Capitol Mall Visions

This lovely gateway to our state capitol building has never been developed as it should be and this article from Sactown Magazine examines that.

An excerpt.

For decades, civic and state leaders have tried—and failed—to conjure a Capitol Mall worthy of its namesake building. Now is the time to sharpen our focus on our city’s grandest gateway.

Walk by the arena construction site in downtown Sacramento on any given day and you’ll see people standing there staring. If they’re longtime locals, the looks on their faces are likely ones of disbelief. After all, talk of a new arena extends all the way back to the mid-’90s. An entire generation.

How about the promise of the railyards? It’s finally on the verge of becoming a reality after being on the drawing board as far back as the ’80s.

And then there’s Capitol Mall. The much-discussed notion of creating a Capitol Mall befitting the great state of California dates back to ’07.

No, not 2007. 1907.

In a Nov. 4, 1949 article in The Sacramento Bee, the chair of the city’s planning commission and the “Capitol Mall advisory board,” Mrs. Arnold Waybur, was quoted as saying, “From 1907 until the present, plans for a mall have been offered. Many of these were very fine, but two wars and financial difficulties prevented their being carried out.”

In retrospect, Mrs. Waybur’s comment was the understatement of the century—virtually the entire century. Plans haven’t simply been “offered.” They’ve been a near constant source of heated debate.

For the better part of the 20th century, and now a fair chunk of the 21st, civic and state leaders have been feuding, brooding and altogether bumbling their way through concepts and proposals to create a Capitol Mall capable of rising to its oft-stated potential as “one of the most beautiful streets anywhere,” in the words of world-renowned German city planning expert Dr. Werner Hegemann back in 1913. Hegemann—one of a long line of expert consultants whose advice on the subject has been sought and summarily dismissed over the last century—also declared that “much of the city’s destiny would be linked to a stately and magnificent mall.”

Was he right? Well, maybe more than you might think. After all, most great cities establish a sense of place either through great architecture, thoughtful urban design or stunning natural topography. We can’t do much on the topography front, but we can on the other two, making this discussion about Capitol Mall a worthy, albeit often frustrating one.

The debate swirling around the creation of an avenue fit for the capital of California is quite possibly Sacramento’s longest-running exercise in civic futility. In fact, it started long before a “Capitol Mall” even existed, back when the mall we know today was simply M Street, and populated with gas stations, nightclubs and low-end housing. A cursory review of city and state records along with Bee archives shows that generation after generation of local leadership has struggled mightily with how to energize these eight or so blocks between the State Capitol and the Tower Bridge.

Retrieved October 3, 2015 from

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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