Built to Blast - Page 2

Friendly fallout of the Cold War, Blomberg’s ‘bomb-resistant’ concrete homes represent a colorful chapter of mid-century modern Sacramento
Life magazine put fallout on its front cover, 1961.
The Portland Cement Association supported builders like Blomberg with their own Atomic Age message, here in Better Homes & Gardens, 1955.

In 1955, the company even built a large garden apartment complex, the Tradewinds, across from the municipal airport.
Newspaper ads in the late 1940s and early 1950s proclaimed the ‘Basalite Homes’ as low cost, with “new beauty, comfort, and livability.” One, the very modern Westerner, was dubbed an ‘idea home.’ “See Blomberg’s latest ‘Guinea Pig’ Basalite Home,” a 1950 ad urged, “New ideas everywhere.”

And although some of the homes have been mauled by remodelers over the years, the Blomberg homes are starting to attract attention from Sacramento’s burgeoning community of mid-century modern enthusiasts, including Gretchen Steinberg, who operates the city’s popular modern blog, eichlerific.com, and ran the first tour of mid-century modern homes in 2010.

Steinberg, who discovered the Blomberg homes just two years ago, has pored through old newspapers to find out about them, and cruised through town seeking them out. Her blog includes a small treasure trove of historical Blomberg material.

“It shows the early examples of houses that were built by one of the people who helped invent concrete blocks,” Steinberg says, noting that the Blombergs are among the city’s earliest modern homes, predating the better known Streng subdivisions by more than a decade.

Savvy buyers have always appreciated the homes. “More glass than Eichlers and equally beautiful,” was the of judgment of Elizabeth D’Alessandro, who lived for years in one of Jerry’s favorites among his homes, a house on Del Rio Road with a carport roof that was paper-thin thanks to hidden steel beams.

Jerry (center) in 1955 at one of his model homes, a prefab wired for “electric living” built in 7.5 hours, on Sacramento's Del Rio Road.
This early Sacramento Bee ad, from 1949, invited all to see Blomberg's very modern ‘Westerner' idea house.

“The Eichlers are beautiful, don’t get me wrong,” she says. “But if you want a true, all-glass house, that would be the Blombergs.”

Among Blomberg fans are Wes and Juju Steed, electronic musicians who have turned their 924-square-foot home into a mid-century marvel, complete with period furnishings and Wes’s abstract paintings. Curtain rods hang from the ceiling because they won’t attach to the concrete walls.

Their house looks much larger from the street than it really is, because a concrete wall that connects house and carport appears to be part of the house itself. Jerry says the home, built in 1953, was designed by a young architect working for the Sacramento firm Dreyfuss & Blackford.

“I like all the windows,” Juju says. “That’s my favorite part.”
Over the past eight years, Wes and Juju redid the floor, fixed the windows, ripped up carpet, and added modern-style cabinets. They are encouraged that their new next-door neighbor also appears to be interested in restoring his Blomberg home’s look, having added a complementary concrete garden wall.

The story of the Blomberg homes is a fascinating one—and not just because they used what, on the West Coast at least, are relatively unusual materials for homes—concrete blocks and pre-cast concrete.

For one thing, the blocks they used were invented by the family patriarch, Gustaf Blomberg, who originally headed up the family firm. Gus developed the lightweight blocks, called Basalite, in 1933, and took the process to the Basalt Rock Co., which manufactured them.