Former office of groundbreaking African American attorney recognized as Sacramento historic landmark

He was groundbreaking African American attorney who fought for the desegregation of public housing in Sacramento. And now his former office is being recognized as a historic landmark.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted an ordinance placing the midtown office of Nathaniel Colley on the Sacramento Register of Historic and Cultural Resources.

The one-story structure at 1810 S St. played an outsized role in the history of Sacramento’s black community. It was built in 1967 and designed by James C. Dodd, the first licensed Black architect in Sacramento. The building is considered an excellent example of Dodd’s mid-century modern commercial work.

Nathaniel Colley at work in 1952.

Dodd was commissioned to design the building by Colley, the first licensed Black attorney in the city. Colley spent his career focusing on the fight to end segregation in housing, education, politics and the workplace. Largely because of him, African Americans were finally able to apply for and receive public housing on an equal basis with other groups.

One of Colley’s victories was a ruling by the Sacramento Superior Court to forbid segregation by the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, which had the effect of opening up more units for Black families at the New Helvetia (now Alder Grove) housing project.

The future of New Helvetia, which is currently is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was a fundamental part of the discussion around the City’s West Broadway Specific Plan, which was approved this summer.

In response to requests from Councilmember Steve Hansen, City staff is working on adding New Helvetia to the Sacramento Register of Historic & Cultural Resources. Colley’s former home in Land Park also is set to receive historic designation.

The City Council this summer also approved an initiative to rename the new County courthouse for Colley. City staff has started a a dialogue with the State of California to discuss this proposal. In addition, SHRA, which manages the Marina Vista and Alder Grove housing projects, has said it will work with local schools, community leaders and residents to explore other ways to honor Colley.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg on Tuesday saluted Colley’s accomplishments and praised the recognition he is receiving for his critical work.

“I hope there are more public opportunities for more Sacramentans to learn the life story of Nathaniel Colley and what he did as a civil rights hero in our city, statewide and nationally,” Steinberg said.