As Sacramento Public Library archivist James Scott says, the idea of Rancho Cordova is intricately tied to the idea of California. Rancho Cordova’s story, like California’s story, is one of an insatiable urge of a nation to lean west, to carve out new frontiers, to innovate and to create community.
Now, the story of Rancho Cordova gets the screen treatment in a new documentary film by local historian Bill George called “Rancho Cordova: From Gold Rush to Space.”
The film shows how Rancho Cordova “played a major role in the Gold Rush, the emergence of American air power in World War I and World War II, the strategic defense of the United States during the Cold War, and the efforts to put man on the moon.” It premiered Thursday, Oct. 13 at the Mills Station Arts & Culture Center.
The film is about “the involvement of one city, relatively small, in the affairs of the nation, in terms of its defense and its space exploration,” said George. “To have such a huge effect, what does that do to a community?”
The documentary features commentary from well-known faces in the Rancho Cordova and Sacramento regions, including Rancho Cordova Vice Mayor Linda Budge, Council Member David Sander, Cordova Community Council Executive Director Shelly Blanchard and Executive Director of the Sacramento Country Office of Education Steven Winlock, among others.
Covering and condensing roughly 170 years into a half hour timeframe, the film begins with the massive influx of people to the area during the Gold Rush, showing how the race for riches eventually helped transform the area into an agricultural hub.
During World War I, Rancho Cordova became a base for the aviation industry, with Mills Field serving as a pilot training base for the United States Army. It was used again for training during World War II. During the Cold War, Rancho Cordova became a proving ground for Aerojet's Titan rocket family.
At the time of the contract award, the company had just started construction of a large-thrust liquid test stand at its new Rancho Cordova, Calif. site. Within 10 months of the contract award, the company had 889 employees working on the liquid rocket program and a construction frenzy was underway.Aerojet Rocketdyne
Rancho Cordova was so pivotal to this effort that President Lyndon B. Johnson visited the Aerojet facilities to witness a Titan engine test firing in 1964.
As the decades progressed, Rancho Cordova went through ebbs and flows, but following the Cold War, a period of decline struck the area due to aerospace manufacturers shuttering operations.
“The city people that were interviewed in the film were very frank about the period of decline the city went through,” said George. “They explained how cityhood, how important that was to overcoming those obstacles and creating an even better place to live, so I think that’s a great message.”
In 2003, after decades of playing an important role in local and national history, Rancho Cordova was officially incorporated.
“It was interesting to see the depth of the commitment people had to incorporate Rancho Cordova and the resistance from Sacramento County,” said George. “I think local control is better when people have the reins of government in their hands.”
With the film now complete, George is thinking about where to take the Rancho Cordova story next.
There is enough material to do a part two or expand this into a full-length feature. I think there is a good chance that we will do more on this film and go from there.Bill George
Reflecting on the film, George pointed to a single frame in the documentary, a still picture that shows a group of people gazing towards the sky, their sights set on some unseen aerial object. For George, the image speaks to the mindset of airmindedness that pervades Rancho Cordova. It’s a place where common people unite to achieve sky-high dreams.
“That kind of epitomizes Rancho Cordova,” said George.
If you're interested in organizing a screening of the film “Rancho Cordova: From Gold Rush to Space," you can contact Bill George at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mills Station Arts & Cultural Center
10191 Mills Station Rd. Phone: (916) 273-5712
Mills Station Arts & Cultural Center10191 Mills Station Rd.
Rancho Cordova, California 95670