Every neighborhood changes over the years. Houses are expanded, personalized, revamped. At Wilhaggin Estates, in Sacramento, those changes started early—before the houses were even built.
Streng Bros. Homes, which began selling homes there in 1967, promised buyers affordable, architect-designed post-and-beam modern homes with open plans, 'broad overhanging eaves for shade,' 'spacious walk-in closets,' between two and five bedrooms, and 'flexibility in modifying plan,' which was something of a Streng trademark.
Jim Streng, who handled Sacramento operations for the firm, found himself sitting across a table from buyer after buyer who asked for a larger room here, a change in floor plan there. Shirley Nelson asked that the living room be extended a few feet. "It was the only way I could figure out to do a dining room," she says.
Streng's invariable answer was "yes." "He was very accommodating," Pete Rombold remembers. The result, says Adele Kruger, a relative newcomer to the neighborhood, is: "There is infinite variety."
Sacramento's Wilhaggin Estates is comprised of roughly 150 houses built by Streng Bros. Homes from 1968-1972. The homes can be spotted along American River Drive, Crondall Drive, North River Way, and nearby streets south of Ashton Park and along the American River. The subdivision features the Strengs' first atrium, their last ranch houses—and the only steel-framed house they ever built. The Strengs built their neighborhood on roughly 40 acres of the old Haggin Grant, which was subdivided by the firm Williams and Williams—hence the name, Wilhaggin.
Wilhaggin (nobody uses the word 'Estates' anymore) remains one of the Sacramento area's most desirable neighborhoods today for the same reasons it attracted buyers 40 years ago—a location that's both scenic and convenient, an attractive streetscape, and its stock of well-made, attractive houses. The Strengs built about 150 homes, all designed by architect Carter Sparks, within the much larger Wilhaggin neighborhood. Theirs is the only modern subdivision in the area.
The neighborhood began in an easygoing way, and in such a way it continues today. Wilhaggin is a blend of the modern—the Strengs' post-and-beam, glass-walled homes—and more traditional ranches built by other developers. The Strengs themselves built a few ranches at Willhaggin.
Over the years, some modern Streng homes in the neighborhood have been 'tradition-alized'—Colonial doors added, garage doors given sunburst windows—or stuccoed over for that Spanish look. But even self-confessed 'Streng lovers' like the Adele and Jim Kruger rarely complain. "I don't think there's any militant Streng-keep-it-like-it-is attitude," Adele says of the neighborhood. "There are one or two homes that stand out like sore thumbs," Jim Kruger says. "But in general people take pride in their homes."
Pete and Shirley Rombold, original owners, are also fans of the original Sparks architecture—though they have expanded their home several times over the past three decades to accommodate five sons. "It's one of the beauties of these houses," Shirley Rombold says. "With post and beam the house can grow with you."
Every change, however, has stuck to the style. "We've tried to maintain the integrity of the house," Pete says. For the first expansion they called upon Sparks himself for advice. And the first time the Rombolds painted, Pete asked Jim Streng what colors to use. Streng, at the time, was serving as the neighborhood's design committee—a 'committee' that today is long defunct. Today, Shirley Rombold says, "Anyone can do anything they want to."
"There are two houses in this court that no longer look like Streng homes," she adds. But the Rombolds believe the neighborhood's quality of life is more important than its architectural integrity. "We ourselves think it's too bad they change them like that. They're attractive houses," Pete says. "It's nice that people like the neighborhood so much they don't want to move away."