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A push-button look at Sacramento history.

A push-button look at Sacramento history

First, there's the gold. You can almost touch the glittering vials of dust, the gleaming flakes, the milky quartz boulders shot with yellow veins, the twisted blbs of pure metal. Then there are the exhibits, objects that make history present to the visitor's senses: a Miwok Indian hut that still smells like the reeds it's made of; the shiny black-lacquered Brewster landau used by Governor Stanford in 1861.

But the most intriguing collection you'll find in the new Sacramento History Center isn't on a shelf or in a box. It is images from an archive of some 2 million photographs that document the history of the Sacramento Valley from the mid-1800s on. How can you even begin to see them? With the help of computers, on video screens.

Opened last August, the $5.5-million history center is the latest addition among historic exhibition spaces in the Old Sacramento section of the state capital. Sandwiched between the California State Railroad Museum and the Sacramento River, the red brick building is a key element in the long-range plan to reconstruct the historic waterfront.

Exhibits are now 90 percent complete, though delays plagued the museum from the outset. The biggest remaining problem, lack of adequate signage, should be resolved by now. But with or without labels, you can get a fascinating interpretation of the material on display from docents stationed throughout the building.

Outside, the museum building is a nearly exact replica of Sacramento's first public building (city hall, jail, and waterworks) built on this site in 1854. The original of the oversize flagpole in front was made of wood during the "flagpole war' of 1868. Trivia buffs will want to know that the 113-foot-tall replica is reputedly the tallest nonsupported (no guy wires) fiberglass pole in the country.

But the 19th-century appearance is only facade-deep. Inside, the building looks more like an ultra-modern boutique than a venerable city hall. A small sunken theater on the first floor gives a slick, 10-minute overview of the Sacramento Valley, then directs you to a three-story-high escalator to begin your journey through local history.

The Topomorphology Gallery gets you started with a look at the Valley itself and how early settlers--Indians, prospectors, and farmers--changed it. This is where you'll find the Bank of America Gold Collection, one of the most extensive assemblages of gold specimens in the state. Take a few minutes to view short films about water and gold on touch-sensitive video screens here, but skip the games, which are confusing at best.

In the Community Gallery, six video stations give you access to some 1,500 photo images from the main collection, most of them donated by Valley ethnic groups. The programs help document the area's social and economic history; examples of the clothing, tools, and household goods represented in the pictures are on display around you.

The machines are easy to use. Touching titles on a screen, you call up increasingly. detailed information on a subject. For example, touch "Who Settled Sacramento?' under the heading Ethnic Groups, and you can choose from filmed short stories, specific ethnic groups, or issues from the archives--among them some thorny ones, like discrimination.

Exhibits here loosely and variously document the period from the gold rush to the coming of television. One case contains examples of recreational gear (fishing rods and the like); in another corner, you see a typical room from the World War II Japanese internment camp at Tule Lake.

The Agriculture Gallery on the main floor evokes Valley innovations in farm equipment with pieces of machinery beautifully restored by the UC Davis Antique

Mechanics Club. There's also a re-creation of a typical 1920s farm kitchen set up for canning. Complete right down to the rubber sealing rings, the kitchen has been subjected to the critical scrutiny of many Valley old-timers, who report only two flaws: no drip pan under the ice box, and no flypaper hanging from the ceiling.

The Eleanor McClatchy Gallery, across the foyer, is a bit of an anomaly. You enter the gallery through the portals of the old Sacramento Bee Building, rescued when the rest of it was demolished in 1955. Currently, the space is set up as a small 19th-century printing shop.

Open daily from 10 to 5 (except major holidays), the museum is at the north end of Old Sacramento just west of Interstate Highway 5 where it crosses Capitol Avenue; follow signs from the freeway. Admission is $2.50 for adults, $1.50 for seniors, and $1 for ages 6 to 17.

Photo: Now meets then: on touch-sensitive video, they call up old photograph of farm boys

Photo: Brick exterior of new Sacramento History Center replicates 1854 city hall. Inside, it's very contemporary

Photo: Multifaceted, freeform display of Bank of America gold collection shows differences between placer and ore samples. Docent gestures to explain

Photo: Wide treads and single front wheel of 1916 Yuba tractor made it easy to drive over spongy peat soil of the Delta
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sacramento History Center
Date:Feb 1, 1986
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