I read recently that the City of Sacramento had opened up a few blocks of down town K Street to traffic. The hope is that bringing cars back to K Street will help the businesses there.
That brought back memories of when K Street was the main drag in town. Back in the 1950s and ’60s, K Street ran one-way all the way from Alhambra Blvd. in midtown down to Front Street on the Sacramento River. My friend, John Waldren, an East Sacramento barber, remembers those times well.
John came of age in the late 1950s when every young man wanted to own a sleek, fast American car. John bought his first car, a shiny, two-toned Chevy sedan, in 1959. He bought it for $400 because its automatic transmission was leaking fluid. Along with other nice features, the car had a 350 horsepower engine under its hood. John quickly replaced the automatic transmission with a standard transmission and headed down to K Street to show off his new ride.
Over the next several years, John spent almost every Friday and Saturday night cruising there. When night time fell, he’d get in his Chevy, drive down Folsom Blvd. to Alhambra Blvd, turn right, then go two blocks up to K Street.
There, he would drive down town to meet with his buddies and hang out. All the kids with nice cars cruised on K Street at that time. At the stop lights, as the cars idled, they revved up their loud engines. When the light turned green, they peeled out and moved quickly up to the next light.
Police officers also cruised the drag in their black and whites, sometimes ticketing drivers for “exhibition of speed.”
That, of course, was the reason for driving down K Street.
At Third Street, cars usually turned right, then drove one block over to J Street, then back up J Street to Mel’s Drive-in on 19th. There, they turned left into the drive-in and then either drove back out for a return trip down K, or parked in Mel’s to order a burger and fries. Mel’s was the happening place back then.
After leaving Mel’s, the young driver usually took another run down K Street, and then often ended up parked in an empty lot across from Sam’s Hof Brau on J Street.
John said the kids called that lot the “witness stand.” It was where they parked their cars and hung out with their buddies, watching the cars go by and taking in all the action. That empty lot disappeared a long time ago.
These days, John drives a hot rod: a 1931 Model A Ford, with a souped-up engine and a stunning red and yellow paint job. He and his friends from the Italian Hot Rod Association will be showing off their custom cars at the Autorama coming up later this month at Cal Expo.
The days of cruising down K Street are only a memory now. Hybrid cars have taken the place of the muscle cars kids drove back then. Green power has replaced horse power. I guess that is a good thing, but don’t tell that to John.