Check­ing out Cal­i­for­nia’s state cap­i­tals

Riverbank News - - LIVING - By DEN­NIS WY­ATT 209 Liv­ing

Here’s a cap­i­tal idea for a unique NorCal road trip — visit the sites of all of Cal­i­for­nia’s state capi­tol build­ings. The first stop would be in Mon­terey. While Mon­terey wasn’t the first state cap­i­tal, it was the cap­i­tal of Alta Cal­i­for­nia and where Cal­i­for­nia’s first con­sti­tu­tional con­ven­tion took place in Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber of 1849 as the pre­cur­sor to state­hood.

Colton Hall, which is now a mu­seum, is where the case for state­hood was made, the bound­aries of the pro­posed state adopted, and a host of other is­sues an­swered in­clud­ing free or slave state.

Colton Hall is on Pa­cific Street in Mon­terey be­tween Madi­son and Jef­fer­son streets. It is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The room where the state con­sti­tu­tion was drafted has been re-cre­ated to look as it did when birth was given to the idea of Cal­i­for­nia state­hood when the doc­u­ment was fi­nal­ized on Oct. 13, 1849.

You can learn a few things that might change your think­ing a bit when you visit Colton Hall. First — is you didn’t al­ready know — Cal­i­for­nia was gov­erned for awhile by the Span­ish and then was part of Mex­ico pop­u­lated by peo­ple grown pri­mar­ily from the mar­riage of Euro­pean Spa­niards and na­tives such as the Aztecs. This will ex­plain a fact some might find star­tling that you’ll find out vis­it­ing Colton Hall — the fi­nal con­sti­tu­tion was writ­ten in both Span­ish and English and both were signed as orig­i­nals.

The nice thing about Colton Hall it is within walk­ing dis­tance of the Mon­terey Wharf and near the more tourist Can­nery Row now an­chored by the Mon­terey Aquar­ium.

More in­for­ma­tion can be found by ac­cess­ing mon­ter­­se­ums and go-- ing to Colton Mu­seum.

San Jose, Capi­tol No. 1

The first State Capi­tol was lo­cated in a two-story adobe house con­sist­ing of 2,400 square feet in San Jose.

Leg­is­la­tors ar­rived in De­cem­ber 1849 to what is today the 100 block of South Mar­ket Street in down­town San Jose where you will find the San Jose Mu­seum of Art among other things.

San Jose was not only muddy and flooded in parts at the time, but there were in­ad­e­quate ho­tel ac­com­mo­da­tions. The Assem­bly met in a fin­ished se­cond floor room. As for the Se­nate, due to the build­ing not be­ing fin­ished they were forced to meet else­where. They opted for the home

of Isaac Bran­ham that was lo­cated where the cor­ner of Plaza de Ce­sar Chavez is today.

Be­ing in the heart of down­town San Jose un­der the gaze of sky­scrapers oc­cu­pied by high­tech firms such as e-Bay and near such at­trac­tions as the San Jose Tech Mu­seum, there’s plenty to do af­ter ex­plor­ing the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity of the site of the state’s first capi­tol.

Given to how one Se­na­tor Thomas Jef­fer­son Green of Sacra­mento ended each ses­sion pro­claim­ing, “Let’s have a drink! Let’s have a thou­sand drinks!” his­to­ri­ans dubbed it “The Leg­is­la­ture of a Thou­sand Drinks.”

In 1850, the leg­is­la­ture was pre­sented with of­fers to re­lo­cate the capi­tol to more suitable land as well as funds to con­struct a build­ing. Gen­eral Vallejo made the most gen­er­ous of­fer by far. It gained the sup­port of the Assem­bly and Se­nate as well as the gover­nor’s bless­ing on Feb. 4, 1861.

Vallejo, Capi­tol No. 2

The start of the Third Ses­sion of the Cal­i­for­nia Leg­is­la­ture in Vallejo wasn’t a pretty sight, but then again nei­ther is that site today as it is now a city park­ing lot. The his­tor­i­cal marker is in the north­west cor­ner of the park­ing lot in the 200 block of York Street be­tween Sacra­mento sand Santa Clara streets.

