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A new, old look for Sutter Street

Major streetscape project to begin in August
By: Lance Armstrong, Telegraph Correspondent
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With construction barely completed on the city’s newest bridge, Folsom Lake Crossing, dirt will soon begin to fly once again as Sutter Street will undergo the initial phase of a major streetscape project. The $6.8 million project, which will begin in August, calls for the removal of the street’s more than 40-year-old median and the expansion of sidewalks to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. Storefront linear shed roofs will also be removed along the 600 to 900 blocks of Sutter Street. Following the project’s first phase, which will begin along the 600 block and continue through mid-October, construction will cease through the holiday shopping season and rainy winter months. The second phase of the project will begin in spring 2010 with the 900 block, continue with the 800 block and end with the 700 block, which is the core of the Sutter Street commercial area, between Riley and Wool streets. While some minor work within the Leidesdorff block may continue, the majority of the project should be completed by October 2010. During construction, businesses will stay open and regularly scheduled events such as the Thursday Night Market and the 4th of July Cattle Drive will go on as planned. For those who say the city’s timing is off and that construction could hurt business, Amy Feagans, the city’s redevelopment and housing director, is optimistic. “What we’re hoping is that people will be more interested in seeing all the construction and all the changes, so they will come down (to Sutter Street) more than they normally would,” she said. City Manager Kerry Miller explained that the city is well aware many local residents are disappointed with the changes that will be made to the area. “We certainly understand people’s sentiments, because for most people, what they see on Sutter Street is all that they have known of Sutter Street,” Miller said. Sutter Street, which dates back to the days of the Gold Rush, received the relatively modern median and linear shed roofs as part of a $5,000 Gaslit Mall project in 1965. Former Folsom Mayor Stan Gisler, a Folsom resident since 1959, recalled details of the pre-median Sutter Street. “Before they put in the median, you would park kind of at an angle on each side of the street,” Gisler said. “At that time, Bank of America was down there, the post office, the dime store, a couple of restaurants and some bars. I also remember that (former Telegraph editor) Cliff Toney was a big advocate of the (1960s) renewal of Sutter Street.” Comparing Sutter Street with Sacramento’s struggling K Street Mall, Gisler said that he strongly supports the Folsom streetscape project. “I don’t think people should get hung up on the nostalgia, because we need to keep growing and changing and trying things,” Gisler said. Unlike Gisler, another former mayor, Folsom native George “Bud” Hannaford, 84, prefers the current appearance of the street. “I think they should leave Folsom the way it is,” Hannaford said. “It’s still attractive to people from out of town. I think we’re going to lose the drawing point of Sutter Street.” Folsom History Museum Director Karen Mehring said that although many people do not welcome change to Sutter Street, she believes the streetscape project is very positive for Folsom. “In the big picture, (the streetscape) will make (the area) a lot more user friendly,” Mehring said. “The street is very narrow and it is hard to walk and by widening the space, overall it will give a wider area for people to walk with strollers … and things like that.” Jeremy Bernau, an active participant of the district’s revitalization and a redevelopment partner for the historic Folsom Station, said that it is important for residents to understand that the streetscape project is meant to capture the city’s history. “Rather than removing the history, the project is actually preserving what is more historically accurate,” Bernau said. “The shed roofs and medians are a 1960s response to the then-new development on East Bidwell, not the earlier Gold Rush street appearance (from the era) that made Folsom famous.” City Arborist Ken Menzer said that in addition to the city’s efforts to improve traffic flow, provide better fire safety and emergency vehicle access, it is important to follow through with the scheduled plan to remove the Chinese elms along the median. “The center trees are coming out, because, for one thing, they’re planted in 6 to 8 inches of soil, then they’re on top of asphalt (from the old Highway 40) which is 8 inches thick on top of 18 inches of concrete,” Menzer said. “(The trees) had no methodology to hold them up, except for luck through the years.” Menzer added that part of the project includes the planting of about 50 trees at various points on each side of Sutter Street. The streetscape project will also preserve the historic elements, which are located along the sidewalks and median. Among these items, which will be relocated to various places along the project area, will be the large granite pillars, which formerly bordered the State Capitol from 1881 to 1949. Between their time on the Capitol grounds and Sutter Street, the pillars were located at Folsom Prison until Warden Robert A. Heinze, on behalf of the prison, donated them to the city. Gisler said that the late Folsom resident Elvie Briggs paid for the pillars to be hauled to Sutter Street. A pair of the pillars were also placed at the front of Briggs’ property on Elvies Lane in Folsom, where they are still located today. Feagans said that once completed, Sutter Street will be a happening place. “It will be pretty exciting when (the project) is all done and we can stand down there and see the new, old Sutter Street,” Feagans said. “I think it will be fabulous. We’ll have outdoor gathering areas, improved parking and circulation down there. … It will give (the area) a whole new life.”