Marincognito - Page 3

In the shadow of the Eichlers, four little-known neighborhoods lie low as the North Bay’s ‘last frontiers’ of affordable mid-century modern
Today, Leo Bersamina lives in the intact A&A design pictured above.
While shopping for an MCM home, Leo Bersamina (pictured here at home) was surprised when he stumbled across the Novato neighborhood of Lynwood Park.
Another Lynwood Park exterior in good shape.

Lynwood Park of Novato

Walking through this neighborhood of about 100 homes built in 1954 and 1955 by developer Rudy Lang, Jr. makes clear the danger of forgetting a tract's history. Many homes here have been altered in ways that hurt their character. Clerestory glass has been replaced with plywood, exposed beam ends covered, wood siding stuccoed over, shutters added alongside windows.

The good news, though, is that most of these changes can readily be un-changed—and some people are doing that. Also, many of the homes seem fairly intact, from the outside at least.

"People are buying them and fixing them up," says Leo Bersamina, who counts himself among this crowd. He says, "The newer people are buying them for the architecture."

He says Lynwood Park today is a mix of ethnicities and largely working class, with designers and artists moving in.

The homes resemble Eichlers from the same period, with open plans, sliding-glass doors, and radiant heat. Living areas in some models are glass-walled on both sides, with a courtyard providing privacy by a fence.

"The windows on both sides, that's a big one for me," says Bersamina, describing why he likes his home. Living in it is much like living in an Eichler, he says, adding, "I would say this feels a little cozier. I mean cozy in a good way."

Bersamina's home, at 1,260 square feet, cost several hundred thousand dollars less than a larger Eichler in Terra Linda, Bersamina says. The enclosed patio, which provides full privacy, adds to the feeling that the home is larger. It is shaded by an oak, he says, that may be 500 years old.

One significant way these homes differ from Eichlers is that Lang used standard stud construction, not post and beam. He also provided "fire resistant wallboard interior walls," which Eichler homes lacked. Lang's ads bragged of "plastic floors (easy to clean)."

The Lang homes were not built on the cheap. In a rare move for the time, many came with swimming pools, and landscaping was provided by the famed modern firm of Osmundson & Staley. Homes came with a 'patio bar,' in one of three separate patio areas.

"Indoor-outdoor barbecue…heretofore seen only in magazines, are now included in every home in Lynwood Park," Lang Realty bragged. They also mentioned the "oversize two-car garage (space for hobby room)."

Homes originally sold for "$16,600 to $22,000. Without pools from $14,900."

The three- and four-bedroom homes, each with two baths, originally had mahogany paneling in the public areas, and featured "kitchens of tomorrow," according to an ad.

Gene Kelly, who has lived in the neighborhood since it was surrounded by sheep ranches and his family's babysitter arrived on horseback, still has his kitchen of tomorrow—an integrated unit featuring a GE stove, oven, and sink. He plans to keep it as he remodels the house.

While adding insulation, Kelly went so far as to haul the original plywood paneling into the backyard for restoration. "I oiled it to bring the grain out," Kelly says.

The homes, like anything designed by Anshen and Allen, show unique touches—including an extra-wide front door in Kelly's house, and basket-weave-pattern sliding closet doors in Bersamina's.

"In the scheme of good design, and good houses, in Marin County this is it—this is the last affordable area," Bersamina says, perhaps with some hyperbole. "In terms of affordable mid-century modern, this is probably one of the last frontiers. Not just in Marin, but in Northern California."

• The Anshen and Allen homes of Lynwood Park can be found on Sunset Parkway (east of Novato Boulevard), Greenwood, Lynwood, and Greenwood drives, and Leafwood Heights.