When leg­is­la­tors ar­rived on Jan. 5, 1852 they found much of the capi­tol still un­der con­struc­tion, essen­tials in short sup­ply, and ameni­ties al­most non-ex­is­tent. The law­mak­ers quickly de­bated whether to again move the capi­tol. Af­ter much bick­er­ing, it was de­cided the leg­is­la­ture would travel to Sacra­mento to fin­ish the ses­sion there while Vallejo would re­main the cap­i­tal and be given ad­di­tional time to get things in or­der.

A year later when the leg­is­la­ture re­turned the build­ing sit­u­a­tion was a bit bet­ter but the weather much worse. So the push was on to move again.

This time it was be­tween Sacra­mento re­cov­er­ing from a flood and Beni­cia that ended up hav­ing an of­fer too good to turn down.

Beni­cia pre­vailed leav­ing Vallejo with a twoyear stint as the state cap­i­tal.

Beni­cia, Capi­tol No. 3

Beni­cia seemed like a wise choice when the Fourth Ses­sion started on Feb. 11, 1853. The capi­tol was a fairly large two-story build­ing. There were sep­a­rate cham­bers for the Assem­bly and Se­nate as well as rooms for com­mit­tee meet­ings.

Beni­cia it­self had ap­peal. It was a port of call be­tween Sacra­mento and San Fran­cisco. But space was still at pre­mium. So when Sacra­mento dan­gled an of­fer in front of the leg­is­la­ture a year later, it was some­thing they couldn’t refuse.

Not only did Sacra­mento of­fer the free use of the Sacra­mento County Court­house for leg­isla­tive ses­sions and to pro­vide space for state of­fi­cers, and a vault steeled against fire for state records but they also tossed in a free ride for the leg­is­la­ture and all sta­te­owned fur­nish­ings as well as doc­u­ments up the river to Sacra­mento. The deal sealer was a build­ing site for a per­ma­nent capi­tol. So on Feb. 25, 1853 the law­mak­ers loaded up and then boarded the Wil­son B. Hunt steamer to move up river to what would end up be­ing Cal­i­for­nia’s per­ma­nent cap­i­tal.

Beni­cia worth the visit

The odds are you’ve been to Mon­terey, San Jose, and Sacra­mento and you can find an ex­cuse to go there with­out us­ing look­ing up capi­tol sites as a rea­son to do so.

Vallejo is OK and it is home to Six Flags Dis­cov­ery King­dom if roller coast­ers and an­i­mals are your thing.

But specif­i­cally trav­el­ing to Beni­cia can be a nice, low-key day trip that you likely nor­mally wouldn’t take.

First there’s the Beni­cia State His­toric Park where you will find Cal­i­for­nia’s third State Capi­tol with a re­stored leg­isla­tive cham­ber and in­ter­est­ing mu­seum col­lec­tion to boot.

It is lo­cated at 115 West G St. It is open Thurs­day from noon to 5 p.m. as well as Fri­day through Sun­day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ad­mis­sion is $3 for adults, $2 chil­dren 6 through 17, and free for those un­der 5 years of age.

You’re just a few blocks from Beni­cia Park where you can start and easy 3.5 mile trail that fol­lows the Car­quinez Strait water­front from Beni­cia to Vallejo.

The end des­ti­na­tion along the mostly level trail is the Car­quinez Strait over­look. Be­sides the views there are parks along the way. There are more than enough restau­rants to choose from near the start in Beni­cia as well as in­ter­est­ing shops to browse.

To con­tact Den­nis Wy­att, email dwy­att@man­te­cab­ul­

Pho­tos cour­tesy of vis­it­beni­

TOP PHOTO: The Beni­cia His­toric State Capi­tol. ABOVE PHOTO: The Beni­cia water­front is just blocks away from the old state capi­tol.

LEFT PHOTO: This is a photo of the orig­i­nal state capi­tol in San Jose that was a two-story adobe house. RIGHT PHOTO The state his­toric marker in Beni­cia.

Cour­tesy State Depart­ment of Parks & Recre­ation

The se­nate cham­bers at the his­toric state capi­tol in Beni­cia.

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