A Push-Button Look at Sacramento History

Sunset, February 1986 | Go to article overview
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A Push-Button Look at Sacramento History

A push-button look at Sacramento history

First, there's the gold. You can almost touch the glittering vials of dust, the gleaming flakes, the milky quartz boulders shot with yellow veins, the twisted blbs of pure metal. Then there are the exhibits, objects that make history present to the visitor's senses: a Miwok Indian hut that still smells like the reeds it's made of; the shiny black-lacquered Brewster landau used by Governor Stanford in 1861.

But the most intriguing collection you'll find in the new Sacramento History Center isn't on a shelf or in a box. It is images from an archive of some 2 million photographs that document the history of the Sacramento Valley from the mid-1800s on. How can you even begin to see them? With the help of computers, on video screens.

Opened last August, the $5.5-million history center is the latest addition among historic exhibition spaces in the Old Sacramento section of the state capital. Sandwiched between the California State Railroad Museum and the Sacramento River, the red brick building is a key element in the long-range plan to reconstruct the historic waterfront.

Exhibits are now 90 percent complete, though delays plagued the museum from the outset. The biggest remaining problem, lack of adequate signage, should be resolved by now. But with or without labels, you can get a fascinating interpretation of the material on display from docents stationed throughout the building.

Outside, the museum building is a nearly exact replica of Sacramento's first public building (city hall, jail, and waterworks) built on this site in 1854. The original of the oversize flagpole in front was made of wood during the "flagpole war' of 1868. Trivia buffs will want to know that the 113-foot-tall replica is reputedly the tallest nonsupported (no guy wires) fiberglass pole in the country.

But the 19th-century appearance is only facade-deep. Inside, the building looks more like an ultra-modern boutique than a venerable city hall. A small sunken theater on the first floor gives a slick, 10-minute overview of the Sacramento Valley, then directs you to a three-story-high escalator to begin your journey through local history.

The Topomorphology Gallery gets you started with a look at the Valley itself and how early settlers--Indians, prospectors, and farmers--changed it. This is where you'll find the Bank of America Gold Collection, one of the most extensive assemblages of gold specimens in the state. Take a few minutes to view short films about water and gold on touch-sensitive video screens here, but skip the games, which are confusing at best.

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