Home & Garden

Family flourishes in Victorian that’s retained original charms

Pete and Samara Palko fell in love with their midtown Sacramento neighborhood before they ever lived there.

When they moved back from the Bay Area 10 years ago, they searched for a fixer-upper that could be the perfect home for their family. They also wanted a house that could fuel their passion for restoration. On 22nd Street, they found their match.

“Abigail was only a few months old when we moved in,” Samara said. “Now, we have three kids.”

Abigail, now 11, Ruth, 9, and Petey, 7, are growing up in their Queen Anne Victorian with colonial touches. It’s a fitting environment; with four bedrooms, this 114-year-old house has always been a family home. And like the Palkos, it has siblings close by.

See for yourself. Today, the Palkos open their doors to about a thousand expected guests during the 39th annual Sacramento Old City Association tour.

This year’s event showcases the architectural treasures in an area of midtown rich in Victorians and other homes dating back to the late 1800s.

“We just love the neighborhood,” Samara Palko said. “There’s such an eclectic mix.”

That’s what drew the tour to her neighborhood, too.

The restoration and reuse of historic buildings make midtown a desirable residential neighborhood, a vibrant arts community and a distinctive business district, said SOCA’s Christine Weinstein. Besides six regal Victorians such as the Palko house, the tour will feature the Kennedy Gallery Art Center, the Amber House Bed and Breakfast and Sutter’s Fort, the oldest “home” in Sacramento.

In addition to the tour, a free street fair will be held next to today’s Midtown Farmers Market where patrons can learn about local history and home restoration as well as find products and services to help old homes enjoy new life.

Part of this tour’s charm is the chance to step inside some of these grand old homes and imagine what Sacramento was like a century ago. It’s also an opportunity to see the potential unlocked by current residents such as the Palkos. They carefully updated their houses to accept modern family life while still retaining their homes’ original character.

This old house had a century of character before it was discovered by the Palkos.

“When we bought (the house), everything was there, right down to the trim,” Pete Palko said. “All the wood was there. The foundation, electrical and plumbing had already been updated. But the home itself was unmolested.”

Located next door to the Pease Conservatory of Music, the Palkos’ Victorian was one of four homes (including the Pease) built side by side circa 1900 for the Carragher family.

The Carraghers were a prominent Sacramento family in the late 1800s who owned the popular Saddle Rock Restaurant and Oyster House (which dated back to the Gold Rush) and River View Stock Farm, where they bred racehorses in the late 1890s.

Situated near the corner of 22nd and L streets, the four houses were commissioned for two sisters and two brothers, according to SOCA’s Catherine Turrell. The Palko home was originally occupied by one of the sisters, Kate Williams, and her husband, Ulysses, a railroad engineer who went on to become a captain in the Sacramento Fire Department. They had five children.

Since that first family, the home has only changed hands twice, Turrell noted. That lack of turnover has helped preserve the home’s original features such as pocket doors and handsome cabinetry made of close-grained fir.

“The four houses are like siblings, too,” Turrell noted. “You can see the resemblance in their (architectural) details and how they complement each other. They look similar, but not identical — just like family.”

All four homes still have their original front doors, noted Pete Palko. Gilt numbers lists their addresses on heavy plate glass. It’s one of those original features that grabbed his attention.

He points to the textured lincrusta leatherette wall covering that coats the stairwell walls.

“You see this a lot in old homes in Sacramento, but it’s almost always painted over,” Palko said as he ran his hand over the textured surface. “But this is all original and intact. That’s why I fell in love with this house. It was all here. I didn’t have to take down a bunch of stuff and start over.”

Palko, who works in the health industry, got hooked on Sacramento while studying for his master’s degree at California State University, Sacramento. While he was working in the Bay Area, the Palkos lived in Martinez, where they restored their first home. That proved to be practice for this project.

“I worked in construction through grad school,” he said. “I did pretty much all the work myself (on this house). But it gives you an appreciation for what you’re working with.”

Samara Palko, a longtime teacher, took time off from her career before returning to work this year as an educational achievement specialist at nearby St. Francis Elementary School, which all three kids attend.

“It’s only three blocks away,” said Samara, who also is an active midtown advocate, serving on her local neighborhood board. “We walk down L Street together; everybody knows us.”

Accompanied by their cat Bobbie, the kids demonstrate some of their favorite features in the house. Triangular windows (including one hidden inside a closet) peek out from the upper bedrooms. The distinctive turret holds one of two light-filled parlors – perfect places to study or relax.

Another must-see highlight sits out front. On the sidewalk, the children put their hand prints and initials in concrete so future generations will know it’s their house, too.

Their home has become a hub of school and community activity.

“They’re a really neat family,” Weinstein said. “They’ve really made themselves part of the community and embraced it.”

That includes today’s tour.

“When we first moved back to Sacramento, we took the (SOCA) tour and we thought about maybe our home could be on it someday,” Samara said. “Ten years later, we’re finally ready.”