Photos Loading
previous next

    The living room seen from the couch.


    Barbara Shepard and David Crowe, who transformed their home into a midcentury modern showpiece in a short time.


    Windows look in on the connected living room and dining room of the Shepard-Crowe home in South Land Park.


    The backyard and kitchen are more opportunities for Shepard and Crowe to show their taste.


    Simplicity and clean lines mark the guest room of the South Land Park home owned by Barbara Shepard and David Crowe.


    The backyard and kitchen are more opportunities for Shepard and Crowe to show their taste, including the nod to Sacramento artist Wayne Thiebaud – the decorative cake slices perched above the toaster.

Mid-century modern on display in Sacramento tour

Published: Wednesday, May. 15, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 4CALIFORNIA LIFE
Last Modified: Saturday, May. 18, 2013 - 12:14 am

In a little basalite bungalow, Barbara Shepard and David Crowe found their dream house.

But when they first toured their home last May, they had to squint hard to see their vision.

"The Realtor who showed us the house said it was the worst home she'd ever shown," Shepard recalled. " 'Definitely a tear-down.'

"It was in pretty rough shape," she added. "It had not been lived in for six years and had been abandoned. It was a mess."

Instead of demolishing the 63-year-old South Land Park house, the couple restored its midcentury charm and preserved its construction. At the same time, they updated the two-bedroom home for energy efficiency and to meet their personal needs.

"We both have mobility problems," Shepard said. "This house has no steps, no thresholds, no problems. It's really easy for us to get around."

That's a good thing for visitors, too. On Saturday, the couple will host about 1,000 guests during the second Sacramento Mid-Century Modern Tour.

Built in 1950, their Blomberg Westerner blockhouse will be featured along with six other Sacramento homes and 26 other points of interest.

"We have two Eichler homes, including the childhood home of Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz," said Gretchen Steinberg, who is orchestrating the tour.

The event also features a custom cinderblock duplex that epitomizes indoor- outdoor living and a William Koblik-designed custom home based on hexagons – not rectangles.

Other homes represent more midcentury architects and builders.

But this tour is about much more than houses.

Sacramento Executive Airport, a hallmark of local midcentury modern architecture, will serve as the tour's hub with a large show of classic cars from the era and exhibits devoted to Sacramento's wealth of midcentury sites.

"Besides the airport, we'll also feature Mahoroba Bakery, the Sacramento Buddhist Church and the Lutheran Church of the Master," Steinberg said. "All of these will be open to the public. Then, we'll have several 'drive-by' points of interest such as Hollywood Hardware and Pancake Circus.

"People drive by these places every day but may not know their history."

Preserving that history is part of the tour's goal, she added.

"I like all eras, but it's become my particular charge to take care of midcentury modern," said Steinberg, who lives in a South Land Park home from that era. "You don't want to become a generic city. The things that are here need preserving. They're part of our cultural identity. Can you imagine Paris without the Eiffel Tower or Seattle without Pike Place?"

Shepard and Crowe were looking for a house just like the one they bought – well, maybe without all the extra work.

"We've always been attracted to cinder block houses," Shepard said. "We had a traditional house in Land Park, but this is more us."

Crowe, an architect, loves the simplicity of the Westerner's design.

"There's no wasted space," he said of the 1,081-square-foot, two-bedroom floor plan. "They put a lot of thought into everything.

"It's a very efficient little house and very comfortable," Crowe added. "It works for the way we live."

An 8-foot-tall wall of windows brings the outdoors inside to the living room and dining room.

"It's a see-through house," Crowe said. "You can see the outdoors from every room. It has a very open layout."

Shortly after World War II, Gus Blomberg built several Westerners in Sacramento. For his postwar houses, Blomberg developed construction techniques with the lightweight concrete masonry blocks.

Manufactured by the Basalt Rock Co., these basalite blocks were made of lightweight shale aggregate. Baked at extremely high temperatures in a rotary kiln, the aggregate became ultra-strong and durable.

Besides strength and low cost, the blocks offer another benefit.

"It's cool year round," Crowe said. "The blocks keep the house 20 degrees cooler in summer."

The one issue: hanging anything on the block walls.

"You need a masonry drill bit," Shepard said, "and you really think about it long and hard before you make that hole, because it's for keeps."

Two years ago, Crowe suffered a major back injury when he fell off a ladder while cleaning rain gutters at their former home. Shepard, a retired information technology supervisor, has multiple sclerosis. Each uses a cane to get around.

"This house is perfect for us," Shepard said. "But we also wanted to plan for the future."

In their remodel, they converted the bathroom to a wheelchair-accessible shower with a no-slip vinyl floor. They also added a second half-bath in what had been a closet in the master bedroom.

With a tight budget, the couple also updated the home's kitchen, using Ikea cabinets and apartment-size appliances.

"I liken this house to living on a boat," Shepard said. "It's small and efficient. You can't have a lot of extra junk."

A water heater had sat outside the kitchen on the front of the house. A tankless water heater solved that problem.

They resurfaced the concrete floors and updated the home's HVAC system. The landscaping also got a major overhaul. A weed-filled jungle became streamlined and easy to care for with a Zen garden studded with Golden Goddess bamboo.

After four months of intense work, the house was ready for move-in.

"We've bought a lot of houses over the years – all fixer-uppers," Shepard said. "But this was the ultimate fixer."

To host a home tour one year after they first saw it is a major accomplishment.

"I'm in awe of what they've done," Steinberg said. "They were able to envision what that house could be and made it happen – in the shortest possible period of time. And they did it skillfully and creatively, while conserving the house's style.

"They've really done a fabulous job."


What: Sacramento's midcentury past is on display during this tour, which focuses on 1950s architecture and homes.

Where: Start at Sacramento Executive Airport, 6151 Freeport Blvd., Sacramento

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. today

Admission: $40


Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Debbie Arrington

Sacramento Bee Job listing powered by
Quick Job Search
Sacramento Bee Jobs »
Used Cars
Dealer and private-party ads


Price Range:
Search within:
miles of ZIP

Advanced Search | 1982 & Older