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Which Sacramento midcentury modern landmarks deserve protection?

Effort afoot to protect Sacramento's midcentury modern buildings

Gretchen Steinberg, president of Sacramento Modern, talks about the effort to identify and protect midcentury modern architecture in Sacramento.
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Gretchen Steinberg, president of Sacramento Modern, talks about the effort to identify and protect midcentury modern architecture in Sacramento.

The city of Sacramento and local activists are taking the first steps to protect “modern” landmarks built in the 1940s through the early 1970s.

The first step in the process, which ultimately aims to protect five midcentury modern buildings, is to examine structures built during those decades. This summer, some 30 volunteers will survey the 48,000 parcels with structures built during that period.

“We’re going to catalog, inventory and account for midcentury modern building in the city of Sacramento,” said Gretchen Steinberg, president of preservationist group Sacramento Modern, which is helping to fund the effort.

Midcentury modern architecture reflects the new technologies and optimism that swept across America after World War II. Whether designing a flat-roofed glass skyscraper or an angled Orbit gas station, architects during that period tuned the page on traditional design. Frank Lloyd Wright was a major influence.

Some local examples of midcentury modern buildings within the city include the Sacramento Zoo entrance, the SMUD headquarters building and the Shepard Garden and Arts Center next to McKinley Park. There are also numerous homes built by the Streng brothers and Joe Eichler.

The Shepard center, which is undergoing repairs, stands out with its dramatic roofline and use of materials.

“It’s a really lovely example of midcentury modern style with the mix of natural materials, flagstone and wood, and a lot of new technologies,” Steinberg said.

Sacramento historian William Burg said he was excited about the prospect of protecting buildings from this era and hopes it will lead to additional surveys and protected structures.

He said bestowing historic protection to buildings shouldn’t be seen as a negative.

“It adds to the value of the building,” he said.

Sacramento Modern was formed in 2010 with this goal in mind. Over the years, it has led tours of midcentury modern homes. The bulk of the funds from those tours are being earmarked for the new project.

“The city of Sacramento’s distinctive historic architecture and design contribute to its unique character and sense of place,” Steinberg said. “These attributes enhance our quality of life – and draw the interest of prospective businesses and creative people.”

Ed Fletcher: 916-321-1269, @NewsFletch

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