It felt like a normal Sacramento day. I was rolling in from the bay, driving on interstate 80, music blasting when I made the merge over to 5. I was one exit away from home when I saw it. A staple of my childhood, completely blown up with a huge chunk missing.
The Arco Arena.
Where my love of photography began.
In 1998, the Sacramento Kings moved from their smaller stadium to a brand new one in a community of Sacramento called Natomas. It was weird to build the arena so far from downtown, foreshadowing its short life. I moved to Natomas in 2007, only eight minutes from Arco.
Natomas continued to build and grow its community around this arena, and by the ’10s, Natomas had its own culture, the arena part of it. Suddenly the fan base had grown, all of Sacramento rushing over to Arco to cheer on the Kings.
As the city of Sacramento grew, so did the want for a new arena because of how small Natomas is. Commercially they could not grow. In 2014, construction started for a new arena downtown. Two years later the new Golden 1 Center opened, and Arco hosted some of its last events before fully closing to the public.
This didn’t really affect me at the time. I barely remember the three Kings games I attended. Plus, I’m a Celtics fan. On May 10, 2016, I attended my first concert there, going to Selena Gomez’s revival world tour. This event was one of the first times I can remember seeing so many people in our little part of town, at one of the smaller arenas.
Most of my own personal stories with the arena came after its closure. Arco and I became acquainted in my junior year at Inderkum High School. It was my first year running cross-country, right across the street from the arena.
One of the running routes my coach gave us was the “arena route.” Since Arco’s closure, it has served as our running trail. We would start our run at the school and then end up running around the arena for our pre-meet four-mile runs. My curiosity was piqued.
Cross-country gives you a lot of time to think. Light days consist of “easy runs” that can last for 60 minutes or more. After so many “easy runs” around the arena, my friends and I decided to explore it.
On the first day of exploration, we found ourselves inside the practice facility. The doors had been left wide open by a group of teenagers. It was too easy, and we couldn’t resist.
This was my start. The place was undergoing reconstruction, so initially there wasn’t much to look at. But then we found the practice courts. We played around, took some shots and wandered around the building. The entire time, I remember having this feeling, a sort of euphoria like I had wings on my feet. The day would only get better. Towards the end my friend, Harrison, called all of us over into the other room. He was holding a camera in his hand.
I felt like Harry Potter. The camera was calling me, and in that moment I knew the path I wanted to set on. So I asked Harrison if I could keep the camera because I was interested in the art form. He was hesitant at first, but he did not have the same ambitions he could see that I had, so he ended up giving it to me. The big bang of my career.
After an amazing evening together, we called it a night on our adventure. That day was merely the start of our adventures.
I remember running to practice, tingling with anticipation. I wanted to see the arena again. So over that 2018 cross-country season, that is exactly what I did. I told my other friends about it. My few from cross-country became a troupe. Another adventure was underway. Like a side arm I carried that camera with me on all of our trips.
We found some old broken golf carts near the security tunnels, and we started playing around with them. It was the closest thing to driving a car at the time. We would push them together until there was a decline. One day we decided to launch the cart off the stairs. There were four of us on it as it trotted its way toward the stairs, but two of us called chicken and hopped out. Right as they were going down the stairs, I snapped a picture of them.
The arena was our spot, we would take pictures and create memories there. It has real importance to me because of how fond those memories are and how dear I hold them to my heart. In high school you do not typically have too much freedom, so these moments where I would take pictures with all my friends burned into my brain, never failing to bring a smile to my face.
My friend told us about how the city considered creating a double stadium area for the Triple A affiliate, the Sacramento River Cats, right next to Arco Arena. The plans fell through, but my friend said they started constructing the foundation of the stadium, and it was still there.
Just like that, we had been set on another journey. A couple yards from Arco Arena the city created a concrete shell. It seemed like they had hollowed out the land that was there before. As I walked on the grass, I saw holes in the ground that would reveal a massive caverine. We made our way down, and it was just a vast empty space of concrete that had been spray painted everywhere.
One of the last memories I recall was still back in high school. It was the summer of 2019, and I had been with a different group of friends than before. I had told them these stories, and they wanted to go see for themselves.
Even now, the night still feels so fresh because of how scared I was. We parked the car away from the area and started our walk over. The goal was to get into the practice facility like before. It was around 11 p.m., so I remember the cold wind whistling through the trees as we headed over, our bodies heated with excitement.
When we got to the building, the doors were closed. Not only that, but I couldn’t help noticing the upgrade in security. It was a quick glance, but I remember seeing live cameras and what seemed to be a fingerprint scanner at the door. While discussing what we could try next, we heard a car patrolling the parking lot. We all used the building as cover and peaked around to get an understanding of the situation and how to leave.
The next thing I knew, our driver told us to run, so we bolted towards the car. It was almost like they saw us the whole time because the car started driving in our direction as soon as we ran.
We started to stagger as some were faster than others. I was in the back, so I was one of the first to get caught up by the truck. Security caught all of us. I was terrified. He was very mad at first, and when I lied, saying we had just been taking a stroll, he got even angrier. He told us to wait for the cops to arrive. Luckily for us, my friend had talked to the security guard and calmed him down. He called off the cops and let us go, making sure to tell us not to do this type of stuff again.
With that my adventures had come to an end. My final year of high school I would still run around the arena all the time, but it was merely a place filled with some of my best memories and things to look back on and laugh on. This now leads me to the present day.
As of August 2022 the city started the long awaited demolition process on the arena. I didn’t know that it was going to happen, since I no longer live in the area. On what seemed like a normal day, I was visiting when I saw that there was a large split in the arena. Suddenly all these memories started going through my brain, and I felt not sad per se, but incomplete as if there was something I needed to do.
That evening I decided I wanted to take pictures of the destroyed arena as it had served as the beginning of my photography journey. It was my studio. We took pictures with everything we could find there, and I enjoyed every minute of it. That’s why I decided to revisit it and capture it before it is completely gone. I would have never thought the Arco Arena would play such an important role to me, especially since it was a building. However, it shows the universal importance it had on the residents of Natomas.
To most the Arco Arena is a cheap arena that the Sacramento Kings played in, but to us, the people of Sacramento, it was the best arena we could ever ask for.
Gabriel Carver is a staff writer for the Express. Follow him @cup1dco.