Safeguarding Sacramento’s Historic Architecture | Comstock’s magazine


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Capital Region architects, preservation enthusiasts and those
charged with safeguarding historic resources are rallying
together to save some of the Capital Region’s most notable
assets. The region’s historic stakeholders have made a mantra of
the adage by longtime architect and past president of the
American Institute of Architects, Carl Elefante: “The greenest
building is … one that is already built.” They envision
adaptively reusing historic resources for whatever purpose makes
cultural and economic sense, rather than razing them to the

A number of cities in the greater Sacramento region boast
historic resources, but not all are equipped to identify and
protect them. Four cities in the region — Sacramento, Davis,
Marysville and Elk Grove — have established preservation programs
that operate under the Certified Local Government Program, which
is administered by the National Parks Service and managed by
California’s Office of Historic Preservation. Through the CLG
certification process, each of the four municipalities has made a
commitment to national historic preservation standards. 

The City of Sacramento’s preservation program dates back to 1976.
Before a building can be considered historic, it must be at least
50 years old. “Not all buildings are eligible for listing, but we
have a citywide design review process where we look at
alterations to any building that comes in and look to see if it’s
a historic building,” says Preservation Director Sean de Courcy.
Sacramento has 30 historic districts; most of them are on the
central grid. Beyond age, there are four more criteria to
consider: whether the resource embodies significant events in
history; if it is associated with a significant person or
individual; if it has the embodiment of a significant
architectural style; and if it has significant archeological
sites or structures that help improve understanding of the past.

Lionakis Adaptively Reuses an Old Tractor Showroom for Its New
“Workplace of the Future” Headquarters

Even during the pandemic, de Courcy says historic preservation
has been active. He points to the adaptive reuse of the Eastern
Star Hall across from Sutter’s Fort at 27th and K streets by
Sacramento-based architect HRGA, which also worked on the
transformation of the historic Marshall Hotel to the Hyatt
Centric in Sacramento. The Eastern Star Hall historically served
as a women’s social organization and is now being converted into
a Hyatt House Hotel. The dilapidated building had been vacant for
years and was in danger of being demolished. Developer Roger Hume
took on the project, adding four stories to the top, while taking
painstaking efforts to preserve the outer facade and ornate
lobby. The building is expected to open in July 2022.

“The extended stay hotel sits directly across from Mercy Hospital
and serves this sort of social function for families and people
who are getting long-term treatment and also visiting doctors who
need to stay for long periods of time. It’s a pretty exciting
adaptive reuse,” de Courcy says.

“We can continue to reuse historic buildings to increase
housing supply. But there are other intangible things: Historic
buildings help connect us to our past, they provide a sense of
culture and community and a shared history. And we can’t get
that back. Once you lose a historic building, it’s a
non-renewable resource.”

Sean de Courcy, Preservation director, City of

A number of large estate homes in Sacramento that were built
before World War II have also been converted into multi-unit
buildings. “We can continue to reuse historic buildings to
increase housing supply,” de Courcy says. “But there are other
intangible things: Historic buildings help connect us to our
past, they provide a sense of culture and community and a shared
history. And we can’t get that back. Once you lose a historic
building, it’s a non-renewable resource.”

Preserving our history

Melisa Gaudreau, preservation architect and associate principal
with Page & Turnbull, the first architectural firm in California
to dedicate itself to historic preservation, helped establish the
Sacramento office in 2006 with the aim of helping to preserve
Sacramento’s rich architectural history. “It really is about
finding the appropriate future use for these buildings. It’s not
just preservation of historic spaces so they can land on a
national register, but so they can actually be utilized, and in
some cases, solve a current challenging issue or be used more

One of Gaudreau’s projects that does both is the adaptive reuse
of the Capitol Park Hotel. Page & Turnbull was approached by
Mercy Housing about repurposing the single room occupancy hotel
into permanent housing units for those transitioning from
homelessness. The completely restored historic building has
undergone a seismic upgrade, an interior renovation and has new
mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. When completed, the
adaptive reuse project will include 134 permanent housing units
as well as community rooms and a 24/7 support staff. Onsite
services will be managed by the County of Sacramento and
WellSpace Health. The project is expected to be completed at the
end of 2022. “It’s a beautiful building right in the heart of
downtown with some very interesting exterior and interior
features that will be preserved as part of the original historic
character,” Gaudreau says. Leasable commercial space will be
available on the ground floor.

