Local Obituaries

Sacramento architect helped design headquarters for CalPERS, SMUD

Albert Dreyfuss
Albert Dreyfuss

The CalPERS Lincoln Plaza building at Fourth and P streets, characterized by its rooftop shrubbery and concrete walls, might have been a skyscraper if it weren’t for Sacramento architect Albert Dreyfuss.

Dreyfuss was one of the masterminds behind the Sacramento architecture firm, Dreyfuss & Blackford Architecture. Run alongside with Leonard Blackford, his business partner and the firm’s lead designer, the pair helped envision and create innovative buildings in the region.

Those include the SMUD headquarters off 65th Street, Sacramento Metropolitan (now International) Airport and the former Nut Tree road stop off Interstate 80 in Vacaville, according to the firm’s website.

Following a career lasting more than 40 years in the Sacramento region and a retirement focused on becoming a serious photographer, Dreyfuss died Thursday, Dec. 21, at age 97. He had been in declining health, said Diane Lennox, his daughter.

The CalPERS location was among the first green-roof buildings in the region, said John Webre, who now owns the firm. The pair persuaded CalPERS board members to move away from the skyscraper concept and instead adopt their modern design, he said.

“They said, ‘No, let’s take that high-rise, put it on its side and build a park around it,’ ” Webre said of his predecessors. “It really was a precursor to the high-performance buildings that we know now.”

Over the years, Dreyfuss served as president of the American Association of Architects, California Council and was chairman of the Capitol Area Plan Committee set up by Gov. Pat Brown to plan for development around the state Capitol, his family said.

“He was a steady, solid, very quietly powerful man,” Lennox said of her father. “He was not ostentatious at all. But he was a driven pursuer of things that interested him.”

Born in Shreveport, La., he studied architecture at Tulane University, then the University of Illinois. Before that, he spent time serving in the submarine services during World War II.

Dreyfuss married Pearl Rayor in 1948 and moved to Sacramento, where he worked at the State Architect’s office. He started his own firm in 1950 and later invited Blackford, his neighbor at the time, to join. Blackford was made partner in 1957, resulting in Dreyfuss & Blackford Architecture.

Dreyfuss recognized Blackford had a stronger eye for design, and focused on managing the firm and recruiting clients.

“He was really was a tremendous visionary, somebody who could take a big issue and give it some thought,” Webre said of Dreyfuss. “That was his genius. He was able to look through and develop a long-term plan for clients who were really big.”

It was about that time that the firm landed its breakthrough project: SMUD’s headquarters, designed in the modernist style seen after World War II.

The two moved on to more ambitious projects, including the master planning of the San Francisco International Airport alongside prominent architect John Carl Warnecke, the firm’s website says.

Although he was not a Sacramento native, Dreyfuss adopted it as his hometown and did everything he could to ensure it had a strong future, his son said. He was a longtime supporter of the American River Parkway and the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael.

“He was independent and rigorous,” Alan Dreyfuss said of his father. “He had a very strong ethic about how one should live their life ... He’s always on my shoulder.”

Dreyfuss & Blackford Architects and Alan Dreyfuss, also an architect who owns a firm in the Bay Area, are partnering to complete the restoration of the original SMUD headquarters building, constructed between 1959 and 1960.

“We are taking what is arguably one of his masterpieces and giving life for the next 50 years,” Webre said.

“It's been pretty remarkable,” Alan Dreyfuss said of the experience.

Dreyfuss is survived by his four children, Alan Rayor Dreyfuss, Diane Lennox, Annette Vasquez and Eve Dreyfuss, as well four grandchildren. Rayor died in 2009, Lennox said. Blackford died in 2014.

A memorial for Dreyfuss is scheduled at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Temple B’nai Israel. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center.

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets