Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Arch and the Power Poles

The Arch - at 10th and R.
One of the new obelisks on R.
R Street redevelopment continues with some recent streetscape improvements. On the 19th of January, the first phase of these improvements were officially celebrated with the lighting of the new arch. FUEL Creative Group, designers of the street arch, a smaller pedestrian arch and stand alone obelisks, drew on the industrial history of the street for inspiration. When they scouted present day R Street, they found a couple of aged metal power poles and used them as a design element.

The poles, one at 8th street and another at 21st street, have long intrigued me. They are of a latticed metal construction and certainly have an industrial flavor to them.

In my photo collection of R Street, they pop up in the background in various places. The earliest photos I have date from the mid 1930s, and they were present back then. Even in those early photos, the pole line they are a part of is mostly made up of a wooden poles. But it is evident that there were more metal poles in the past than the two survivors we have today. Interestingly, nowhere in the photos I've studied is there evidence of them further west than 8th street. And this leads me to a theory.

I speculate that the poles date back to 1908 when the Great Western Power Company built a pole line from Brighton to a power house at 8th and R Streets.

The pole at 21st and R as it looks in 2012.
It's only about 2/3rds its original height. 
That's the old Bekins Building in the background   
Around 1908, Great Western built a power house at 8th and R Streets in its bid to compete with PG&E in Sacramento - especially for industrial customers as could be found along R Street. Great Western had a big hydroelectric plant at Big Bend on the Feather River that was the largest hydroelectric operation west of the Mississippi at the time*. The company transmitted 60,000 volts** on a high tension line from Big Bend to a substation at Brighton (Folsom and Power Inn Rd) on its way to Oakland. At Brighton a smaller feeder line came into Sacramento to the power house at 8th and R Streets. According to a historical survey sheet prepared by the State of California Department of Parks and Recreation, the 'building received 22,000 volts from Brighton and transformed it to 2300 volts for urban use'.
The power house at 8th and R from a 1912 issue of Electrical World.

Great Western Power was acquired by PG&E circa 1930 and the publicly owned Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) took over the electrical grid after a long and contentious fight on the evening of the last day of 1946. The building was in use up to at least the early 1980s but has since been torn down.

I'm reasonably certain the metal power poles were headed to the power house and their job was to transmit power from Brighton - I just would like to find some documentation that they date all the way back to 1908 or at least back to the Great Western days.

I do plan on modeling at least one of these poles for one of the modules or the home layout at some point. If done well they would make a striking model.

I'm glad FUEL Creative based part of their design on these old poles. They are very likely artifacts that have been a part of the long and interesting history of electricity in Sacramento.

* photo caption next to page 199 in PG&E the Centennial History of the Pacific Gas and Electric
 **  ibid p. 223 upgraded to 100,000 volts in 1909,


  1. Hey Tom -

    Nice to see you post again. A great post too. I'm not sure if I've commented before, but I'm an ex-model builder and have been following your blog for sometime.

    - Kevin Campbell (no relation) hehe

  2. Thank for the kind words Kevin. It's great knowing there are folks following along even though the posts are few and far between :-).


  3. I was just walking by the pole at 8th and R and wondered about it. If you find out more, I'd be very interested in knowing!

  4. Sadly, no. No new information to either confirm or negate my theory. Alas. But I will definitely post a follow up if anything springs up in the research on this front.