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By Mike Hazlip—
The proposed site for a new 34,000-square-foot church building on Auburn Boulevard has a controversial and less-than-sacred past, according to historical records and interviews.
The plot of land on the northern side of Cripple Creek across from the entrance to Rusch Park has changed hands several times over the years, but always had a seedy reputation. Citrus Heights historian Larry Fritz said early records show a bar called the Cripple Creek Tavern was located at the site and was known as “kind of a rowdy place.”
In the documentary, Ladies to the Rescue, one first-responder recalled responding to emergencies in the middle of the night at the Cripple Creek Tavern in the 1960s, where said she would bring her dog for backup.
Sometime after the tavern shut down, the building became a nude bar called the Satin Lady, which later became Cheerleaders.
“Auburn Boulevard used to be a, pardon the pun, a strip for nudie bars,” said Tim Schaefer, who was recently elected to the Citrus Heights City Council. He said a cultural shift over the years, however, likely led to decreased demand for such establishments.
Jeannie Bruins, a longtime Citrus Heights resident and City Councilwoman who led the incorporation effort in the 1990s, recalled a concerted effort to stop the owner of Cheerleaders from expanding with a second location.
“My earliest memory of that property was the former Satin Lady was closed, it was an empty building,” she said in an interview last week with The Sentinel, noting that she moved to Citrus Heights in 1984.
Bruins said a woman opened Cheerleaders as a sports bar in the 1990s, before the City of Citrus Heights incorporated. The business owner obtained a business license and told the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors servers would have exposed midriffs, but there would be no nudity in the establishment, according to Bruins.
“The bottom line is they weren’t open a short period of time, maybe a few months, before the tops came off,” Bruins recalled.
Community members went to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors about the issue, but Bruins said little effort was made to police the unincorporated area.
Once Citrus Heights became a city in 1997, Bruins said officials were able to monitor the activity being conducted at the location more closely.
The issue came to a boiling point when the owner of Cheerleaders sought to open a second establishment near Sunrise Mall. Bruins said plans were for a “juice bar,” a strip club without alcoholic beverages, which would enable side-stepping of restrictions on nude establishments from the Alcohol and Beverage Control Board.
“We decided that what we would do is we would protest the bar that was already opened to send a message to the one that wanted to open,” Bruins said, who was then heading the Citrus Heights Chamber of Commerce. “We started in February of that year and we had organized protests. We basically killed their business.”
Bruins said the city offered to pay the owner for lost revenue in exchange for signing a contract to leave the city and never come back. “That’s exactly what happened,” according to Bruins.
A report from the Sacramento Business Journal from March of 1999 shows local citizens held a protest to stop the “invasion of our city by sexually oriented businesses.”
After the closure of Cheerleaders, Bruins said the city contacted the property owner who gave permission to bulldoze the building.
“The building went away and it was a big celebration, and it sat as vacant land until the church bought it.”
It is not clear if the original property owner still owned the site when Pastor Kyle Conley of Pioneer Baptist Church purchased the land. Conley did not disclose the name of the property owner or owners in a recent interview, but said he was offered a deal he could not refuse.
“The northern parcel was for sale at some time, which I believe many years ago was a gentlemen’s club,” Conley said, clarifying he was using the term loosely because “gentlemen don’t go to those kind of clubs.” He said it was an answer to prayer when “the previous owners donated it to us for $1.”
Another adult business on Auburn Boulevard was also reborn as a church in recent years. A July 2017 report by CBS13 described the closure of City Limits Showgirls, at 5821 Auburn Blvd., which later became Grace Trinity Church.
The establishment was the last of three topless bars on Auburn Boulevard that were forced to close after re-zoning, according to a 2015 report by Fox40.
Pioneer Baptist Church has submitted plans for construction of a large new sanctuary, along with a 3,500-square-foot day car building on the property across from Rusch Park. The proposed campus will take up properties on both sides of Cripple Creek, with parking planned for the northern lot.
Conley could not be reached for additional comment last week, but for Bruins, the land’s history from sinner to saint represents a positive move for the city.
“I think it’s very cool that what used to be a bar that catered to the lower senses of people is now going to be a church with a higher purpose,” she said.
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