Sutter’s Fort to close for major repairs in July

Sutter’s Fort will be shut down for a month this summer while the outside walls, central building and pathways are repaired.
Sutter’s Fort will be shut down for a month this summer while the outside walls, central building and pathways are repaired. Midtown Business Association

Sutter’s Fort, a longtime summer destination for California history buffs, will close from July 13 to Aug. 13 while the grounds undergo the largest renovation since the 1890s.

The fort’s pathways, central building and exterior walls will be renovated during the closure. Renovations are slated to cost $1 million. Repairs were made to the east and south gates in late 2014, and outdoor lighting will be installed next year. The fort is at 27th and L streets.

Friends of Sutter’s Fort, a nonprofit affiliated with the monument, is coordinating the restoration efforts along with park superintendent Matt Bellah. After complaints of slippery walkways following storms, Friends of Sutter’s Fort pushed to install new grading, improve drainage and change the surface of the fort’s paths.

The nonprofit will also oversee the outside wall’s renovation, including filling in cracks, repointing mortar between bricks and applying a fresh coat of “breathable” paint. Cracks in the walls have emerged because moisture causes the adobe layer, hidden behind a layer of bricks, to expand and contract. The breathable paint will allow air in while keeping water out.

Venada National Oil and Gas owner Ron Leineke will fund the outside walls’ touch-ups and repainting. Leineke’s contribution is expected to be about $500,000 but could change slightly depending on the winning contractor’s bid.

“I’ve been driving by the fort for years and looking at the condition of the exterior walls deteriorating,” said Leineke, who at 84 is a lifelong Sacramento-area resident. “It’s time to (fix) these walls before they fall down. Without walls, you don’t have a fort.”

California taxpayers will fund the $500,000 needed for the other two projects this summer. The pathways will be fixed with state money designated for accessibility improvements in parks, while the central building’s seismic stabilization will be paid for by California State Parks’ cultural resource management fund.

The central building is the only part of Sutter’s Fort still around from the 1840s, when California pioneer John Sutter built and expanded the property. Pro Builders in Orangevale will install concrete reinforcements in the unsupported adobe structure’s basement.

Construction needs will remain even after the current list of projects is complete, Friends of Sutter’s Fort executive director Lisa Mealoy said. The inside of the perimeter walls also require repairs, and repeated working fires in the blacksmith shop and candle-making room have built up creosote, a sticky, black byproduct that must be removed.

“We’re about halfway there, and then we still need to get these other major things done,” Mealoy said. “We still have a good, solid chunk more to get the fort to where it needs to be.”

Friends of Sutter’s Fort is in charge of the fort’s fundraising efforts, but all projects are managed by California State Parks. The two groups collaborate to determine what parts of the fort need repair the most.

Sutter’s Fort gets about 100,000 visitors per year, 70 percent of whom are children, Mealoy said. The fort was established in 1839 when Sutter received a land grant from the Mexican government and became a temporary refuge for travelers until it was overrun in the Gold Rush.

“Arguably, it’s the most important landmark in Northern California,” Leineke said. “When the fort was built, there was nothing here and it was the destination for early pioneers, and certainly during the Gold Rush.”

The park’s website, suttersfort.org, will post pictures and details of the renovations during the closure, Bellah said.