Larger Than Life

Can portraits bloom from B Street Theatre wall?

By R.E. Graswich
June 2019

Randy Paragary has never built a hotel before, but he has built plenty of restaurants and bars, more than anyone in Sacramento. He figures the trickiest part of the hotel business, after securing the pile of dollars required to create one, is food service. On the dining and booze front, he’s already a local Conrad Hilton.

His first hotel, the Fort Sutter, is rising at the corner of 28th Street and Capitol Avenue, where Paragary’s flagship Café Bernardo stood for 25 years. Bernardo created a new dining style in Sacramento—a well-priced, classy environment without waitstaff coming around to take orders. Customers order at the counter. The concept still thrives in the region, including three Cafés Bernardo.

The old two-story building at 28th and Capitol had to come down to make room for the Fort Sutter, which will stand six floors and hold 105 guest rooms. With construction crews hustling to finish by next spring, the corner is thick with hardhat activity. It’s difficult to remember what was there two years ago.

The hotel will complete the revitalization of a neighborhood that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Civic boosters can gush about Downtown Commons, but the Sutter District, with its new Sutter Medical Center, new B Street Theatre, and reinvigorated bars and restaurants within walking distance to homes and apartments, draws locals. Fort Sutter Hotel will attract visitors who aren’t on convention junkets and want to enjoy Sacramento like a native.

And in the grand Sacramento tradition, this is where things get creative. The west side of the hotel will face the B Street Theatre and Sofia Tsakopoulos Center for the Arts. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a view from that perspective—a massive blank wall, rising almost 40 feet.

A 16-foot patio called “an activated pedestrian way” will separate the hotel from the theater complex. There will be plenty of room for tables and chairs on the patio. But guests lodging on Fort Sutter’s lower floors along the west side will see little beyond the neighboring Sofia’s wall.

 

“That wall is an opportunity,” Paragary says. “We’re going to make it interesting and fun.”

Plans are still coming together, but Paragary and Buck Busfield, the visionary artistic director at the B Street Theatre, intend to turn the wall into a giant portrait gallery celebrating the faces of Sacramento.

Imagine the possibilities—giant-scale portraits of local folks painted by local artists and hung from the B Street wall. Baby pictures. Family portraits. People will be able to rent the wall space for their images—with proceeds going to support the nonprofit B Street Theatre and Sofia Center.

The portraits will materialize from brush strokes of generosity. Locals will line up to have their images made immortal, or at least for a still-undetermined period of time.

Sacramento is a terrific town for public art. Fifty years ago, local artists founded the Royal Chicano Air Force and painted murals across the West. Giant murals can be found at the Elks Tower on J Street and Residence Inn on 15th Street, where Johnny Cash stands 15 stories tall. A one-story Pat Morita overlooks T Street near 17th.

The portrait project will have a worthy purpose beyond charity. It’s about neighbor helping neighbor. Fort Sutter Hotel and B Street Theatre will live alongside each other for decades. It’s nice to see them already getting along.

If dressing up an empty wall helps hotel guests appreciate Sacramento, a few more gallons of paint are a solid investment.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at regraswich@icloud.com. Previous columns can be found and shared at the all-new insidesacramento.com.

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