Reminisce about Sacramento’s history and there is an immediate return to 1848 and the luster of the Gold Rush years, an exciting period that captured the imagination of the world and caused those who were “young at heart” to drop what they were doing and become part of the most electrifying fantasy the world has ever known. The Gold Rush made an instant state out of California and a thriving city out of Sacramento, and served as a monument to a national dream that prevails today.
As valuable as gold was for the 49ers, a century later, the late 1940s and early 1950s witnessed the beginning of a rush for land, new homes, and new businesses in Sacramento. While the cry was more subdued, this second “gold rush” caused Sacramento to flourish.
Nestled in the middle of this twentieth century real estate was an area that exemplifies the dreams that prevailed in Sacramento and today still serves as a landmark of future developments—Arden Oaks.
To fully appreciate this modern-day fantasy-come-true, one has to look at Sacramento just before the time of Marshall’s gold discovery at a Coloma sawmill. In 1839, a Swiss immigrant named John Sutter founded the first inland settlement in Northern California and built his renowned Sutter’s Fort, the only settlement near the Sierras.
On December 20,1844, a Mexican land grant was made to Elias Grimes, by Manuel Micheltorena for 44,374 acres that occupied eight miles along the American River and eight and a half miles to the north. A gentleman by the name of Samuel Morris acquired and held the land from 1852 until selling it to Colonel James Ben Ali Haggin in 1870, and records indicate Haggin developed the land.
In addition, Haggin acquired hundreds of thousands of acres of so-called “desert land” in the Sacramento, San Joaquin and Kern River valleys on which he proceeded to develop extensive irrigation projects. A man of many interests, Haggin was also attracted to breeding stock in the early 1870s. Beginning on a small scale on his Sacramento land, his world-known horse-breeding empire eventually extended to his native state of Kentucky, where he developed an immense horse-breeding estate near Lexington. Between 1881 and 1891, his horses captured most of the great racing trophies in the East and West.
In 1909, a number of the Sacramento city fathers, headed by the Chamber of Commerce, encouraged Haggin to consider the need for desirable acreage to lure easterners interested in locating in Sacramento. Sacramento’s business community was overjoyed when an announcement was received on May 13, 1910 that the Minneapolis Land Company had purchased the 44,372-acre “Rancho del Paso,” which had become one of the largest horse breeding farms in the world. In 1919, Del Paso Country Club was developed from a portion of this ranch.
Prominent Sacramento pioneer families such as the Theodora Robbins Bucklins, the Gallaways, and the Wrights were involved in owning the 10- to 20-acre parcels. This horse influence was also instrumental in attracting Steve Williams, a developer, horseman and pilot, who was looking for land to develop with an appeal to those who loved the open spaces and desired room for horses.
Williams purchased 1,800 acres in 1945 that embraced the Arden Park and Arden Manor sections. He then sold most of the land except 435 acres that we know today as Arden Oaks. His dream was to develop estate-size lots bounded with horse trails. On August 16, 1945 this dream was realized with the recording of the 60-lot Arden Oaks, Unit 1, which featured horse lots ranging from 0.8 to 3 acres that sold from $2,800 to $9,000.
There was such a demand for estate-sized lots averaging from one half to several acres that between December 1945 and June 1954, Arden Oaks, Units 2 through 6, added close to 200 more lots to the section. According to Williams, all of the lots were sold in a short time. Later units were divided into smaller parcels for those who did not have an interest in horse zoning.
The first Arden Oaks home was built in 1951 on Meadow Lane, and Unit 1 was completely filled by 1955. Childhood here in the 1950s consisted of roaming the creeks for toads, playing kick-the-can in the wide-open fields under the stars, riding horses on the open pastures and trails in between lots, culminating in trick-or-treating with a Halloween bonfire on Rockwood and celebrating the holidays with candlelight caroling throughout the neighborhood transported in a rented U-haul trailer.
Early zoning and controls by the Arden Oaks Neighborhood Association established restrictions that enhanced the value of the area, such as proclaiming that no parcel can be divided more than twice and each lot must contain a minimum of 30,000 square feet.
By the 1970s, Arden Oaks had evolved into one of the most desirable North Area locations with a predominance of homes in the $125,000 to $400,000 range featuring tennis courts, swimming pools and secluded park-like settings. There remained quaintness in the streets lined with mailboxes where a country-like atmosphere prevailed. Watt Avenue, Arden Way, and Eastern Avenue shielded homeowners from mushrooming commercial development that bordered this residential oasis.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Arden Oaks began to evolve from open fields and horse trails peppered with 30-year-old ranch-style homes into a sophisticated neighborhood of multilevel luxury estates. The new millennium continued with multi-million dollar teardowns, renovations, and new home construction just minutes from excellent schools, dining, and shopping.
Today, only 12 miles from where the historic Sutter’s Fort stands as a landmark of Sacramento’s early development, Arden Oaks exemplifies modern-day living with panache. With a natural environment where songbirds abound and wild turkeys roam, Arden Oaks offers a tranquil setting amidst majestic trees and free-flowing creeks that eventually make their way to the American River.
An early American spirit still prevails in this secluded neighborhood. Each year Arden Oaks families gather together for their own Fourth of July 4 parade and picnic. They come clad in their red, white, and blue and some sporting their Model A’s and T’s, bicycles, skateboards and motorized bikes and carts adorned with streamers, flags, and balloons. Commencing on Rockwood near the former residence of developer, Steve Williams, the parade proceeds through the neighborhood with a mid-way stop for homemade root beer, and the festivities culminate at Windemere Park, where friends, families, and neighbors enjoy a watermelon feed, pie-eating contest, water-balloon toss, three-legged race, and live music by neighborhood musicians. And at the end of every summer, the neighbors have one huge block party, where all residents are invited to a neighborhood, sit-down barbecue.
Residents of Arden Oaks have struck “gold” with peaceful living in this neighborhood and cherish the “green” of a secluded and tranquil tree-lined oasis, tucked away from the freeways and frenzy of the 21st century.
Compiled by Ilene Kuzel, 1977 Updated by Tom and Nancy Harvey, 2011 Edited by Joyce Hsiao 2019
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