The Union Pacific Food Hall

I just got back from Los Angeles yesterday and returned to our fair city with an appreciation for good urban planning.  I’ve been to several California cities in the last few months in fact, and I can say that Sacramento is much farther along in its trendy “dowtown revitilization” project than most of the others.  Nowhere is this more evident than in downtown LA.  For those of you that haven’t ventured to downtown LA recently, you’re missing a goldmine of an opportunity to see some of this country’s seediest homeless people along with one of the surest and slowest transformations of an American city.  The plodding gentrification of the downtown area is slow, true, but also relentless, transforming historical buildings and retaining some sense of SoCal history.  Instead of the “out with the old, in with the new” mentality so prevalent in LA,  planners are seizing this opportunity to do it right, mixing old and new in a symbiotic fusion.  The best example I can see of this attitude is at the Grand Central Market, an alomst open-air food haven that mixes spice sellers and fish mongers with kitchens and food stands, dishing out counter and street food from all over the globe.

Sitting at a counter, sucking down pupusas from a toothless Salvadorian, not hearing a word of English spoken within 50 feet of me, I realized that this type of institution, the food hall, is exactly what the downtown Sacramento area needs in order to breathe some charm in to otherwise charmless projects.  In San Francisco’s Ferry Building, we have a perfect example of how to turn an exisiting structure into an absolutely fantastic gathering point for restaurants, vendors, farmers markets and all types of local businesses.  We need to take one of the immense transportation structures now on the railyard site and turn it into a food palace, with small vendors and  gourmet restaurants,  permanent farmer’s markets and boutique food sellers.

Efforts have already been made in Granite Bay to start a food center named “Quarry Pond,” a shopping center focusing on small food merchants, but I’m just not ready to travel to Granite Bay to pick up a bunch of fresh arugala or a chunk of grain-fed beef.  In fact I’m not ready to go to Granite Bay for anything. I’d rather be able to stay downtown and have some unsmiling woman from Macau dish out chop suey for my lunch, stop by the wine merchant for my wine club purchases, stick around for happy hour at the “insert name of Paragary restaurant here” and go home feeling like my city was smart enough to get things right.  We all have complaints with the march of prgress, but this is one of those things that I think, if done right, could overcome almost any complaint, could act as a gathering point in our city, and could showcase the wealth of local foods and food producers we have in this region.

14 thoughts on “The Union Pacific Food Hall”

  1. I used to live in Downtown. I mean way down there 4th and P in an Apt. I would have really enjoyed a market such as the ferry building. I hated living in “downtown” but still having to get in a car to go to the store. There was no market, super or otherwise to speak off with in walking distance. The Farmers market a Downtown Plaza (don’t get me started about that rat hole) was the closest I could find and that was not at a time when I was home. Ok I am done ranting.


  2. Hey, Mr. Eats! Been back to McCormick & Whatsit yet? Brother Paws and I went Saturday, and had the best dining experience we’ve had in a long, long time.

    The Cajun-style soft-shell crab … mmmm. Cosmos to die for — I tossed back two — service prompt, knowledgable and friendly. (The waiter recommended the crab, when I was dithering between it and the Artic Char.)

    Deserts exceptionally yummy, esp. Creme Bulee.

    Even the valet parking boys were a riot. (We don’t usually pop for that, but Brother Paws is in an ankle-to-thigh knee brace, two weeks after surgery.)

    Love to have you go back and see what you think.


  3. An excellent idea. Perhaps this could be a fine use for the shithole I work next to, the K Street Mall. Another clump of businesses have fled in K Street past year and a few places even got eminent domained, including the very successful Texas-Mexican (aka Tex-Mex) Restaurant.

    Sacramento city government, wake up! K Street, from The Hard Rock to The Crest, could be a bustling open air market to complement the existing restaurants. We could extend tents overhead to provide shade in the summer and shelter in the winter. Imagine the music, the tourists, the easy access to public transit. It is perfect!

    We are the capital of California, we should have a shopping, cultural and recreational area that reflects our diversity and our bounty of abundant resources.


  4. “…sucking down pupusas from a toothless Salvadorian…”

    Did that phrase strike anyone else more in the unintended sense than the one intended a lot? Because I don’t want to be alone, here.


  5. I had a similar sort of Los Angeles experience, specifically around the old Mission de Los Angeles and the public plaza. I don’t know what it looks like on weekdays, but it was a Sunday and there was lots of activity. I was most impressed with the public-market area, featuring Mexican handicrafts and products of all sorts–varying from flea-market/tourist trap type stuff to some very nice artwork and handmade items.

    Downtown Sacramento used to have a lot more in the way of markets, shops, residents, department stores, etcetera, until the forces of “redevelopment” and “urban renewal” struck the neighborhood in the 1950s, wiping out a lively neighborhood, pretty much because the neighborhood’s inhabitants weren’t rich and weren’t white. Modern attempts at urban renewal aren’t likely to be any more successful, because they are largely based on how a small group of people think cities should look and work, not how they actually do look and work.

