While most modern tract homes have backyards walled off for privacy, at Evergreen Commons, homes that border to the park open onto it through rustic wood-slat fences. The Strengs' architect, Carter Sparks, "designed a sort-of see-through fence, one that kept the dogs in and the little children, but the space flowed," says Jim Streng, who developed the neighborhood with his brother Bill. "It opened it up visually."
Like many modern neighborhoods, Evergreen Commons is set in a relatively open, park-like setting. The concept, also seen in the work of such modernists as Gregory Ain in his Mar Vista neighborhood in Los Angeles, is tied to the modern movement's socially conscious roots—a desire to increase interaction between neighbors and boost a sense of community.
The Culvers' home, like most Strengs, is mostly glass as it faces the backyard and the commons. But the Culvers have never used drapes. "You have to put the lights off if you want to run around naked," says Baxter, a retired lobbyist.
Evergreen Commons was the Strengs' first use of half-plexes, Jim says, and one of unincorporated Sacramento's first planned unit developments, which allowed greater flexibility on land use.
Besides work day, three annual social events bring neighbors together. There's the Easter egg hunt, and the July 4 celebration that features DJs or a band. "Easy rock," says Nick Konovaloff, a longtime resident. "Nothing threatening to those who are on the verge of cardiac arrest."
Then there's 'Larry's ice cream social,' which Vrieling puts on to promote the neighborhood crime watch. Besides ice cream, the event features presentations by sheriff's deputies. Crime is low, Vrieling says, but cars and home break-ins occur. "I can't get through to people to lock their windows," he says.
With all Evergreen Commons has got going for it, it's not surprising that people stay. Many original buyers remain, as do some younger people who were raised in the neighborhood and became second-generation owners. The neighborhood remains popular with people who work for the state, teachers, doctors, folks in advertising, and the stray architect or two.
"Most of us who bought here thought that this would be a first home and we'd be buying somewhere else," Konvaloff says of early buyers who have stayed. "Onward and upward, I guess. But most of us found ourselves pretty comfortable. We surprised ourselves."
Like many buyers, the Culvers convinced the Strengs to modify the plan for their home. It never took much convincing. They ended up with a slightly larger home, with a kitchen that opens to the backyard through glass doors and a window pass-through. They also added several feet to the backyard overhang, which provides a wonderfully shady area for dining.
But what most attracted them to Streng homes was the atrium, a Streng trademark. The interior courtyard, skylighted and open to the rest of the living area, has rectangular patches of earth that Linda Culver has turned into a lively garden. Linda also enjoys views through the atrium skylight. "When it's full, I lie on the floor and watch the moon," she says.
Their neighbor Annette Williams, a retired flight attendant, has turned the home she shares with her husband and an Alexandra parrot into an art object, replicating the freeform, curved lines of the planting areas of her atrium in her oval and round furnishings. Her atrium includes a fish pool. "I worked for a pond company for a while," she explains, "and in lieu of wages they came and put in the pond."
On the north side of the park are the Streng half-plexes. Although they are smaller than their neighbors' homes to the south, cost less, and are packed together more closely, folks say it's not the other side of the tracks. "For us, this is a big house," says Steven Haynes, who recently moved into a half-plex with James Geisdorf. "For me, it's luxurious."
Haynes, who was collecting modern furnishings before he collected his first modern house, has become a Carter Sparks fan. "The half-plexes are very livable and well thought-out. No wasted space, obviously. It's modernism packed into a little box."
Some people do move from half-plexes to the neighborhood's single-family homes, often seeking more room. Tim and Melissa Beard, who hope to start a family, made the switch three years ago, bidding on three homes before securing one. "We loved the neighborhood," Melissa says.