We built this lovely, old building on Seventh Street between J and K Streets in 1868 and dedicated it in January of 1869. An enormous banquet followed that included such delicacies as lobster salad, green turtle soup, pig with apple jelly, English plum pudding and California wines.
The architect was Sacramento Pioneer Association member Nathaniel Goodell. The cost was $14,000. It is definitely the oldest building in Sacramento continuously owned and may hold that record for all of California.
From our founding in 1854, and for the next fifteen years, we had met at several places. Now we had a place to call our own with offices, a meeting room and a library. We rented space to the Grand Army of the Republic and the Odd Fellows. The Native Sons of the Golden West Sacramento Parlor was organized there; also the first Sacramento posts of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
In succeeding years, notable events occurred at Pioneer Hall. On October 1, 1879, we held a reception for former President Ulysses S. Grant. On May 2, 1891, our officers escorted President Benjamin Harrison from the train depot to the Capitol. The procession passed by the Hall which was patriotically decorated for the occasion. In 1899, we wired the hall for electricity at a cost of $112.50. On May 19, 1903, at a ceremony in front of the hall, we awarded President Theodore Roosevelt honorary membership. In 1918, we donated space to the Sewing Ladies of the Red Cross for the remainder of the First World War.
The Sacramento Pioneer Association served, in part, as a burial society. Funeral processions formed at the hall, proceeded to Pioneer Grove at the City Cemetery and returned to the hall for adjournment.
Over the years, we have had several colorful tenants: a cigar store, a shoe shop, a barber, a dance studio and a saloon, the renowned TNT Club. It was popular with servicemen during the Second World War. Later its back room was populated at lunchtime by lawyers and judges.
In time, the aging hall deteriorated. It leaked often. Bats occupied the attic for a long time despite efforts to get them out. On two occasions we considered selling it, but fortunately neither deal went through.
The year 1966 was a critical year for our association. Membership had declined to only four, but the association began to turn around with a complete reorganization. Immediately work to restore the hall began.
The hall was designated a Sacramento Historic Landmark on April, 19, 1967. At that time, until 1976, Pioneer Hall was used by the City to house the Sacramento Archives and Museum Collections Center.
During the remainder of the 60s, all of the 70s and the early 80s, money was spent to improve the building. But the basic structural problems were not addressed because of the enormous cost involved. The walls were of unreinforced masonry and needed to be brought up to earthquake code.
Time passed. Pioneer Hall had become a hazard, not productively rentable and a liability to the Association. There had been many "band aid" efforts to repair it through the years, but finally more extreme measures were necessary. Restoration to code and to hall's former grandeur would come at a great cost.
An alternative course had to be addressed: Should the Association simply sell the building? A horseback appraisal of its value was between $150,000 and $200,000 in its current, dilapidated condition. Heated discussion ensued and one board member said that, should the decision to sell be made, he would see them in court! Several board members were directed to seek funding by any means short of illegal.
In 1986, Sacramento Heritage, Inc., a non-profit arm of the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, came forward to offer financial help if the organization could subordinate its debt to make the project possible. Architectural drawings and cost estimates were made for the complete restoration. In October, 1986, Pioneer Association President Robert P. Heringer and members Burnett Miller and Robert Livingston met with Ralph Scurfield, his fellow representatives of the Sacramento Heritage Inc., and also the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency Finance committee. The group arranged a $300,000 loan for Pioneer Hall and a $100,000 back up, with the rest of the financing to be completed by the Sacramento Pioneer Association. This was undertaken through a drive to raise the Association's immediate share, approximately $125,000. Pioneer members donated this amount. A construction loan of $400,000 was provided by Wells Fargo Bank. After many City agencies signed off on the plans, negotiations resulted in a construction contract with the firm John F. Otto, Inc.
In preparation for the restoration, all tenants were asked to vacate the building. The tenants, at that time, were a tobacco shop, artist Jack Ogden, and the TNT Club. All leases were on a month-to-month basis and were cancelled as of September 1, 1987. The contractor began the interior dismantling and rehab. The long-overdue renovation of Pioneer Hall was finally under way.
The Pioneers gathered at the hall on June 30, 1988, to rededicate the building while construction was still going on. Most were in vintage costumes. Speeches, music and refreshments commemorated the important day.
The City Planning Department had not allowed balconies to be built over sidewalks in Sacramento for many years at the time of the Pioneer Hall restoration. The original hall had such a balcony that was removed in earlier times. A balcony was finally approved because of its historical significance. Colors of original exterior and interior paint were found from paint chips of original surfaces and were closely matched with lead-free paint. When the Housing and Redevelopment Agency signed a lease to move into the second floor space, it became necessary for the Pioneers to put in an elevator at an additional cost of $69,000. A loan for this amount was granted by the Agency.
Businesses secured tenancy, moved in and presented the grave problem of rent defaults and collection difficulties. The total loans owed by the Sacramento Pioneer Association at this time totaled approximately $786,000, more than the building was worth. On May 31, 1994, the Sacramento City Council approved a lease of all the space of Pioneer Hall to the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency from July 1, 1994, until July 1, 2015, in return for taking over much of the debt.
In 2008 the agency told us they would like to terminate the lease so they could move to centralized offices. The next year the Pioneers agreed to an early termination in exchange for a lump sum payment. They left the hall in excellent condition, but we were in the depths of the recession. Since then we have leased the entire building. Misfit, a marketing and advertising firm, occupies the entire second floor. In October of 2016, Kicx Unlimited, a retailer of athletic shoes and clothing, opened their store. Their merchandise is displayed and sold on the first floor and stored in the basement. Given what they sell, they are ideally located directly across the street from the new Golden One Arena, home of the Sacramento Kings.
Thus, Pioneer Hall today is sturdy, strong well maintained, beautiful and a viable commercial building.
To learn more, go to the Publications page and order The Annals of the Sacramento Pioneer Association and The Restoration of Pioneer Hall.
Sacramento Pioneer Association
1731 Howe Avenue, Box 639, Sacramento, CA 95825