Doreen Sinclair arrived at the East Lawn Memorial Park building in a vibrant yellow flapper dress for an event celebrating Shanghai art deco architecture.
She posed with a pointed toe and extended arm to show off her full attire, from white kitten heels to a weaved cloche that topped her short hair.
Sinclair, 85, was born in England in the middle of the art deco period known for its streamlined art, symmetrical architecture, neon lights and liberated fashion. In Sacramento, she’s been able to cultivate her passion in her childhood era with the Sacramento Art Deco Society, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
She couldn’t describe why she loves the style so much but said, “It gives you a little lift. It’s that lift I get when I see art deco.”
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The term art deco was derived from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, a 1925 Paris exhibition that called for artists around the world to create something new, not mimicked from the Victorian or any other era, Sinclair said.
Landmark art deco buildings in the U.S. include the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building in New York.
Sacramento has only a few art deco buildings, including the East Lawn Memorial building, the Crest and Tower theaters and the Kress building on K Street, Sinclair said. Other art deco societies are located in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and about three dozen exist worldwide, according to the International Coalition of Art Deco Societies.
The Sacramento society aims to educate people about the art deco history and art through its lecture series, movies and events throughout the city showcasing the period between the 1920s and 1940s.
In the past, the society has organized museum exhibits at the Folsom History Museum featuring art deco-style items such as dining room arrangements, elevator doors and cars, said Bruce Woodward, the society’s secretary and a longtime member. More recently, the society partnered with the Blue Line Arts gallery in Roseville, showcasing art deco items with local artwork inspired by the era.
Members also advocate for preserving local buildings in danger of being torn down, Woodward said.
Among the society’s successes is the Au-Corda apartments, Woodward said. In 2001, the Capitol Area Development Authority, or CADA, planned to demolish the apartments at 15th Street and Capitol Avenue to make way for the East End Complex. After Sinclair suggested that the apartments could be preserved on an empty lot nearby, they were taken off their foundations, put on wheeled trucks and saved, Woodward said.
“You don’t want to see the same style of architecture repeated endlessly,” he said. “Buildings are unadorned and pretty unimaginative. When you have a varied stock of architecture in a city, it adds to its appeal.”
Roy Engoron, editor of The Moderne Times, the society’s quarterly magazine, said he appreciates the elegance of the era.
“(The architecture) had a geographic element with trapezoids, zigzags,” he said. “The walls were smooth with lavish adornments and murals. Architects experimented with all materials, including aluminum, chrome and gold.”
This year’s Christmas Gala will serve as the organization’s main 25th anniversary celebration, featuring a nine-piece orchestra, dancing and a silent auction. Engoron said he enjoys the December gala the most, where members dress up in gowns and tuxedo tails.
“When people are dressed like that, their manners change,” he said. “Everyone is courteous. We don’t open doors for people anymore, men don’t tip their hats, men wear baseball hats in restaurants. … (In the art deco events) you get a whole different feeling.”
Woodward said many art deco societies have faded away, but members of the Sacramento Art Deco Society boast of its consistency.
“It’s amazing we’re still here,” he said. “It takes a lot of effort to put out the Moderne Times, put lectures, presentations and tours together. It’s a big effort by very few people.”
Sinclair said she considers the organization’s relationship with East Lawn a significant accomplishment. The East Sacramento cemetery provides meeting space and refreshments for the group in its art deco-era building.
However, Sinclair said she thinks the organization hasn’t grown as much as it should.
“People probably have a strange impression of what we do,” Engoron said. “The people who come are surprised the group is so versatile. We have so much fun with what we do. We would love to get more young people.”
Woodward said that the group faces greater challenges in reaching younger generations as more time passes. Fewer people who lived during the art deco era remain alive, so young people do not have a personal connection to that time period. As midcentury modern styles of the 1950s have become popular, people have less exposure to art deco items in estate sales and antique stores.
Sinclair said she thinks people are becoming more aware of the importance of preserving art deco buildings and art, but the organization needs young people to continue its legacy.
“I think they’d like us,” she said.