak Park. The company had a total of twenty-three miles of rail lines and 75 employees. Power for the system was generated by steam at the Sacramento Gas Company’s coal burning plant. At this point, Lewis and Henry sold out their interest to a group consisting of H.P. Livermore, Albert Gallatin, A.J. Ralston and Joshua Barker-the same group that was at that time building the hydro-electric plant and Folsom. When the Folsom power plant was completed, it made electrical power more reliable and less costly. Ridership on the street car lines increased, the Central Street Railway Company prospered and Sacramento residents benefited from the increased mobility provided by reliable and cheap mass transit. Oak Park became Sacrame
Most of the lots sold in Oak Park in 1887 were still vacant in 1891. During the period 1891-94 when the Central Street Railway became a viable transportation system, Oak Park finally began to grow slowly.
When it was established in 1889, the Central Street Railway had a second objective; and that was the formation of an eight-acre picnic and entertainment park in the old oak grove on Doyle’s land. They built a pavilion for picnics, private dances, band concerts and other amusements. They built an electric plant on the site so that it could be lighted in the evenings. There would also be no alcohol sold on site to help create an atmosphere of safety for families. The street car company ran lines directly into the park. The idea of the park was to make the prospect of living in Oak Park seem more attractive. However, to get the point across they needed to give Sacramento residents reasons to make the trip out to Oak Park and to make that trip convenient.
Other developers who were stimulated by the Oak Park subdivision began buy up small and large tracts in the surrounding area. Other pioneers in the Oak Park area were H.J. Goethe and Michael J. Dillman, who established subdivisions in the east and southeast of Oak Park.
In the 1890s, development throughout the Sacramento area was curtailed due to a nationwide depression and financial panic that began in 1893. Growth languished from then until the turn of the century. Due to financial problems in these years, the Oak Park Association was forced to dissolve and distribute its remaining undivided lands among its major investors, chiefly L.L. Lewis and William J. Landers. Both of them soon launched subdivisions between 4th and 5th Avenues and Franklin Boulevard and Sacramento Boulevard. However, Oak Park had the infrastructure in place to support growth and as prosperity returned, growth returned to Oak Park as well.
In 1903 the street car company was reorganized as the Sacramento Gas, Electric and Railway Company and that led to the park being turned over to a franchise operator who was more knowledgeable and had money to invest in public entertainment. An outdoor theatre was added to the park that featured free vaudeville acts and the popular new entertainment of motion pictures. On Labor Day in 1903 the holiday crowd was estimated at 20,000 by a local newspaper. The increased popularity of the park soon led to addition of a roller skating rink and a miniature scenic railroad.
As attendance at the park grew, businesses began to grow up near the park and along the line of the street cars along Sacramento Boulevard between 31st Street and 35th Street, and along 35th Street between Sacramento Boulevard and the park] and residences and businesses began to appear in the general area around the park. Oak Park’s first business was opened by John Steen in 1893 on a double lot on the northwest corner of 35th Street and Cypress [4th Avenue]. His saloon became known as Steen’s Corner and it was housed in a two-story wood frame building that no longer exists.
Photo Courtesy of California State Library
The community of Oak Park grew rapidly between 1900-1910. Its first two churches, the Oak Park Baptist Church and the Oak Park Methodist Church were organized around 1900 and by 1901, the community finally established enough identity, critical mass and business support for a weekly newspaper, The Sacramento County Ledger.
In 1906-07 the trolley company began preparations for the move of the State Fair Grounds to Stockton Boulevard to the east of Oak Park. A trolley line was built down 2nd Avenue all the way to the Fair Grounds. This line was eventually controlled by the Central California Traction Company. A second extension was made by Padific Gas & Electric that branched off of its 35th Street line and followed 4th Avenue to the Fair Grounds.
The 1911 City Directory describes Oak Park as having five churches, two elementary schools, two fire houses, a pottery production plant, two lumber yards, a knife and tool factory, large contracting firm, two plumbing firms, two dry goods stores, three drug stores, numerous grocery stores, six butcher shops, a furniture store, a large hotel, one bank, six real estate firms, two laundries and several other small business enterprises.
