Bea, my best friend of 37 years, retired on December 31st of 2015. Being an old hand at retirement, Bea is depending on me to show her the ropes. She’s so afraid she’s going to miss going into the office and miss her friends at work. (You do miss it for a while but you visit old friends and to find other things to enjoy.) One of the first things on our list of things to enjoy is to go a day trip, outing, or over-nighter as often as possible a month! If you do it right the planning and researching takes up lots of time.
There are so many wonderful places to go and see and experience. We talked about a lot of possibilities for our first trip. But when I mentioned the Leland Stanford State Historical Park in downtown Sacramento and Bea said she had never heard of it, I knew we had a winner. (I was shocked she had never heard of it as Bea lives in Sacramento and has for years. This is a day trip for me but it is her home base.)
The Stanford Mansion SHP is located in downtown Sacramento and is California’s official reception center for entertaining world leaders. It has been lovingly restored. Trains, gold, politics, the Civil War, Victorian opulence, the mansion represents it all!
In my opinion the mansion is a wonderful gem in California’s capital city and a “must see” on my list. It is a stunning example of the splendor and elegance of the Victorian era in California. We planned the trip for a Friday. The weather forecast was for rain but the tour is all indoors and we knew a little rain wouldn’t ruin our plans.
We arrived just in time for the 11 AM tour and we were the only ones there. (If you want to avoid the lines then try a rainy Friday in January. I’ve been to the Mansion several times over the years and this has not been the case.) There were just three of us on our tour (my daughter-in-law, Jody, had never been to the mansion before and she went along.) The tour is free and lasts about an hour. There are a few short films that play in the visitor’s center and they are fun to watch. You’ll learn a little bit about the Stanfords, the railroad, and the history of the time.
The mansion was the home of Leland and Jane Stanford. Leland Stanford was a pro-Union Civil War governor of California, a member of the Big Four, president of the Central Pacific Railroad, and the founder of Stanford University. Historians are divided on the question of whether he was robber baron or the greatest California humanitarian. He was probably both. He made his money selling goods to the miners at inflated prices during the Gold Rush and as governor of California he signed 7 bills benefiting and giving money to the railroad he was president of. Then later in life he used his wealth to endow Stanford University in memory of his son, Leland Stanford, Jr.
Our tour guide was a park ranger names Curtis. He was very knowledgeable and we were fortunate to have him to ourselves. We had lots of time for looking and for asking questions. The mansion is gorgeous on the outside and continues to impress on the inside, however we were not allowed to take pictures of the interior. Curtis told us this was to protect historic contents from flash photography, and due to copyright issues. So many beautiful things! Everyone should plan a trip!
The original mansion, built by a Gold Rush merchant named Sheldon Fogus in 1856, was originally 4 rooms. Both the Fogus and the Stanfords remodeled the house during their ownerships and today the elegant home has 44 rooms and is over 19,000 square ft.
The home as it is on display was decorated by Mrs. Stanford herself and it had all the modern up-to-date amenities of its time such as an intercom system and indoor plumbing. The restoration and rehabilitation of the mansion took 14 years and $22 million. Re-created carpeting and draperies were based on photographs from the 1870s to match the original interior design. In each room, Curtis shared those photo with us. I was impressed by how close the restoration was to the photo.
Original period furnishings that belonged to the Stanfords had been stored in the attic. They were brought out and cleaned, repaired, or refinished. Other pieces were reproduced. I loved the 19 foot ceilings, the elegant 19th century crystal and bronze light fixtures, gilded mirrors and exquisitely detailed carved moldings, custom lace and lush brocades for the window treatments, beautifully restored wood scrollwork and the glimpses at life in the Victorian age.
In 1900 Mrs. Stanford gave the home to the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento along with a small endowment for the “nurture, care and maintenance of homeless children.” A small room on the third floor is fitted out as a dormitory room representative of the 50 years the home was run by the diocese. It was a lovely tour. Afterwards we spent time looking at the exhibits in the Visitor’s center and browsing the small gift shop.
After the tour we were ready for lunch. Bea choose the restaurant—Nationwide Freezer Meats, a 45-year old lunchtime tradition in downtown Sacramento. Nationwide serves a mean hamburger and fries combination. Their specialty, the French Ground Steakburger has long been on the list of best Sacramento burgers.
Father and son, Frank and John Gonzales opened Nationwide Freezer Meats as a small butcher shop in 1969. They started cooking samples of the beef to let customers taste the quality of the meat. Customers suggested that they start selling steak sandwiches. Over the 45 year history it has transitioned from that small butcher shop to a restaurant with a loyal following. (Bea said she’d been eating there for over 15 years.
Nationwide grinds their own meat daily and cooks the burgers to order on a flat top grill. Then red onions, tomatoes, lettuce and a special sauce is added and the whole thing sits on a French sourdough bun. Add the thickest steak-cut French fries I ever seen and you’ve got a mean fit for a robber baron.
Bea and I both had the burger and fries. Jody is a French Dip Sandwich addict so she ordered the French Dip. John told us the French Dip is a basic sandwich seasoned with just a little salt and pepper and served with a simple au jus. He likes his meat without a lot of fancy seasonings and so do his customers.
In addition to the French Dip, the restaurant also serves hot dogs. (John said his father always said “who would eat hot dogs when you can have a steakburger” but says John they’re doing well on the menu.) Nationwide also serves thick, luscious shakes. I really wanted one of those shakes. oh, well, now I have a reason to return.
Our January outing was a success and we are working on the plans for February. Stayed tuned and see where we go next.