California Forum

Finding beauty, inspiration in walking around the Capitol

On mornings of early sun, the Capitol Mall becomes a splendid corridor of color. Above the green floor, down toward the river and against the iconic backdrop of the Tower Bridge, comes the real show. It’s like some miracle of refraction.
On mornings of early sun, the Capitol Mall becomes a splendid corridor of color. Above the green floor, down toward the river and against the iconic backdrop of the Tower Bridge, comes the real show. It’s like some miracle of refraction. rbenton@sacbee.com

I came to Sacramento in 1975. I was a 22-year-old, snot-nosed Air Force sergeant with a wife and daughter and no clue how to be a man. We lived in base housing at Mather, in a cement box with Milky Way bar linoleum floors.

Forty-two years later, I’m still here. I have a son and six grandkids. My wife Kathy and I call South Land Park home, and occasionally I manage to shoulder the maturity meter past 1975. Through all the changes, though, one thing has stayed constant. I love this city.

A big reason: the state Capitol. The dome issues a majestic proclamation to the stars. You can stand and look, in awe, at the building’s physical splendor. But hold your gaze long enough and you will see a deeper magnificence, a significance closer to the soul. The Capitol will reflect back to you the Californian at your core. It will reveal itself as a monument to all the men, women and families, all the sacrifices and tragedies and triumphs that built America’s greatest frontier.

Also, there’s the yard. The sheer expanse of beauty. The combustible colors. The eclectic, perfect arrangement of big trees that call like a river in high wind. Most of all, the lush, beautiful green. That green goes past your eyes and strikes something inside that sparks calmness and better thoughts. In those moments you think life’s pretty good.

For 30 years, I was fortunate to have jobs that kept me within blocks of the Capitol. I covered it as a reporter, worked in it as a legislative staffer, and worked close to it as a state employee. So I was able to enjoy the yard on pretty much a daily basis.

Over the last nine of those years, I got more intimate with the yard as I walked around its perimeter (or at least tried to) four times each day. Those were some of the best moments of my life.

The morning trips, which usually started about 7:30, were best. If the day was right, the sun had already climbed to cast a soft golden luster on Capitol Park. That glow made the yard especially beautiful on the N Street stretch.

Here’s another thing about that leg of the walk on those mornings. I loved to think through work problems while walking, and N Street produced more breakthroughs than the other three blocks combined. I don’t have a spreadsheet that shows that, but I know it’s true.

Another highlight of the morning walk, on the right days, had little to do with the yard, per se. It came halfway down the 10th Street stretch. On your right is the west side of the Capitol, on your left the circle that houses the Library and Courts Building and the Unruh Building.

Beyond that circle, for my money, lies one of Sacramento’s most beautiful scenes – Capitol Mall. Everybody talks about how the city needs to do something to spruce up Capitol Mall, enliven it, make it more of a center for culture and commerce.

Maybe. But on mornings of early sun it becomes a splendid corridor of color. Above the green floor, down toward the river and against the iconic backdrop of the Tower Bridge, comes the real show. It’s like some miracle of refraction. The sunlight careens off the buildings and creates a wild canvas of yellow, orange, blue, gray and purple. Many were the times I stood gawking at that view, perhaps looking somewhat stupid, but filled with wonder.

When the drought hit California, the Capitol’s yard fell on tough times. Grass gave way to dirt. In spots, it looked like a desolate lot on the edge of some dying highway town. For this house of the people, the curb appeal vanished.

Whether it was right to let the yard turn brown and ugly is a legitimate topic for debate. Those who made the decision probably would say the state had to set a water conservation example at a time when it was requiring residents and businesses to make that sacrifice.

I think it was the wrong decision. I think if you showed Californians pictures of what happened to their Capitol yard when officials decided to not water it, most would say, “Please, come drought or high water, please do not let that happen again.”

This year, thankfully, the rains have come. The drought has officially ended, and Capitol Park is looking more like its old self – like the place that has given me some of the best moments in my life.

Tom Dresslar was Capitol bureau chief for the Los Angeles Daily Journal from 1987-2000. He worked for the state Assembly, served as a spokesman for former state Attorney General and state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, and was a deputy commissioner at the state Department of Business Oversight until his retirement at the end of April. He can be contacted at t.dresslar@comcast.net.

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