Historic city footwear on display

If it’s true you can tell a lot about a man by his shoes, then it’s also true that you can learn a lot about a city by its shoe collection.

Highlight of Sacramento’s shoe stash – some 275 pairs dating from the 1860s to the 1970s – are on display at the Center for Sacramento History’s sprawling warehouse through Sunday. The collection, donated to the city over the years, illustrates a changing society, said Veronica Kandl, a spokeswoman for the department.

“Not only is footwear influenced by style, (it is) influenced by technology,” Kandl said.

The center’s primary role is to be the repository of the city’s history, storing a trove of documents, some 5 million photographs and 30,000 everyday items – from horse carriages to neon signs. Some of the collection is displayed at the Sacramento History Museum in Old Sacramento, but the vast majority of it is neatly stored in the center’s climate-controlled and specially lit warehouse.

Recently, the center decided to take a more active role in sharing its collection with a the public. Last year, for instance, it held tours that showcased hats worn by city residents over the years.

This year, “Fabulous Footwear” is the theme. Part of the effort is also to reach a younger demographic. To that end, this weekend’s event will include a vintage fashion fair featuring vendors selling period clothing. None of the city collection will be sold, Kandl said.

The shoes in the city collection range from simple Gold Rush-era boots to colorful ’70s platform shoes.

The collection tilts heavily toward women’s wear, but does include some men’s work boots dating back to the late 1800s.

“Women have a tendency to save more,” Kandl said.

One of the men’s shoes in the collection is the iconic Converse Chuck Taylor “All-Stars” brand.

Sharon Helmar, a self-proclaimed shoe aficionado from Sacramento touring the collection Thursday, said she was surprised to learn that Chuck Taylor was a real person. After a brief career as a basketball player, Taylor toured the country teaching basketball camps and selling Converse shoes. His field research helped refine the shoe design that eventually bore his name.

“Shoes are my thing,” Helmar said. “Shoes are just beautiful design and architecture.”

In addition to the shoes she wears, Helmar, a former schoolteacher, also collects miniature shoes and has enough shoe-related clothing to wear a different item – from shirts to bracelets – every day of the school year.

“I think it’s great that the city collects these things,” Helmar said. “I think they should find a way to do it more often.”