Truckee’s Cultural District: Art with Altitude

From the summer issue of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine:

IN JUNE, THE CALIFORNIA ARTS COUNCIL selected finalists for Cultural Districts, representing urban, rural and suburban areas across California. Truckee, and Nevada City and Grass Valley were among them. In July the Council’s staff recommended that they be included among a list of 14 to be designated as Cultural Districts, a major coup.

Here’s the rundown on Truckee’s cultural district:

Founded as a High Sierra railroad and logging town in 1863 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Truckee’s history includes the saga of the Donner Party, the transcontinental railroad, Charlie Chaplin’s cinematic performances such as “The Gold Rush,” and the 1960 Winter Olympics.

“The high alpine backdrop provides opportunities to interpret, capture, and draw creative inspiration from the area’s captivating scenery, natural resources and outdoor adventure culture,” as Truckee Mayor Morgan Goodwin observed in the town’s letter to the California Arts Council. “It is this relationship between Truckee’s rugged surroundings and our artistic pursuits that fuels the vibrant concentration of arts and culture and sets Truckee apart.”


* Truckee Community Arts Center, which supports local performances such as the Truckee Community Theater.

* Over 25 art galleries and studios, including Gallery 5830’, Carmel Gallery, Bolam Gallery and Riverside Studios.

* Donner Memorial State Park Museum, which features exhibits that tell the stories of the Donner Party, Washoe Tribe, Chinese construction of the railroad, and motoring across Donner Pass on Old Hwy. 40.

* Donner Summit, “considered the most historical square mile in California and possibly the West,” as Goodwin noted. It is the site of the first wagon trains to reach California and the first transcontinental railroad.

* Tahoe Donner outdoor performing arts stage, which provides a series of summer concerts.

* Old Truckee Jail Museum, one of Truckee’s original buildings and one of only a few surviving 19th century jailhouses.

The Truckee area offers year-round cultural activities and events—many of them featured in our current issue. Examples include the Autumn Food and Wine Festival at Northstar California and Truckee Wine, Walk & Shop; Truckee Art & Soul and Truckee Thursdays; Trails & Vistas; and the Truckee Air Show and Haunted Historic Tours.

Other events include the Great Ski Race from Tahoe City to Truckee, Donner Party Hike, and the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run, the oldest of its kind. The run starts in Squaw Valley ends in Auburn.

Truckee is poised for further expansion that will enhance its Cultural District. The Truckee Railyard is a 75-acre redevelopment project east of the historic downtown. The mixed-income community for artists will include 71 affordable rental apartments, a movie theater and an amphitheater for live performances. It will feature public art throughout the site.

The Cultural District designation is expected to lead to future growth. Truckee’s employment is heavily dependent on seasonal ski tourism and construction of vacation homes. “Due to climate change and the town approaching full buildout, these industries are projected to eventually slow,” according to the town. “Promoting Truckee as a cultural district has the potential to provide new year-round employment opportunities.”

(Image: Jude Bischoff)

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

7 thoughts on “Truckee’s Cultural District: Art with Altitude”

  1. Jeff
    Actually, I believe that in 1841 the first wagon train to California, 33 pioneers led by John Bidwell, came over the pass in Tuolumne County, arriving November 4, 1841.
    Ray Shine

    1. Thanks Ray. For background, this is verbatim from Truckee’s proposal, but I think the town’s historians were referring to the wagon trains (plural) between 1841 and 1844, but also the first transcontinental railroad site in 1869 — making Donner Summit such a special historical place. In 1844, the Stephens Party pioneered the first route at or near what was later named Donner Pass. The Bidwell Party crossed at what is now Sonora Pass, as you suggest. Hope to see you at California WorldFest this weekend!

  2. Jeff,
    Thank you, I stand corrected.
    The Washoe were mostly on the Tahoe side.
    Paiute people actually encountered some of the Donner Party attempting to hike out.
    It is said they offered some their own food to the starving men, but it didn’t agree with them and made them feel sick.

  3. One of the best things Truckee did for itself was to buy a real mid-century diner, from another city for their town.
    Super nostalgic and cool Americana.

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