In 1911, when it was annexed to the City of Sacramento, Oak Park had several thousand residents and a thriving business district. The Oak Park annexation was the first expansion of the boundaries of Sacramento since the city was first laid out in 1848.
The real estate promoters had encouraged prospective suburban dwellers to live outside the central area, where they could purchase cheap land and would be free of city taxes. They would also be free of city services and that would define the next step in Oak Park’s growth.
The water supply in Oak Park came from either backyard wells or was supplied by the developer’s deep well operated by the Oak Park Water Company. This water was generally superior to that provided by the city. The City of Sacramento took its water from the Sacramento River and it was still muddy from the short but intense period of hydraulic gold mining in the foothills. This problem was not solved until bonds for a water filtration plant were approved in 1919 and its construction was completed at the end of 1923.
The Daly Brothers Grocery was established in about 1895, making it one of Oak Part earliest businesses. The same building has housed Thom’s Cyclery for the past 66 years.
No sewer lines were put in by the real estate developers and property owners either used a back yard privy or a shallow septic tank. As Oak Park become more densely settled, the problem of untreated human effluent going into the same ground from which the community was taking its drinking water was a looming public health hazard. There were also complaints about inadequate fire protection, which caused fire insurance premiums to be high and there was some desire for better police protection and better streets. However, the overwhelming concern was the sewage problem.
The movement for annexation began to take shape when the merchants and real estate interests organized the Oak Park Improvement Club. This group sponsored public meetings and organized an annexation committee. Around the same time, January 14, 1910 the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce, through its Progress and Prosperity Committee organized a blue ribbon committee to gather support for the annexation of Oak Park and the other suburban neighborhoods in south and east Sacramento. From the beginning the City promised a sewer system for Oak Park, without the burden of Oak Park residents having to pay for all of it. In return Sacramento boosters could point to a city with a much larger population and area of influence-and these were often important selling points in attempts to attract commerce and industry to a community.
The annexation proposal included large areas of east and south Sacramento. When it was voted on in September 1911, Oak Park residents voted in favor by almost three to one (596 yes to 185 no). East Sacramento, which was still thinly settled at the time, voted against annexation (72 yes to 110 no). However, all the suburban voters approved the plan (808 yes to 356 no). Residents of the City of Sacramento voted in favor of annexation (1390 yes to 630 no). Annexation enlarged Sacramento’s land area by about three times its original size and increased its population from about 45,000 to about 60,000.
PUBLIC IMPROVEMENTS LEAD TO BOOM YEARS
The Sacramento City Council moved immediately on improvements for Oak Park. An interim code of sewerage regulation was passed in December of 1911. In the following year, construction bonds were issued and work began. Street improvement became an important goal in 1914 and another round of bonds was issued. By1915 streets in Oak Park were widened, paved and had storm drains insta
Oak Parks new fire house in 1915 and its first full-time fire company.
Oak Park’s fire problem was also resolved. The business district had suffered two devastating fires in 1911 and 1912. More fire alarms and hydrants were installed and in 1915 the city replaced the volunteer fire company with a full-time operation housed in the newly completed Fire House Number 6 (3414 4th Avenue-which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places).
The prompt response by the City of Sacramento to Oak Park’s needs was instrumental in laying the foundation for growth in the years to come. One organization that helped keep the district’s needs in front of the City Council was the Oak Park Business Men’s Association. This organization was an effective lobbying organization that was organized in 1911 to support a three-day spring fiesta in the business district. They decided to keep the organization together to promote civic interests. They had success with the City, got mail delivery improved, obtained increased street lighting, secured adequate quarters for a branch library and gained improvements in banking facilities.
