By LANCE ARMSTRONG, Valley Community Newspapers writer
Editor’s note: This is the first part in a series regarding the history of the “four corners” of Watt and El Camino avenues.
Country Club Centre, a well-known shopping destination in the north area of the city, has reached a milestone, as it recently turned 60 years old.
The shopping center, which derived its name from the nearby Del Paso Country Club, opened on the southwest corner of Watt and El Camino avenues on Aug. 21, 1952.
Although it would be extremely unlikely to find anyone adept in U.S. geography who would think of any place in Sacramento after hearing the name, “Four Corners,” the corner properties of Watt and El Camino avenues are undeniably locally famous.
Sacramento’s four corners
For those who need a little assistance when it comes to this bit of U.S. geography trivia, the name, “Four Corners,” has for many years been used to identify the region where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah join together.
Certainly, references to such places as Country Club Centre, Country Club Plaza, Tower Records, Sam’s Plaza Hof Brau, Jack’s House of Music and Country Club Lanes draw plenty of endearing, reminiscent responses from many longtime Sacramentans.
And based on the fact that these locally renowned places are all representatives of either the past or present days of the four corners of Watt and El Camino avenues, it would be difficult for one to dispute the historic significance and legacy of these four corners.
In the north area of Sacramento, perhaps no place would be better designated as “four corners” than these very notable four corner properties.
Sacramento native Pat Melarkey, who is well known for his service as a county supervisor and his local work in dentistry, recalled how these north area corners appeared prior to their development.
“There was nothing out there at all, and I’m talking about a time between about 1945 and 1950,” Melarkey said. “It was all vacant and I was exercising horses in a field there on Watt Avenue and El Camino (avenues) with Dr. Bill Campbell, a very well-known physician in town. The field was on the big corner where Wal-Mart is now (in Country Club Centre). I remember one day, when (local real estate broker) James Cordano drove off the road – it was only a two-lane road then – and parked in a field and was talking to Dr. Campbell when we were resting our horses. (Cordano) said that he was putting together a deal to buy up the whole corner. (Cordano) is the one who developed Country Club Centre (with Joseph Blumenfeld), and he also developed Southgate (Shopping Center with Blumenfeld) and Sunrise Mall (with Ernest W. Hahn). Cordano said that any acreage on Watt or El Camino (avenues) was $100 an acre and that there were a few blocks off of those two streets that were $60 an acre.”
The Country Club Centre corner was eventually owned by the Blumenfeld theater interests, as the initial plan for the property was to construct a drive-in theater on the site.
In recalling his change of plans, Blumenfeld, in a 1952 interview with The Sacramento Bee, said, “After the project was started, we were convinced by some of the largest merchants in the country we were building the wrong type of development and they persuaded us to abandon our original plans and convert to the present type shopping center.”
With this change in plans, Blumenfeld became the president of Country Club Centre, Inc. and Cordano began his service as vice president of the corporation.
Selected to build the immense Country Club Centre was the Erickson Construction Co., which was located at 1119 East Bassettlaw Ave. in North Sacramento.
Grand opening celebration
After the first unit of Country Club Centre was finally completed, a grand opening celebration was held from Thursday, Aug. 21 through Saturday, Aug. 23, 1952.
Among the features of the celebration were thousands of gifts and prizes, including a free 21-inch RCA television set for one lucky number holder in a drawing, and performances by Billy Jack Wills and His Western Swing Band, clowns and The Kramers jugging act.
Other attractions of the celebration included free orchids for women, rides for children on the Calo dog food’s dog-drawn cart, Lucky Market hats for children, free Coca-Cola (Thursday), free Dr. Pepper (Friday and Saturday), and special prizes for those who could guess the weight of quantities of frozen fish and Pillsbury grain and a giant bologna.
The original businesses of Country Club Centre’s initial unit included the J.C. Penney Co., Eagleson’s, Lucky Market, Kid-E-Korral juvenile shop, Emigh Hardware, Heintz Bakery, Kirby Shoes, Buster Brown shoe store, Green & Heyden shoe store, Anita Shops women’s apparel, Country Club Centre Launderette & Swanson’s Cleaners, and O’Neil Bros. service station.
The J.C. Penney store, which was located in a single-story building with a basement and a balcony, included 23,000 square feet of selling space and 39-foot-wide show windows.
Eagleson’s, was already a longtime established men’s wear business when it opened in Country Club Centre, as it had been established in San Francisco in 1867 and had since added a store at 801 K St. and another store in Los Angeles.
The O’Neil Bros. service station at Country Club Centre became the sixth unit in this Sacramento area service station chain.
The O’Neil name in local service stations dated back to 1921, when Joe and Jack O’Neil established a service station on 13th Street, between K and L streets.
Heintz Bakery, which was owned by Joseph Heintz, was already a recognized bakery in the capital city through its other location at 1206 J St.
Following Country Club Centre’s grand opening, the shopping center continued to expand, as additional stores planned for their own grand openings about three weeks later.