What’s in a Name?

Central city alleys give new identity to Sacramento

By Katie Kishi
December 2020

Bustling, innovative, homey—words you wouldn’t think to describe alleyways. But in Sacramento, this defines these urban corridors.

Nestled among the busy streets of Sacramento’s “grid” are 21 alleys whose names represent many of the city’s characteristics. Not only have the names made for easier directions, but also created opportunities for businesses to uniquely use their spaces.

Nearly a decade ago, Sacramento alleys were unidentified—distinguished only by the streets they sat between. After being approved by the City Council in 2011, they were all given specific names.

The process to name alleys began with City Councilmember Steve Cohn’s proposal in 2006. It took five years to bring the subject to the City Council because permission was needed from the Department of Transportation and Sacramento Police Department. Community development principal planner Stacia Cosgrove presented the resolution to the City Council on Oct. 11, 2011.

The official City Council report states, “A consistent addressing system for the Central City alleys will protect public health and safety by enabling a quicker response time for emergency services, expediting postal and general delivery services, providing more efficient delivery of City services, and providing efficient delivery of information to outside agencies.”

Each alley name was required to begin with the letter of the street to its north, and represent Sacramento’s history and qualities. For example, Tomato Alley was named after Sacramento’s most recognized agricultural product, and Solons Alley refers to the city’s old minor league baseball team.

“The purpose was to facilitate development by providing an identity for each alley,” Cosgrove says.

There were two meetings leading up to the City Council hearing, during which the public made suggestions and provided input. Mail and email notices were sent to residents, businesses and stakeholders who would be affected by the name changes. The City Council then approved the staff’s master list of names.

In addition to a comprehensive and consistent addressing system, new alley names opened the door to alley development.

“At the time, the City Council was interested in central city alley development—quieter walking areas, restaurants, more green space,” Cosgrove says. Since then, businesses throughout Downtown and Midtown have taken advantage of their alleyway locations.

Jose Avina, CEO of Sacramento Eco Fitness, is happy to be located in Liestal Alley, named after Sacramento’s sister city in Switzerland. “Alleys have a negative connotation, so we’ve taken a negative and turned it into a positive, especially during COVID-19,” Avina says.

Sacramento Eco Fitness has huge warehouse doors facing Liestal Alley that stay open all day, allowing Avina to keep his business going during the pandemic.

“The fresh air and open gym floor plan allow us to remain open. We can utilize the alley to do certain activities with bigger equipment and groups. It may take a few more steps to find us, but we’ve created our own atmosphere,” Avina says.

Annalisa Romero, a Midtown resident and local marketing director, says that the names give much more character and identity to the city. “The street names on the grid are just letters and numbers, so having those fun names for the alleys adds to Sacramento’s unique personality,” Romero says.

This amendment has paved the way for growth in the central city. The alleys have become more recognizable and welcoming to residents and visitors through their friendly names. When out and about, people can feel safe seeing lively businesses lighting up the alleys every night.

“Having businesses in the alleys is a great use of space and it promotes a more accessible and walkable neighborhood. I think we’ll see more businesses following suit as Sacramento continues to grow,” Romero says.

With their historic background and clever identities, the alleys’ names have clearly given Sacramento a hometown feel, a unique identity and a brighter future.

Katie Kishi can be reached at kkishi22@gmail.com.

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