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Trip of the Week

Old Governor's Mansion Returned to the People

May 15, 1988|MICHELE GRIMM and TOM GRIMM | The Grimms of Laguna Beach are authors of "Away for the Weekend," a travel guide to Southern California.

SACRAMENTO — There's no telling how the Reagans will like their new Bel-Air home when they move into the post-President residence in January. They admittedly didn't care for an earlier California abode, the Old Governor's Mansion in Sacramento.

In 1967, the newly elected governor spent only three months there before moving to a private house; the Reagans were the last of 13 official families to occupy the gingerbread Victorian.

After serving as the residence of California governors since the turn of the century, the grand old mansion became a state historic site and was opened to the public for tours. Filled with personal mementos of its residents, the 23-room house offers a fascinating look at our governors' life styles.

Victorian Gothic

Built in 1877 in Victorian Gothic style, the three-story structure is crowned with an ornate cupola and reminds some visitors of a fancily decorated wedding cake.

Initially it was the home of a wealthy hardware merchant and even boasted an indoor bath, one of only 50 in the state at that time. Today, the house has nine bathrooms.

Over the years the property has had renovations and additions, including a kidney-shaped swimming pool. It was put in by friends of Edmund G. (Pat) Brown after a newspaper photo showed the former governor crossing the street in his bathrobe to use the pool at a motel.

Most of the property dates to earlier times, including the Carriage House where the tours begin, and the 1905 annex where governor-to-be Jerry Brown lived while his dad, Pat, was chief executive from 1959 to 1967. You'll also see the Children's Room, last occupied by 8-year-old Ronnie Reagan Jr.

Family furnishings such as a 1950s black-and-white TV set give the home a lived-in feeling. You can even play the Steinway grand piano installed by the first governor to live in the mansion, George C. Pardee.

But much of the home's fancy decoration makes visitors feel as if they're in a museum. You'll walk on the original oak and cherry wood floors as well as hand-loomed Persian rugs bought by the wife of former Gov. Earl Warren.

Effects of Inflation

Seven rooms show off Italian marble fireplaces of various designs, and gold-framed mirrors imported from France and Belgium decorate the walls. Even the mansion's 77 doors are hung with fancy brass hinges; each pair cost 25 cents a century ago but is worth $200 today.

A mahogany banister curves up three floors. Also look for hand-carved wall moldings that carry out a motif, such as cupids in the nursery room, and fruit and fish in the dining room.

Some rooms hold treasures such as the official State of California china selected by former Gov. Goodwin J. Knight's wife in the 1950s. But you'll also come across oddities such as a 1928 air conditioner and a desk made by inmates of San Quentin for Warren.

Before he became President, John Kennedy stayed in one of the guest rooms on the second floor. Visitors will see the Reagans' bedroom and gowns worn by some of the governors' wives.

Docents escort small groups (maximum 25 persons) through the Old Governor's Mansion on 30- to 45-minute tours every day beginning on the hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission is $1; youths 6 to 17, 50 cents. For information and reservations, call (916) 445-4209.

You'll find the mansion and its tree-shaded grounds at 16th and H Streets in downtown Sacramento. Most convenient for food and lodging is the Clarion Hotel on the opposite corner; phone (916) 444-8000. Not far away is the newly opened Hyatt Regency Sacramento; phone (916) 443-1234.

Dixieland Festival

Make reservations immediately if you plan a visit over Memorial Day weekend because that's when the city is besieged by musicians and music lovers for the Sacramento Dixieland Jubilee. In 14 years it's become the largest traditional jazz festival in the world.

To help find accommodations for spectators, the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau offers a housing information department. Call (916) 442-4678 weekdays 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m.

From May 27 through Memorial Day more than 100 bands from 17 nations will be performing. Groups such as the St. Louis Ragtimers to Poland's Jazz Band Ball Orchestra and the Neptune Band of Zimbabwe will entertain.

Performers will include Al Hirt, Jonah Jones and Wild Bill Davison. On Friday morning the Olympia Brass Band from New Orleans will kick off the four-day party by leading an umbrella street parade to Old Sacramento.

That historic site along the Sacramento River is one of the main centers for the jubilee. Shuttle buses and the light-rail system will provide transportation to concert areas in other parts of the city. The official Dixieland Jubilee program lists where and when each band will play.

Entry to the musical centers is by badge, and you can buy one for all events ($60), a specific day ($25) or the various afternoon or evening concerts and cabarets ($10 to $15). On Memorial Day, badges cost $10; youths 16 and younger are free with an adult.

Write for information to Sacramento Dixieland Jubilee, 2787 Del Monte St., West Sacramento 95691, or call (916) 372-5277.

Get to Sacramento from Los Angeles by driving north on Interstate 5. Exit at J Street and follow that one-way avenue east to 16th Street, then turn left and go two blocks to the Old Governor's Mansion.

Round trip from Los Angeles is 775 miles.

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