While the largest single year for residential growth occurred in 1910 as annexation was being planned, in the years that followed Oak Park would experience steady construction of new homes. After annexation, the business district of Oak Park would see the replacement of older wood frame buildings with substantial brick buildings. A 1912 headline in the Sacramento Bee declared, “Oak Park Flourishes Into Real Commercial Center” as it announced the completion of a number of brick business buildings. In 1913 the City’s Building Inspector reported that Oak Park was the fastest growing residential district in the City and the 1914 City Directory listed almost 800 homes in Oak Park.
Real estate developers made buying lots or cottage-style homes easy and affordable. In 1913 the H.J. Goethe Company was selling lots along Palm Avenue (now Bigler Street) starting at $125. To obtain one of these lots required only $10 down and a payment of $5 per month. Around the same time, Wright & Kimbrough were selling completed cottages for $100-$500 down with monthly payments ranging from $20-$25.
By an act of the Sacramento City Council in December 1916, the streets in Sacramento’s suburban neighborhoods were mostly renamed. Developers had named streets whatever they wanted to, however, the City needed to impose uniformity with its grid system and to eliminate duplications. (See table on next page).
Renaming Oak Park Streets
|Street Name Today||Previous names||Year|
From Broadway to 4th Avenue
From 4th Ave. to 3rd Ave.
From Broadway to 4th Ave.
From 4th Ave. to 3rd Ave.
3rd Avenue to 37th
40th to 42nd
From 43rd St. to Stockton Blvd.Madrone
41st StreetMiller1889-191642nd StreetCrocker1889-191643rd StreetWabash1889-19164th AvenueCypress1889-19165th AvenuePark1889-1916Argonaut CourtChaplin Court1889-1916BiglerPalm1889-1916Bret HarteLaurel1889-1916Broadway (1949 to present)
From Alhambra to
Martin Luther King
From Martin Luther King to Stockton
Catala WayCoral1889-1916La SolidadManzanilla1889-1916San JoseSunset1889-1916Santa Cruz Way40th Street1889-1916Stockton Blvd.Upper Stockton Road1889-1916Y StreetYork
BroadwayYork was used intermittently in 1889-1916
1939-1947, returned to Y after ‘49
In 1918-1919 the houses in Oak Park had become so numerous that they were forced to renumber them. The custom to the present time in the central area is to number houses and commercial buildings, for example, between 900 to 931 or 932 in each block. However, in Oak Park, numbering had started to get out of control. As one approached 40th Street on 3rd Avenue, the house numbers were still in the 3700s. One was going to have to jump from a 3700 block straight to a 4000 block, or there was going to have to be some renumbering. To allow more house numbers, the renumbering allowed house numbers in any given block to go up into the 60s and 70s and in some areas 80s and 90s. For instance, 3131 1st Avenue became 3161 and a house on 3rd Avenue, almost to 40th Street was changed from 3749 to 3991.
THE LATE TEENS
Two trends that affected all of Sacramento during the late teens, also affected Oak Park: the advent of the First World War and the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918.
The United States participation in World War I, changed all of the country as it transitioned from a peacetime to wartime economy. Building materials were a priority of the war effort and locally were in short supply. Young men were drafted into the military and the need for more housing diminished. Compared to the early teens and 1920s, relatively few residences were built in Oak Park during the late teens.
A young man such as Oak Park resident, Cledith Hastings, was drafted into the U.S. Army in September of 1917. Hastings and his mother Mayme, had lived at 3201 Y Street [1912-13]; 3530 Madrone [1914-1916]; and 3625 4th Avenue [1917-18]. Hastings was sent to France in December of 1917 to fight with the U.S. 39th Infantry. He was involved in several engagements and survived several “narrow escapes.” On his birthday, November 5, 1918, Cledith Hastings was killed in action, just six days before the armistice that ended the First World War.
The Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918 also had a profound effect on Sacramento in general and on some families in particular. Sacramento experienced the second highest death rate from the flu, per capita, in the nation. With a population of some 70,000, Sacramento had 5,000 people who contracted the disease and around 500 deaths [McGowan, pp. 225-27]. For comparison, the same numbers applied to today’s metropolitan population would mean something like 70,000 people contracting the disease and some 7,000 deaths—all in a period of a few months.
