Sleep Train Arena ends an era with Ringling Brothers matinee

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus performed its last show on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus performed its last show on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.

After 28 years, through the slam dunks and missed free throws, plus a parade of concerts and monster truck rallies, a Sacramento era wound down to a fairly unsentimental end on Sunday. A 3 p.m. matinee of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus marked the final performance ever to be held at Sleep Train Arena.

The new home of the Sacramento Kings, downtown’s $557 million Golden 1 Center, is weeks away from its public debut. The arena will be given its christening of sorts on Oct. 4 and Oct. 5, via two sold-out concerts by Paul McCartney.

While Golden 1 Center’s calendar continues to be filled with marquee events, including a $1,000-per-head gala featuring pop star Gwen Stefani on Oct. 21, Sunday’s Sleep Train Arena finale had the feeling of just tying up loose ends before moving on.

The circus itself, a space-themed show with aerial acrobatics and a cavalcade of clowns, didn’t deviate much from its usual script or delve into nostalgia about this “greatest show on earth” being the last show for the arena. It was simply a performance of the circus, with soda-sipping kids sitting in laps and waving lighted toys as the ringmaster led the action.

But on a small corner of the concourse, near Section 119, some fans left their final sentiments. A pillar was covered in messages left via a silver Sharpie pen, a way of bidding goodbye to an arena that became home to so many memories over the years, whether it was known as Arco Arena, its brief run as Power Balance Pavilion or its final incarnation as Sleep Train Arena:

“First game 1989 – 7 months old”

“Oh, what memories”

“Forever Arco!”

For Bob Walker, the Sunday circus matinee signified his final shift at Sleep Train Arena. He was a familiar face in the building, an usher in Section 211 at Sacramento Kings games for nine years. Walker, 77, will remain as an usher for Kings games and other events once the move is completed to Golden 1 Center. But he still holds a special fondness for the building that was deemed outdated, like the Members Only jacket of sports arenas.

“My fellow workers and all the season ticket holders, they’re like family to me,” Walker said. “Last year when Garth Brooks played, there were nights when I didn’t get out until 3 a.m. But I’ve just liked working with the people.”

Out in Section 202, the Benedetto family from Placerville settled into the circus performance, wondering how the experience would be when Golden 1 Center hosts the circus and other events. Danny Benedetto, who attended the circus with his wife and three children, had made a number of trips down the hill from Highway 50 to attend various Sleep Train Arena events over the years.

“For us, it was always about the Kings, Kings, Kings,” Benedetto said. “We also loved the Knights, the indoor soccer team. I’m just wondering about traffic and getting in and out” when Golden 1 Center opens.

It’s not yet known exactly what will happen to Sleep Train Arena in the coming months. While Sunday’s circus marked the final ticketed performance event for the arena, the building will host a handful of graduation ceremonies. Beyond that, it’s still being determined if Sleep Train Arena will have a final date with a wrecking ball or be transformed for some other kind of use.

So for now, the emphasis is going toward Golden 1 Center and its high-tech amenities, such as an 84-foot-long scoreboard with videos broadcast in “4k ultra” high definition. Despite its lesser technologies, Sleep Train Arena still will be a place that holds memories for generations of Sacramentans, be it the circus-like atmosphere when it seemed like the Sacramento Kings were leaving town for good, or the thrills and chills when Prince rocked the arena in 2004.

The time has simply arrived for a new chapter of the Sacramento Kings, and the cowbells will continue to clang, but in downtown instead of Natomas.

“Well, I have a lot of memories here,” Walker said. “But it’s no more. This is it for me here.”

Chris Macias: 916-321-1253, @chris_macias