Sacramento Eichlers Seek Historic Status

Sacramento Eichler
Most of the Eichler homes in Sacramento's South Land Park retain their historic looks, even those whose owners have gotten a bit playful. Photos by Dave Weinstein

One of the best-preserved Eichler neighborhoods is seeking historic designation in part to ensure that it will remain well preserved. It’s an unusual Eichler neighborhood too, in that it is Eichler’s only development in the Central Valley.

Susan Henas, one of the leaders of the effort, says most neighbors either support the effort “or say they want a little more information” about how a district would affect what they can do with their homes.

The Eichlers of South Land Park, a Sacramento neighborhood of winding streets south of the city center, can be found on three streets: South Land Park Drive, Fordham Way, and Oakridge Way. Joe Eichler built 54 homes there, far fewer than the 143 he’d envisioned. No Eichlers ever made it to nearby Eichler Street. The homes date to 1955 and ’56.

The South Land Park Eichlers are unusual too, in other ways, as revealed by the thorough historical investigation that has been part of the historic designation process.

A map of the South Lane Park neighborhood from the historic report shows which homes contribute to the tract's historic designation and which have been so changed that they do not.

Unlike almost every other Eichler subdivision during the early and central part of Joe Eichler’s career as a homebuilder, this tract was not built by Eichler Homes, which at the time had construction crews working as employees of the firm.

Rather, it was built by local contracting firms. The local realty firm Moss & Moss "facilitated construction," and served as sales agent. This information is based on the research that went into the city’s Modern Context statement and a historic report on the tract by Patricia Ambacher and Mark Bowen of GEI Consultants, Inc.

The selling part was unusual too, as Eichler generally used his own staff to man the model homes. He most likely turned to outsiders because this development was so far from the Bay Area, where other tracts were going up simultaneously.

Unusual too is that in South Land Park, Joe allowed buyers to ask for and receive customizations in his home, something he resisted in his other tracts. Perhaps Moss & Moss had a more relaxed attitude.

Simple home
Simple landscaping emphasizes the simplicity of this Eichler in South Land Park.

“The option of customizing standard house plans allowed for a little variety in the neighborhood,” the consultants behind the historic report wrote.

The goal of the Eichler owners who are seeking this change is to place their homes not on the National Register, which would provide honor but not protection, but on a local register. The homes would be a historic district in the Sacramento Register of Historic and Cultural Resources. Henas expects the district to be created later this year.

Sean de Courcy, the city’s associate preservation planner, says this would be the first neighborhood of modern homes in town to win such designation.

Surveys of the neighborhood have shown that it contains 48 'contributing structures,' meaning that they retain historical integrity. Five properties do not.

The historians wrote that the tract rises to “the local level of significance as an important example of post-World War II development by the innovative Eichler Homes company from Palo Alto.”

This mini-Eichler library may not contribute to the district's historic stature, but it does contribute neighborliness and whimsy to a place where people know each other.

De Courcy also cites Eichler’s willingness to sell to “anyone regardless of religion, race, or ethnicity.”

“The social history behind Eicher’s inclusionary development is very significant,” de Courcy says, noting that Sacramento planners are focusing on sites associated with Black history and Civil Rights, including mid-century modern buildings owned by a civil rights activist and designed by the city’s first licensed Black architect.

The neighbors win some praise from the consultant for their care of the homes.

For example, the consultants wrote, “it should be noted that an increasingly active group of homeowners has taken to advocating for and undertaking more sympathetic rehabilitations and updates of the Eichler houses in the recent years, and the good condition of many houses reflects that latest interest.”

Along with the designation will come a historic-district plan that will include “standards and criteria for guiding development,” de Courcy says. These are being developed with a group of residents and would be used by planners when reviewing proposed changes to the homes.

Relatively modest changes to a home, including a non-Eichler front door and garage door, do not take away a home's value as part of a historic streetscape. This home has been deemed a 'contributor' to the district.

City planners met with neighbors in February 2020 to discuss the proposed district, Susan Henas says, and a group of neighbors worked with planners “to define what priority features should be included in the design guidelines in this Eichler neighborhood.”

Developing guidelines ahead of creating a district, she says, is being done “so the property owners would know exactly what would be expected. There won’t be that worry, ‘What’s going to happen?’”

The effort to achieve historic status goes back at least to 2017 when the city published 'Mid-Century Modern in the City of Sacramento: Historic Context Statement and Survey Results,' which deemed four modern structures and one modern tract worthy of historic designation.

Gretchen Steinberg, who oversees the group Sacramento Modern, an advocacy group, and owns an Eichler in South Land Park, played a major role in the creation of the context and survey document.

All four structures cited -- one was Gunther's Ice Cream -- have since been given historic designation. The Eichler tract's win would be the finale.

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