The influenza epidemic fell hard on some Oak Park families. John C. Steen, one of four sons of the John Steen who founded the Steen’s Corner tavern, died of influenza On October 25, 1918. Four days later his wife Kate died, leaving behind two orphaned sons. On November 16, 1918, John’s brother August Steen, died of the influenza. Just two weeks prior to his death, his wife had also died of the flu. They left behind five orphaned children.
There was a building hiatus that occurred in the late teens, due to the disruptions of the war and influenza. At the same time, residential designs changed. The neighborhoods, such as Wright & Kimbrough #27, which was built in the early to mid teens, featured wood frame craftsman design. In the 1920s, when the two adjacent neighborhoods were built (Fair Park to the west, and Dawson Place to the east), they featured period revival cottages, mostly of brick. The events of the late teens were merely disruptions. The economic engine that provided employment opportunities for Oak Park residents continued to grow throughout the teens and 1920s.
There were large sources of employment located near to Oak Park. The State Fair moved from Boulevard Park to its site on east side of Stockton Boulevard and north of Fifth Avenue in 1905. The Western Pacific railroad built its maintenance and fabrication shops in 1913. They were located just to the west in Curtis Park and they employed about 300-400 well paid mechanics. The Libby, McNeil & Libby cannery on Alhambra was built in 1912, providing hundreds of seasonal jobs. In 1924 the California Highway Commission (now Caltrans) opened its vehicle and equipment repair shops buildings nearby at 34th & R Streets employing more than 100 skilled mechanics.
As the automobile came into general use, Stockton Boulevard became the north-south link of the Lincoln Highway. It eventually became Highway 99. Businesses grew up along both sides of Stockton Boulevard that purveyed to the Highway traffic, such as motels, restaurants, service stations, etc. Grocery stores and many other businesses that relied on local residents, also prospered due to the traffic generated by Stockton Blvd. as a major north-south arterial.
Growth in Oak Park occurred in a pattern similar to that of other areas of Sacramento. From 1910-1915 growth was fast paced, but then slowed considerably during the years of the First World War. Growth resumed in the late teens and continued throughout the 1920s. Oak Park became a mature neighborhood, with most of its lots built upon, by the end of the 1920s. During the Great Depression the number of new residences slowed to trickle. New construction started up again in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but was not as vigorous as it was in the teens and 20s. Residential construction took a break during the years of the Second World War, but then resumed in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
One project that was supported by the Oak Park Businessmen’s Association was to have the City of Sacramento purchase the amusement park. In 1911 there was growing dissatisfaction with the management and maintenance at the park. The electric company that owned the park had become part of the Pacific Gas & Electric Company and the park was still operated by a franchisee. It was apparent that PG&E had no real interest in keeping the park and the facilities needed improvement. However, the city could not purchase the park, at the $80,000 asking price, within ordinary budget funds. The matter was put to a ballot measure asking for approval to sell bonds. In the summer before the 1913 election, PG&E had turned over the park franchise to the Ingersol family and they began a vigorous program of renovation and improvements. They also fenced the grounds and charged admission and changed the name to Joyland. They had a grand opening in June of 1913 that attracted an estimated 10,000 people to the park. Joyland’s success helped give the business district a distinct character as a popular entertainment center. As Joyland flourished, its new popularity did not help at the polls in the Fall as voters narrowly rejected the bond measure to purchase the park.
The joy went out of Joyland in June of 1920 when a fire destroyed most of the park buildings and rides. Over the next two years the park’s attractions were partially restored, but by the mid 1920s Joyland had lost much of its earlier popularity. A series of changes had taken place in the 1920s that eroded Joyland’s audience and led to its eventual demise. During the two year period in which the park was never completely restored, the automobile had continued to give many families wider access to other parks and amusements. There was competition from the nearby William Land Park that was being developed by the City of Sacramento and some writers [Owens, et al] have theorized that the changing ethnicity of the Oak Park working class may have made the park less of a draw for the middle class and white collar crowd.