The City of Davis is working to preserve its historic district,
such as the Dresbach-Hunt-Boyer house, built in the 1870s.

Another Page & Turnbull historic project that got a preservation
facelift is the Sacramento Valley Station, the seventh busiest
Amtrak station in the U.S. Listed on the National Register of
Historic Places and the local Sacramento Register of Historic &
Cultural Resources, the 1926 Southern Pacific Railroad station
building was acquired by the City of Sacramento in 2006. The
Renaissance Revival style building was in a state of disrepair,
but had beautiful historic features. The station underwent a
two-phase rehabilitation. The first phase, completed in 2012, was
a seismic upgrade. The second phase was completed in 2017 and
improved the efficiency of Amtrak’s operations. Working as the
preservation architect, Page & Turnbull collaborated with the
Seattle office of Portland-based ZGF, the architect of record, to
design the new space. New customer service and office space was
included, along with a restored waiting room and exterior.
Improved tenant lease space was added. An original mural
depicting the start of the Transcontinental Railroad inside the
main waiting room was completely restored. The project received
LEED Platinum certification for its restoration, improved
amenities and sustainable upgrades. “We took a lot of care on
this project to get the historic elements right,” Gaudreau says.

Gaudreau also just finished working on a complete refresh of the
1924 Hotel Senator building on the corner of 11th and L streets.
The landmark city structure has 10 stories of office space. The
complete exterior improvements included restoration work on the
existing 520 wood-framed windows, adding new weatherstripping and
paint finishes to provide better operation and better weather
resistance. The owner, Seagate Properties, says since the
rehabilitation, the building has a 97 percent lease rate,
attributing it directly to the improvements. “The client told us
the tenants really love the improvements and those have
definitely helped them increase their leases within the building;
they also said the tenants consider the historic aspect of the
building an amenity,” Gaudreau says. The Hotel Senator building
was formerly the Senator Hotel, which served as a hub for the
legislative community. It still houses a number of lobbyists and
those desiring close proximity to the state capitol.

Reusing the environment

Matt Piner, owner of PinerWorks Architecture & Building Group,
believes it’s much better for the environment for a historic
resource to be rehabbed. “All of the trees have already been
chopped down, all of the labor expended and the carbon produced.
It’s already been built,” he says. “If you tear a historic
building down, you lose all that.”

Piner got his contractor’s license and started his own business
in 1990; his architect’s license followed in 1992. He began to
rehab historic buildings, including his own 1903 foursquare home
in Midtown near Sutter’s Fort.  

“In terms of preservation, the notion that the greenest building
is the one that’s already there is a big kind of credo of why
preservation matters in today’s world and why it matters for
climate change,’’ Piner says. “Sometimes we can’t save a
building, but it doesn’t mean we should reduce it to rubble and
haul it away in a dump truck.” 

Piner also started doing some remodel work and second-story
additions. He branched out into backyard cottages and accessory
dwelling units, or ADUs. Then in 2009, after giving a
presentation on regional and climate appropriate design at an AIA
Central Valley design dialogue meeting, he was approached by John
Ellis, a professor of architecture and former head of the
architecture department at Cosumnes River College, who asked if
he would be interested in teaching an online course on green
building. Piner has been teaching the 16-week course ever since.

Piner lends his expertise to local preservation organizations. He
spent five years as the preservation commissioner on the City of
Sacramento’s Preservation Commission, which recommends policies,
nominations and projects that support preservation of historic
resources. “They kind of got a twofer with me because I have a
design background as a licensed architect and also experience in
rehab,” he says. He is also a longtime member of the nonprofit
Preservation Sacramento.