    The only effort in recent memory that did work on K Street was the short-lived “Thursday Night Market” in the 1990s. It was a rousing success, but because it succeeded in drawing a large cross-section of Sacramento’s population, including its non-white population, the city got freaked out by it and shut it down. Now the city wants to move the RT Metro station away from its latest pet project, for no immediately obvious reason but that nonwhites tend to congregate there. Racism is probably one of the most important factors in urban development, it just gets called different things now.

    I’ll be very upset if anything in the Railyards gets named after Union Pacific. They didn’t take over Southern Pacific until the late 1990s and all they did was preside over the closure and dismantling of the Shops and Yard. That’s Southern Pacific territory out there.

    And there is a plan for a public market type structure, in the Paint Shop building (the one farthest on the right as seen from the SP passenger station platform.)


  6. Yeah! I’m so glad they listened to my idea.
    Maybe they can call it the Atchison-Topeka-Santa Fe market corridor, or name it after the RR’s on a Monopoly board. The options are endless.


  7. We didn’t have any AT&SF trackage either: the shops and surrounding railroad were built by the Central Pacific, which later became the Southern Pacific (organized as a corporation in Kentucky even though they were based here in California, due to looser KY tax laws for corporations.) Western Pacific built the line between 19th and 20th. Interurban lines Sacramento Northern (formerly Northern Electric and Oakland Antioch & Eastern) and Central California Traction came here, and we also had the Sacramento Valley Railroad, the Sacramento Southern and the California Pacific before they were all gobbled up by Central Pacific/Southern Pacific. Generally, this was an SP town: the word I get from old-time locals is that you either worked at the canneries or for SP.

    The options aren’t really endless: if you’re going to use a historic building on a historic site, you have enormous potential capital due to the history already present in the building and on the site. That’s part of why Thomas is willing to spend something like $75 million to restore those buildings–they’re worth it as a historic resource.


  8. Okay, okay, I admit that I probably care more about railroad history more than most people. I suppose I’m probably less concerned than you about having something like the Ferry Building in Sacramento.

    In my visits to San Francisco, I stop by the Ferry Building often, as it is where I prefer catch the Amtrak bus. While it is nice that the Ferry Building is adaptively reused, rather than vacant and decaying, I really didn’t care much for the array of overpriced yuppie chow that was on display. It was also, well, really really really white. I mean, I’m white and I was uncomfortable with how much whitey was all over the place. I think I bought a coffee there once, other than that I just kind of goggle-eye at the prices and wandered off to use the bathroom.

    I guess I just like authenticity. If you’re going to reuse a structure where six generations of Sacramentans sweated and hammered and generally worked their asses off, I think it’s important to acknowledge them, or at least the company they worked for. And if you’re going to have something you call a farmer’s market, it should sell the sort of things that working people can afford. Sure, sell some expensive foo-foo too, but make it a place for everyone, not just for yuppie schmucks.

    One of the nice things about the old Thursday Night Market was that the vendors there charged pretty reasonable prices, along the same lines as you’d see at other farmer’s markets in town. Thus, people from all social classes came together to shop, as they have at Sacramento farmer’s markets as long as we have had farmers here. We could sure as hell use more of that, in the railyards or on K Street or wherever. More authenticity, across the board.


  9. I am entirely in agreement with wburg about the need for an authentic farmers market. The Ferry Building in SF should NOT be the model since this market is more of a foodie Pier 39 than a true farmers market. I like the idea of a market modeled on Seattle’s Pike Place Market before all the condos, or better yet something along the lines of Oakland Chinatown with more non-asian foods available.


  10. Yeah, but just try to talk a developer who’s investing millions of dollars into opening up a poor people’s food emporium and watch him throw you out of his office. True, the ferry building is for tourists, and that’s not exactly what I’m going for here, but a true marketplace with farm vendors, restaurants and coffeeshops and upper end retailers as well would be the best mix for everybody. Let’s hear it for the “Trans-Siberian, Orient Express Vittles Bazaar!”


  11. The idea isn’t to open up a “poor people’s” food emporium, but rather one aimed at all income levels–like, well, the farmer’s markets we already have, but ideally one that runs every day. One could be started at minimal expense simply by allowing vendor carts on K Street–spend no money on infrastructure, do a little advertising, and charge some nominal sum for vendors (and a nominal sum for street performers) and just have it running every day. It becomes self-regulating–rather than being a once a week Special Event, it becomes an ongoing thing, like then vendors one sees on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley or on Market Street in San Francisco. In winter months, fewer potential customers and fewer people willing to have an outdoor stand–in better weather, more stands and more gawkers. Having a functioning market provides proof that the market for the market (heh) exists, thus paving the way for a permanent structure–in someplace like, say, the Greyhound station (what better space can you imagine than where the buses park now?)

    One thing about Pike Place in Seattle–the city of Seattle actually had to subsidize farmers to grow “local produce” because Seattle isn’t really super-good ag land and it would have been too expensive otherwise. Around here we’ve got no shortage of vittles (at least as long as we can stop tearing up farmland for more slurbs) but not enough places to sell ’em. We used to have more–there was a big one on Alhambra and S.


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