February 17, 2014

Pleasing public spaces, hidden in plain sight

Sacramento is rich with public spaces that help define life here and top lists when locals brag to outsiders or introduce the area to newcomers.

Sacramento is rich with public spaces that help define life here and top lists when locals brag to outsiders or introduce the area to newcomers.

With jewels such as the American River Parkway, Capital Park, Land Park, Effie Yeaw Nature Center and others, it’s easy to overlook a few less-visited spots. A visitor often can escape the madding crowd in one of these small gems and even have it to oneself, even on the most beautiful of days.

Here are some overlooked public places that might be worth a visit.

Golden State 2003, Capitol Avenue between 15th and 16th streets, Sacramento.

In plain sight of the Capitol sits a trio of spaces that provide a refuge in the middle of a busy grouping of state office buildings. The block-plus length of the space offers public artworks that invoke a connection among humanity, Earth and the heavens. A cluster of kiosks in the “zone of discovery” represents the stars as they were arranged in the sky on Sept. 9, 1850, when California became the 31st state. The other two zones offer a spot for public gathering and another for contemplating the immensity of the universe. The area is accessible 24 hours a day thanks to illuminated artworks.

3586 Riverside Blvd. , Sacramento

This small lot fronts the city’s 100-year-old Pumping Station No. 2, which helps explain why it celebrates water. Tucked under the shade canopy are works of public art situated on a crushed granite walk. The three-tiered fountain/pool centerpiece, “Open Circle,” includes a mosaic art piece for a splash of color. When fully functioning, an obelisk plays with light, water and stone. Another major element in the tiny park is a collection of poems etched onto pastel-shaded glass panels. Carved stones define the edge of the pathway and offer places to sit. Even on the hottest summer afternoons, there is respite here.

800 block North Seventh Street, Sacramento

This might be the city’s newest park. A few paces from the Township 9 Regional Transit station, this public space has water features and a landscaped promenade stretching from Richards Boulevard to Riverina Street. The emerging neighborhood (work is underway in the adjacent Nehemiah Social Enterprise) will share the space with employees of the California Highway Patrol who can find a spot to sit during breaks from the workday. A fountain fills the center of a traffic circle at Vine and North Seventh streets, as the centerpiece of this public space, which affords views of the city’s downtown skyline. The trees and artful landscaping will create a leisurely boulevard feel as they mature. One challenge will be finding parking if this becomes a popular hangout.

Sacramento River Water Intake Facility, Matsui Waterfront Park, Sacramento

Sitting in the Sacramento River, this public space is highly functional but also boasts public art. From inside the facility, it’s easy to imagine you’re on a boat traveling the river itself. Public art is paired with the handsome treatment of the pipes and fittings that are part of the city’s water supply. Light standards evoke the shape of boat sails along the pedestrian bride that leads to the glass-and-metal building, but there’s something to see even before you ever get to the building itself. An in-ground fountain invites visitors to have fun with a bit of water and to mentally distance yourself from the nearby traffic on Interstate 5. A similar facility sits in the American River. Posted hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

City Cemetery, 1000 Broadway, Sacramento

Not to come across as insensitive, but this is truly a perfect place to rest – and wander, and explore – in peace. The city’s oldest existing cemetery, founded in 1849, hosts many of Sacramento’s fathers, including John Sutter, who donated its 10 acres. It was originally landscaped in the Victorian style, meant to showcase an idealized version of nature, and that wild yet civilized aesthetic exists today. Visitors can amble along undulating, tree-shaded paths flanked by time-stained granite and marble headstones, as well as classically styled mausoleums. In the spring, abundant plants and flowers express radiate and vibrant color, and hundreds of rosebushes scent the air. But beyond the beauty, the space offers a welcoming, solemn serenity, perfect for quiet contemplation. Winter hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays; 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Closed Wednesdays and Thursdays and some city holidays.

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