Cesar Chavez Park and Plaza: Sacramento, California


One of the oldest parks in California, Cesar Chavez Plaza has shaped downtown Sacramento's development since 1849. At that time, city founder John Sutter, Jr. dedicated 10 "public squares" for "the public use of the inhabitants of the city." Nine of the 10 remain in use today, and Cesar Chavez Plaza is one of them. One hundred sixty-five years of city planning have preserved the space with its cross-axial walkways, central fountain, and views of the historic civic skyline.

Designated Area

Plaza is between J and I Streets and 9th and 10th Streets in downtown Sacramento.

A $250,000 private gift in 1992 enabled the City of Sacramento to develop the very popular Cafe Soleil in the plaza. Photo courtesy City of Sacramento.

Planning Excellence

Surrounded by some of the city's most historic civic buildings, including the Beaux-Arts–style City Hall and Renaissance Revival style Central Library, the plaza continues to serve as the city's gathering place. Some even call it a "front yard" that provides a sense of community within a historical context.

Most recently, an $800,000 two-phase renovation of the plaza begun in February 2012 includes expanding hardscape for the Farmer's Market, enhancing plaza lighting, and lengthening walkways. Improvements are expected to be completed in late 2012.

There's rarely an hour of the day or evening when the plaza is not occupied, whether it's residents or visitors enjoying a meal at the park's Cafe Soleil, attending a wine festival or other special event, shopping at the Farmer's Market, or taking in an evening concert.

Special music concerts and festivals are just some of the things going on at Chavez Plaza year-round. Photo courtesy City of Sacramento.

Defining Characteristics, Features

History and Planning Milestones

  • In 1848, city founder John Sutter, Jr. commissioned Captain William H. Warner and famed Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman to lay out Sacramento's original street grid. The following year, 10 "public squares" were dedicated by Sutter for public use
  • Once proposed as the site for the California State Capitol building; the idea was abandoned in 1857 when concerned citizens claimed that the idea violated the original deed
  • City Street Commissioner John Rider hired noted developer and land designer John Keating to create a park plan in 1872; the main design elements of a central fountain, circular paths, and cross-axial walkways remain today.
  • In 1910, Beaux-Arts–style City Hall is completed facing the park. It forms the historic backdrop to the park and open air stage, while the park serves as the "city's front yard"
  • In 1927 the central fountain was replaced with the Coleman Fountain, designed by Robert Stackpole a popular Depression–era sculptor.
  • In 1985, designated as part of the Plaza Park Central Business District Historic District on the city's Register of Historic and Cultural Resources.
  • In 1989, the park played a key role in a downtown revitalization effort to bring more businesses and residents into the city central core area. The Plaza Park Steering Committee, comprising city officials, business leaders, and private citizens, brought in People for Public Places, Inc. to evaluate the park, ultimately leading to development of Cafe Soleil.
  • In 1992, city received gift of $250,000 from Grosvenor International and Lundberg International, enabling city to move forward on construction of Cafe Soleil and new restrooms in the park.
  • Downtown Sacramento Partnership, established in 1995 as the first property-based improvement district in the state. DSP has since promoted and managed programming for the plaza, including numerous special events like the popular Friday Night Concerts in the Park and the Certified Farmer's Market
  • Plaza Park renamed Cesar Chavez Plaza in 1999 in honor of the labor rights advocate and founder and leader of the United Farm Workers of America, the first successful and largest farm workers union

Surrounding Architecture

  • Plaza framed on the north by architect Rudolph Herold's 1911 Beaux-Arts–style City Hall and on the south by the newly renovated Citizen Hotel, designed by George Sellon, California's first state architect; both are listed in the Sacramento Register of Historic Resources
  • Architect Loring Rixford's 1918 Renaissance Revival style Central Library and 1933 Neoclassical Federal Post Office Building, designed by architect Leonard Starks, to the west and northwest, both listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the Sacramento Register, provide evidence of plaza's longevity
  • Also to the west is the Tsakopoulos Galleria addition to the Central Library, and the award-winning 25-story Park Tower, designed by the firm Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz
  • California Environmental Protection Agency Headquarters, the first building in the nation to receive Platinum LEED certification, frames the northeast corner

Features and Activities

  • The Coleman Fountain, by Depression–era Works Progress Administration (WPA) sculptor Robert Stackpole, features three stylized women holding a marble bowl, representing the Sacramento Valley's three rivers
  • Statues of Central/Southern Pacific Railroad Central Shops master mechanic A.J. Stevens (1889) and United Farm Workers of America founder Cesar E. Chavez (2001)
  • Focal point of annual Cesar Chavez Day March through city (begun 2001) and state Earth Day celebration
  • Site of a seasonal Certified Farmer's Market and Friday Concerts in the Park, Fiesta en La Calle, and Raley's Grape Escape food- and wine-tasting event

The plaza's design and location in the heart of Sacramento afford it unobstructed views of several downtown streetscapes. Flickr photo by SP8254 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).