Joyland came to an end in 1927 when Mr. and Mrs. Valentine McClatchy purchased the park property from PG&E and made it a gift to the city of Sacramento. As a condition of the gift, the park was renamed James McClatchy Park, honoring the founding editor of the Sacramento Bee and the father of Valentine and C.K. McClatchy. Another intention of the donors was a request to have the animals in the zoo moved to the more spacious Land Park.
Later that year Oak Park business leaders organized a celebration to thank the McClatchy family for their generous gift. However, while the City gained ownership of the park at last, the business community of Oak Park lost an important drawing card that used to bring people from all over the community on weekends and for special events. From 1927 onward, McClatchy would serve as a neighborhood park. However, the loss of Joyland caused some businesses to close and weakened the cash flow of others. This was the first blow to Oak Park’s business district in a series of blows that would eventually destroy much of it.
THE CHANGING ETHNIC LANDSCAPE
The growth in Oak Park between 1910 and 1929 was spurred by the rapid growth in the working class. As mentioned previously, the railroads, canneries, transportation and agriculture spurred most of this growth. As the working class population grew, so did the demand for service and construction jobs. A search of city directories [Owens, et al], showed that the most often listed occupations found for Oak Park residents were: 1) laborer; 2) jobs often associated with railroad shops; blacksmiths, mechanics, machinists; 3) mill and construction workers; carpenters, painters, roofers; and 4) transportation services; warehousemen, freight handlers, draymen. Jobs in the canneries were mostly staffed by women and they did not often list themselves in the directories. The survey of directories showed very few in Oak Park that listed white collar occupations. The white-collar, and well-to-do class moved into areas in east Sacramento, near Land Park and Curtis park- where they could purchase larger lots and build larger homes amidst families of their own occupational status.
The ethnic character of the working class kept changing over time as various waves of immigrants moved into the Sacramento area. The character of Oak Park changed due to these fluxes, however, in a more localized adaptation. Many immigrant groups tended to cluster together and form small communities of their own. For instance, Chinese and Japanese immigrants settled in other areas of Sacramento (such as the Chinese in Locke and the Japanese in Florin) and only rarely in Oak Park. There were even some instances where individuals and organizations, such as the Oak Park Businessmen’s Association, actively discouraged the settlement of Asians in Oak Park.
The city directory survey conducted by Owens determined that the earliest residents of Oak Park had names that were northern European in origin (i.e., English, Irish, and German). They found that by the 1920s, southern European names, particularly Italian and become the common, while the northern European names, while still substantial in number, were less frequent. Owens admits this survey is somewhat impressionistic, but it does give a generalized picture.
Sacramento did not have a large African-American population during the formative years of Oak Park. However, some families had been in Sacramento dating back to the period of the Gold Rush. There is some evidence that African-American families moved into Oak Park during its formative years. One example was George and Anne Louise Dunlop who bought a lot and moved into Oak Park in 1906. A working man, Dunlap opened a small restaurant in the house in 1930 that specialized in southern-style cooking. During the next 38 years, the Dunlap Dining Room became an Oak Park Landmark and it drew people from all over the city. Today it is listed on the NatRegister of Histo
African-Americans, like many others, discovered California and Sacramento during the Second World War, either as military personnel, or as workers in the wartime industries. After the war, many stayed in Sacramento, or came back later. Many of these working class families found Oak Park a reasonably priced neighborhood in which to purchase or rent. It was also one of the few neighborhoods where they were allowed to purchase or rent homes. While property values were going up in other areas of Sacramento, Oak Park was pushed into a state of regression due to a series of economic impacts that took place roughly between 1960 and 1980.
The Dunlap’s Dining Room was favorite restaurant in Sacramento for several decades.
