Bob Shallit

Historic arch making a return to Oak Park

Historic photo of the original Gateway Arch that served as a welcoming point for visitors to Oak Park.
Historic photo of the original Gateway Arch that served as a welcoming point for visitors to Oak Park. courtesy photo

More than a century after the mysterious disappearance of a huge arch welcoming visitors to Oak Park, a 23-foot-tall replica is being installed next year in the up-and-coming Sacramento neighborhood.

The first “Gateway Arch,” perhaps 30 feet high and 60 feet across, went up in 1903 in what was then the city’s newly established first suburb. At 35th Street and Fifth Avenue – the terminus of Sacramento’s streetcar line – it served as entryway to the neighborhood’s popular Joyland amusement park.

“It was one of the iconic images of Oak Park” before being torn down for unknown reasons sometime early in the century, said Stuart Eldridge, chairman of the Oak Park Business Association.

Now Eldridge and his business group are planning to install the slightly downsized version at the same location, now the entrance to McClatchy Park.

The goal is to recognize the neighborhood’s past as a popular shopping and entertainment hub before its decline in the 1950s and 1960s, said Eldridge, who runs a printing company called Capital Graphics in the Oak Park neighborhood.

“It’s sort of a nod to the past and acknowledgment of the future,” he said, referring to the recent spate of projects that are again making the neighborhood one of the city’s trendiest destinations.

Plans for the arch have been taking shape over the past year, Eldridge said. While the original arch was made of wood, the replica is being fabricated from steel, with the Oak Park name to be illuminated at night using LED lights.

The original sign was flanked by two dates – 1889, the year the neighborhood was established; and 1903, the date of the arch’s installation. It was “ridiculously tall,” Eldridge said, and wide enough for two streetcars to pass under it at the same time.

The replica will be about 45 feet wide, and will keep the 1889 date on one side but replace the other with 2016.

The business association, which raises money though an assessment on area property owners, is paying the entire cost of the project – estimated at $75,000 to $100,000, said Terrence Johnson, the group’s executive director.

That fact caused some double-takes from city officials when the association first proposed the idea of installing a gateway sign in a public park and assuming all of the costs.

“Their response was, ‘Nobody’s ever done that before,’” Johnson said.

The business association already has received conceptual approval for the project from City Council and park officials, but they still need to submit engineering documents before getting a construction permit.

Johnson said he envisions the sign being a source of community pride and a Sacramento landmark that tourists and others may seek as a backdrop for photos.

“I was speaking to the mayor and told him this will be competition for selfies with the Jeff Koons statue” planned at Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento. “He said, ‘I like a challenge. Go for it.’”