Historic news building awaits demolition
By Gary Delsohn
In every city with a decent daily newspaper, historic decisions swirled around the building where journalism was conceived, produced, printed and distributed.
That was certainly true at 21st and Q streets. For seven decades, the Bee reported on political scandals, natural disasters, athletic achievements, social shifts and horrific crimes. Stories from the paper’s Midtown headquarters impacted generations.
In my 16 years at the Bee, I was fortunate to work with many talented journalists at 21st and Q. I covered elections, earthquakes, floods and murders—endless human accomplishments and failings. It’s natural that I feel melancholy when I see the Bee building today, silent and empty.
As the Bee continues to shrink—its offices and newsroom moved in 2021 to The Cannery business development on Alhambra Boulevard—the home of the once-proud flagship of regional journalism will soon be demolished. A densely packed housing project will remove any trace of the newspaper’s historic presence.
On a Facebook site for former Bee employees, there is nothing ambiguous about how they feel about the building’s demise.
“Losing an institution and losing character,” one former Bee employee posted. “Market-rate apartments. Great,” another comment read.
“Desecration of an historic site… not to mention the congestion and other traffic-related problems that will accompany this latest example of greed,” a former staffer wrote.
It would be wonderful if the paper were still healthy, adding circulation and continuing its role as the region’s conscience and watchdog. But too much has changed for that to be the story.
There are still talented journalists at the Bee doing good, important work. But most newspapers can’t keep pace with transitions brought by technology. The Bee is no exception.
Our region is worse off as a result. A strong local daily newspaper is a point of pride and a tremendous community asset. But for many reasons, we no longer create new readers of newspapers. We haven’t for decades.
When I was growing up in Chicago, my dad came home from work each day with four Chicago dailies, two published in the morning, two in the afternoon. I couldn’t wait to read the latest stories about my favorite sports teams.
Soon I was captivated by the rest of the news. In Chicago, that often meant scandals about local corruption and chicanery. I was hooked. Now most of us scroll our phones while daily newspapers shrink and close.
Midtown Sacramento is changing, too. Striving to come back from the pandemic and civic unrest, the area booms with new housing. The old Bee plant is a prime location, especially with its proximity to light rail.
So prime, in fact, that when it was purchased by Shopoff Realty Investments for a reported $56.75 million in 2017 from McClatchy, the Bee’s then-owner, Shopoff touted the 6.3 acres as “the largest infill development site in Sacramento.”
Shopoff says it plans to sell the property once it gets approval from the city to build more than 500 apartment units where the newsroom and printing presses stood. The investors say they will seek to add another 48 townhomes just to the south.
At that scale, the Bee will become one of the central city’s largest residential projects. New homes will erase any trace of the activities that once took place there.
That’s what happens in cities. Old uses run out of steam. Something more lucrative arrives. Before the Bee moved into 21st and Q in 1953, the site was the Buffalo Brewery.
Sacramento needs more housing, especially of the affordable variety. With the Bee gone from a neighborhood mostly residential already, 21st and Q is a prime location.
When he built a 277-unit apartment building a few years ago on the site of the Bee’s old parking garage, developer Sotiris Kolokotronis paid homage to the newspaper by naming his project The Press. It was a nice gesture.
I wouldn’t expect anything similar from the current owners, based in Orange County. They bought the property as an investment. Its value will only increase if the city approves the housing plans.
The Press apartments will still exist across 21st Street, but the memories and history that inspired the name will be long gone.
Gary Delsohn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.