The view from Fair Oaks Boulevard, Carmichael's main drag, shows a town that is all too typically American. The scenery includes fair oaks, it is true, and some fine old homes from the 1920s, but also strip shopping centers and torrents of traffic. There's no hint that just below the roadway, as the land slopes towards the American River, lies a bucolic yet modern neighborhood that residents describe as a suburban paradise.
"It's like a little jewel that's hidden away," says Mark Klink of his enclave of modern homes that's part of the larger neighborhood of Shelfield Oaks.
The Streng Bros. developed Shelfield Oaks' 67 modern homes from 1965 to 1967, working with their regular architect Carter Sparks. It was among the first Streng developments that was all modern and all Sparks, says Jim Streng, who was partners with his brother Bill. The location was ideal, he says, and homes sold quickly. Shelfield Oaks remains one of Jim Streng's favorites.
Residents, who include many original buyers as well as newcomers attracted by the modern architecture, love the neighborhood because it is a slice of nature in an otherwise crowded city.
"The mornings are beautiful. You can't beat the mornings," says David Lust, a 20-year resident. "What I like is the light," adds his wife Nancy, who often absorbs it while bicycling. Bicyclists can almost always be seen whizzing through the neighborhood, which connects with nearby bike trails along the river. Many neighbors ride—and some, including Mark Klink, discovered the neighborhood while biking through Shelfield Oaks borders the American River, where the American River Parkway of bicycle and hiking paths stretches for miles. The ridge that supports Fair Oaks Boulevard also blocks traffic noise—while making cell phone reception difficult. (Some neighbors install repeaters so they can use wireless digital devices.) The neighborhood is heavily forested—though not with many oaks. It was the Strengs' first subdivision with underground utilities. Several of the streets curve, there are two cul-de-sacs, and only a few lots are rectangular.
Downtown Sacramento is 15 minutes away at the right time of the day, and some residents still bike to work. The neighborhood has always attracted academics and teachers, as well as doctors, attorneys, psychologists and engineers. The area has superb schools. Besides the river and its parkway, there are such riverside attractions as William B. Pond Park, with its trails, and Lake Natomas, a favorite of kayakers. With kayakers paddling by on the river, kids on rafts during summer weekends, and the wildlife—especially the wildlife—Shelfield Oaks really can seem like a place apart.
"Butterflies, birds, the kind you won't see anywhere else," says Anne Klink, Mark's wife. Their friend Jeanne Farrenkothen adds: "And the ducks come into our pool."
River otters are a frequent sight, and beavers can be spotted. Mark has seen eagles, and mountain lions have been seen across the river in Goethe Park. "You can hear coyotes singing at night," says Olin Gilbert, whose home is the only Streng that fronts directly onto the river. From his deck you san see the snow-capped Sierra on a clean-air day.
But no animal so dominates the neighborhood as the wild turkey. Mark Klink has seen flocks of 25, and watched as stiff-feathered toms have faced off over quivering hens. Anne has watched as turkeys swoop over the neighborhood from their favorite launching pad—the roof of the neighborhood's only original two-story Streng. "Boom!" she says. "You hear them landing on the roof." "They're not very elegant," says Ted Farrenkothen, Jeanne's husband.
Far more elegant, of course, are the neighborhood's homes—and their appeal and attractiveness are growing. For the past few years, newcomers have been buying and restoring the homes while retaining their modern flavor. Longtime owners have also been refurbishing their homes as the popularity of mid-century modern grows.
"Over the past five years there has been a tremendous jump in wonderful remodels," Mark Klink says. "The neighborhood wasn't neglected when we bought our home, but some houses were in decline. Many people who buy now are interested in modern architecture." "People keep an eye on the neighborhood," Anne says. "They stop by and ask if any houses are coming onto the market."