Sacramento’s Historic Lavender Heights

In 2015, Sacramento City Council member Steve Hansen, Sacramento’s first openly LGBT councilmember, invited Sacramento Rainbow Chamber of Commerce to be part of a community coalition to pursue official city designation of the LGBT neighborhood of Midtown Sacramento historically known as “Lavender Heights.” For generations the Lavender Heights neighborhood has been central to Sacramento’s LGBT culture and community: home to the Sacramento Gay & Lesbian Community Center, founded in 1983; five gay nightclubs; and numerous LGBT-owned shops, galleries, eateries and other businesses.

The goal of establishing Lavender Heights as an official district was two-fold: to serve as a memorial and landmark referencing the history of Sacramento’s vibrant LGBT community; and to attract local and regional residents and tourists to the area’s many LGBT-owned clubs, restaurants, salons, galleries and retail stores.

Chamber leaders, in particular then-Chamber President Paul Weubbe, and other community activists spent countless hours meeting with local neighborhood associations, the Midtown Business Association and area business owners, winning broad support for the official neighborhood designation.

As a “flagship” landmark to spotlight the new district, the city approved installation of a rainbow crosswalk at the intersection of 20th and K, the heart of Lavender Heights. The next step was to fund the project, which would be accomplished entirely through private donations, with no city funding.

The Chamber was the chief marketer and cheerleader for the project, launching an aggressive public relations and marketing campaign to publicize the cause. The Chamber’s 501(c)(3) non-profit affiliate, Rainbow Chamber Foundation, served as the fiscal agent for the fundraising effort. In a few short months, the effort raised some $38,000 to install a colorful crosswalk using durable materials and fund its ongoing maintenance under the direction of the Midtown Business Association.

Unveiled in October 2015, the rainbow crosswalk installation proved to be a red-hot media story, receiving ongoing media coverage locally and throughout California, from the time the City Council approved the project through its October “ribbon-cutting.” Anecdotal and social media evidence shows the crosswalk continues to be a popular attraction, with many visitors posting photos of the crosswalk on social media channels.

The Rainbow Chamber Foundation continues to serve as fiscal agent for additional projects to fund street light banners, sign-toppers and other public art installations designed to attract tourists, diners and shoppers to the vibrant and flourishing Lavender Heights business district.

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