Two economic trends took place between 1960 and 1980 that would devastate the business district in Oak Park and depress property values: 1) the flight to the new suburbs; and 2) the loss of working class jobs in the vicinity.
Some 44,000 acres of land north of the American River and extending eastward to the location of current day Manzanita Avenue were part of the Rancho Del Paso. This closed this vast area to any development until 1910 when Ben Ali Haggin and Lloyd Tevis accepted $1.5 million from the Sacramento Valley Colonization Company, a subsidiary of the United States Farm Company of Saint Paul, Minnesota for sale of the Ranch Del Paso. This transaction marked the first step in the growth and evolution of the area known at that time as North Sacramento. At the time that Oak Park was in full bloom, the lands of north and northeast Sacramento were just becoming avail-able for development. For a variety of rea-sons, development in this area did not pick up any momentum until after the end of the Second World War. However, be-ginning in 1949, Wright & Kimbrough opened the Arden Park tract to northeast of Watt and Fair Oaks. Soon athey opened theden Town shoppingat that intersection.Many other devel-opments followed and the flight to thesuburbs had begun. Thousands of residents left the old central city area neighborhoods. Sombusinesses closed and a significant number of homes became rentals. These areas became victims of the general decline that accompanies absentee ownership.
There was a steady loss of working class jobs in the immediate vicinity. In 1962 the Highway 99 freeway was opened on the west side of the historic Oak Park. A fair number of houses were lost to the freeway right-of-way, however the biggest impact was the rerouting of traffic off of Stockton Blvd. and onto the new freeway. Business along Stockton and Broadway that had relied on transient traffic and overnight visitors went into a state of decline and many closed. Many jobs were lost and the vacant business buildings became a source of blight.
The intersection of Watt & Fair Oaks in 1949 is seen at the lower left. The beginnings of the Del Paso Manor development near El Camino High School can be seen at the top of the photo.
In 1968 the California State Fair moved from its Stockton Boulevard site to the Cal Expo site. Once again, local jobs were lost, business suffered and some failed and commercial buildings became vacant. The same cycle repeated itself again in 1980 when the Libby, McNeil & Libby cannery ceased operation.
In 1983 the good paying blue collar jobs at the Western Pacific Shops were lost as that operation closed. At the same time, during the 1980s and 1990s there was a steady loss of jobs at the Southern Pacific Railroad Shops. The jobs at these shops, which had once been Sacramento’s largest employer, with up to 5,000 working class jobs, steadily decreased until the shops ceased operations altogether at the turn of the 21st century.
This series of economic hits destroyed a good many of the businesses along Stockton Boulevard and Broadway. The loss of jobs also caused a depression in the housing market, some houses also became vacant, some were turned into rentals, others on large lots were razed to make way for apartment buildings and property values slumped.
As the blight of vacant and dilapidated buildings increased, so did crime. Prostitution, drugs and gang activity moved into the most stressed areas. Crime is usually associated with a high percentage of home rentals. As of the 2000 U.S. Census, 35 percent of Oak Park’s housing units were owner occupied. That compares with a rate of 50 percent across the City of Sacramento, 58 percent in the county and 57 percent statewide.
THE RETURN OF OAK PARK
As a response to the blight problems, the Sacramento Redevelopment Agency began buying up properties in the Oak Park business district. A good number of the old original buildings were demolished and some of these properties were turned into public housing projects. However, there still remain a good number of vacant business properties and vacant lots, principally along Broadway.
Jobs are returning to the Oak Park vicinity. The UC Davis Hospital continues to expand and the Shriner’s Hospital has opened. Related businesses and offices have sprung up along Stockton Boulevard and service businesses have followed. Decrepit motels have been turned into refurbished apartment buildings and business buildings have become preservation and tax act projects.
An Oak Park Bungalow
Victorian cottages and Craftsman influenced bungalows which had fallen out of favor in the period 1950-1970, are now looked upon as desirable and have become a magnet for small families and starter homes for new families. Former rental homes are being purchased by owners who want to refurbish them and live in them.