William Burg, a historian for the California Office of Historic
Preservation and author of “Wicked Sacramento,” a nonfiction
account of Sacramento’s West End in the early 1900s, has a deep
understanding and appreciation of Sacramento’s historic past. He
serves as president of both Sacramento Heritage and Preservation
Sacramento, nonprofits aimed at promoting and protecting
Sacramento’s historic places. 

Preservation Sacramento has thrown its support behind the
adaptive reuse of several preservation projects, including the
historic buildings along the 700 block of K Street and the new
construction of affordable apartments in the back. The Warehouse
Artist Lofts on R Street and the earlier effort to restore the
Sacramento Memorial Auditorium all fall under the preservation

The City of Elk Grove worked with D&S Development to restore
a former wine grape warehouse in the historic district for Dust
Bowl Brewing Co.

“Adaptive reuse is any repurposing of an existing building for a
new use, like converting a warehouse to apartments, like WAL, or
converting an office building to a hotel, like the Citizen or the
Exchange,” Burg says.  “Embodied energy, like aesthetics or
economics, is a reason to reuse existing buildings.” Burg
explains that embodied energy represents the energy expended to
create a building.

Preservation Sacramento has also been advocating for the adaptive
reuse of the historic shop buildings at The Railyards. The paint
shop building on the easternmost side is planned to be reused as
a 5,000-seat live music venue and is the first in a series of
projects slated for adaptive reuse in the central shops historic
district. Construction is expected to start in late 2022 for
opening in 2023. The project was recently approved by
preservation director de Courcy. 

Reusing downtown buildings

Sherri Metzker, principal planner and interim director of
community development and sustainability for the City of Davis,
is trying to make sure its historic districts are preserved and
protected. She says most of the historic buildings are
residential. Many of the homes are small, but rather than move,
homeowners are adding on. “Folks are trying to make them more
contemporary without losing the historic charm they have in the
home,” says Metzker, who is seeing a lot more additions and ADUs.

A number of historic commercial buildings exist in the downtown
area, and the city is working on a Downtown Davis Specific Plan
to identify opportunities for adaptive reuse and space
maximization. Many of Davis’ historic commercial buildings are
single story, with an opportunity for residential second stories.
If adopted, the plan would allow for 1,000 additional residential
units and about 600,000 square feet of non-residential space
including retail, restaurants, office space and lab space. The
goal is to present the plan to the city council for a vote by the
end of the year. “I think it’s good in a community to have a mix
of architectural styles, and preservation of historical buildings
adds to that and gives people an appreciation of what used to
be,” Metzker says.

The City of Elk Grove used a CLG grant several years ago to
identify all of its historic buildings and has been working to
preserve and adaptively reuse them. It recently worked with
D&S Development and Dust Bowl Brewing Co. to rehabilitate a
6,000-square-foot former wine grape warehouse in its historic Old
Town District, which was turned into a brewery and restaurant,
the Old Town Tap House.

Marysville’s Historic Downtown District has a large collection of
historic buildings that are grossly underused, Councilmember
Stuart Gilchrist says. The city is in the process of updating its
general plan for 2023; it has not been updated since 1980. The
intention is to consider mixed-use infill that can function as
live-work spaces adjacent to the historic resources. “Every mixed
use must include housing,” says Gilchrist, whose town faces a
housing shortage like many others. “We want thriving, livable
housing downtown.” He favors mixing old and new together. One
building, the former home of the Nakagawa Company grocery store
built in 1857, was in poor condition after standing vacant for 20
years. The building was sold with the understanding that it had
to be torn down. The owner is considering purchasing an adjacent
property targeted for redevelopment by the city and combining the
two to build a multi-story residential housing project,
preferably with a facade that matches the historic one in some
way. “We are aggressively working at bringing in new construction
with the intent of mixing old and new,” Gilchrist says.

Architect Gaudreau has noticed a greater awareness and
appreciation for the value of historic resources and developers’
willingness to adaptively reuse them.

“As a community, historic resources speak to who we are, where
we’ve come from and what we can be proud of,” Gaudreau says.
“They help shape our identity. And historic resources really help
make each city unique. By preserving and protecting historic
resources, we are helping to protect the unique identity of our
particular region.” 

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