SMAC preserves Hans Sumpf panels at Kings arena site

Crowds gather to watch Downtown Plaza demolition while art preservationists perform more delicate work

Demolition of the Sacramento Downtown Plaza mall on August 25. In less than a couple years, developers say a new Kings arena will rest at this footprint.

Demolition of the Sacramento Downtown Plaza mall on August 25. In less than a couple years, developers say a new Kings arena will rest at this footprint.

Remember the large, round window facade of the Macy’s building on L Street? Its glass is nearly all blown out, revealing a gutted former men’s department store. Farther down the block, more than a dozen people linger along Fifth Street near the Downtown Plaza’s entrance, some snapping smartphone pics. It smells like a vacuum exploded. The sounds are a smorgasbord of excavators and loaders, but it’s surprisingly not all that deafening. Instead, it’s a gentle hum amid the already tranquil downtown din, something that could coo a frustrated Kings fan to sleep.

In case you hadn’t noticed, demolition of the mall and construction of the Kings’ new home is underway and evident. L Street west of Seventh is one lane during the late evening, and is backed up with only two lanes of traffic during commuter hours. The southwestern most piece of the old mall—you know, the building that once housed the Pre-Flite Lounge—is completely gone (see aerial photo, above). The surrounding buildings, some of which are visible from the street, are naked. Inside the plaza, there’s a viewing window revealing the old mall as a gutted wonder.

As of this past Tuesday, August 26, the Macy’s building and 515 L Street is gone. By September, all the buildings that are planned for demolition will be rubble, according to the Kings. The Entertainment & Sports Complex team says it delivered the “largest excavator on the West Coast” last week to tear down the last of the buildings.

Meanwhile, on Fifth Street facing west, some of the final remnants of the former mall still persist, including ceramic tile art by the Hans Sumpf Company. These pieces are more than 40 years old; the designers who manufactured them no longer even produce the artworks.

Some of these panels have been removed, but more remain. What will be their fate? Will these admittedly small yet memorable tokens of the mall of yore still have a place in Sacramento?

Shelly Willis, who heads up the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, says that a bunch of the Hans Sumpf tiles have been stored away. They were mortared to the building, and she explained that it was “intense” removing, numbering, mapping and stocking the fragile pieces. “It’s a delicate process,” she said.

The panels—rectangular brown reliefs that appeared along J, Fifth and Fourth streets—aren’t actually considered works of art. They were originally considered design features for the mall, Willis explained. Over time, however, their aesthetic value evolved, and she is saving what she thinks are the best panels.

“I’m confident that these tiles will reappear in some form in a public place at some point in the future,” she said.

“I’m excited about their next life.”