West Capitol Steps

“An edifice should be constructed that will be satisfactory of the grandeur of the coming time surrounded by grounds with a beauty and luxuriousness that no other capitol in the country could boast.”

— Governor Leland Stanford

This quote from Governor Stanford’s annual address on December 8, 1863, reflects the government’s plans for creating a park to surround the Capitol. The original park grounds covered four square blocks. In 1863, the State purchased an additional 21.15 acres for the sum of $100,000.

Beautification of the park began in 1870, four years before the Capitol’s completion in 1874. The land was first graded and augmented with river silt and soil, then planted with 800 trees, shrubs, and flowers. The landscaping included more than 200 varieties of rare plants from nearly every continent and climate around the world, from subtropic to subarctic. They were acquired through the State’s affiliation with the State Agriculture Society, which was in contact with horticultural and agricultural organizations worldwide.

Many of the non-native tree and shrub species planted over a century ago continue to thrive. Due to Sacramento’s temperate climate and steady water supply from rivers, several of the park’s tree species are said to grow larger and better here than in their native habitats.

Examples of original plantings that still flourish in the park include several deodar cedars along the west side of the Capitol and a group of elm trees and California fan palms. The cedars are native to India’s Himalaya Mountains and were planted here in 1872. The elms and palms, planted in 1882, once lined a path used by visitors who drove their carriages through the park for recreation.

Over the years both acreage and plantings have been added to the park. Now 40 acres and spanning 12 city blocks, its landscaping includes hundreds of species of trees, shrubs, and flowers, from sequoias, redwoods, and magnolias to roses, camellias, and cacti. An average of 20,000 new plants and flowering bulbs are planted annually. A multitude of bird species and squirrels can be found in the trees, walkways, and even on benches. And more than one million people come to the park each year to visit its memorials and monuments, sit or stroll among the greenery, and participate in a variety of activities.

There are now two new seals that flank the Great Seal in front of the Capitol, the Native California Seal and the Spanish-Mexican Seal. These seals commemorate Native, Spanish, and Mexican sovereignty in California.