Seeking the Lost Anshen and Allen Homes

Modern Elkhorn Home
Elkhorn Village is one of two known tracts designed by Joe Eichler's architects Anshen and Allen for other developers in the Sacramento Area. This Elkhorn home retains its class. Photos by Dave Weinstein.

Back in 1959 Bob Anshen was bragging to an interviewer during a study in creativity about all the projects his firm, Anshen and Allen was designing.

There were office towers, education buildings.  “And we’re doing a few miscellaneous individual homes, and lots of merchant-builder homes for Joe Eichler, about 2500 of them in Sacramento for another builder…”

Really?! Eichler’s original architects, the inventors of the atrium, had designed 2,500 homes in Sacramento?

Elkhorn Plaza
One of the homes, alongside Elkhorn Plaza, a mini park, shows a wall of glass facing the street.

Where are they? Are they as beautiful as Eichler homes? With all the interest in Eichler homes in recent years, and with the growth of a true mid-century modern community in Sacramento, how come we never heard of these homes?

So, naturally, the author of this column sought them out, starting first by consulting Gretchen Steinberg, leader of the preservation group Sacramento Modern. With her help, and the use of some shoe leather, CA-Modern may have come up with the answer – or part of it.

And what we learned is surprising.

In two posts we will explore the Lost Anshen and Allen Homes of Sacramento – and beyond. They range from modest glass-walled cottages in the suburb of West Sacramento in Yolo County, “only five minutes from downtown Sacramento,” according to a 1961 ad, to a lively 'U-shaped' model in oak-dotted El Dorado Hills, a half hour east of downtown.

  Elkhorn ad
The developer played up famous architects Bob Anshen and Steve Allen, who were brought in to design these homes.
 

Not to give away the mystery too soon, but it was clearly El Dorado Hills that Anshen was referring to in his 1959 conversation, because there are thousands of homes there, many by Anshen and Allen. And the first hit the market in mid-1962.

But when we do visit El Dorado Hills to view these lost Anshen and Allens, you may be surprised at what we find. Tune in for our next episode, which will run in several weeks. El Dorado Hills was, after all, a very special housing development, accorded a full ten pages in the professional magazine House & Home, which called it a “new model for tomorrow's satellite cities.”

Collectable cars
Collectable cars add to the landscape in West Sacramento's Elkhorn Village.

Much less ambitious than the 9,800-acre El Dorado Hills was Elkhorn Village, the 106-acre West Sac project filled with several hundred homes, built between 1954 and 1961 by a Burlingame firm, American Homes Co.

By this time Anshen and Allen had worked for several homebuilders besides Eichler, including Mackay and Gavello in the South Bay and on the Peninsula, turning out modern homes, but often not quite as classy or as fully committed to the style as Eichler. (There are fans of these homes who strongly disagree.)

“The ‘New Look’ in homes!” an ad for Elkhorn Village bragged in a Sacramento Bee ad in September 1954. Images show low gables, like Eichler homes, and window walls.

A 1956 ad goes further, calling the tract “the most sensational offer in all home building history!”

Peaked windows
Front windows that rise to a peak can be seen on several of the Elkhorn Village homes.

The two-, three-, and four-bedroom homes come with, among other features, “wide protective overhangs,” “floor-to-ceiling windows for real indoor-outdoor living,” “massive column brick fireplaces,” “Huge, ‘cathedral’ beamed ceilings.”

“Designed by national award winning architects ANSHEN & ALLEN, AIA,” the ad goes on (caps in the original). The homes won a national homebuilders award, one ad says.

A visit to Elkhorn Village today suggests several things. Joe’s son, the late Ned Eichler, who worked for Eichler Homes, used to say that other developers who used Anshen and Allen designs were less committed to modernism than his dad, and that it shows.

It shows here.

Quite a few of these homes are closer to ranches in style than to what we call today mid-century modern. And even some that fit the latter category do so quietly; for example, with a front-facing gable that spreads one wing over the living area and the other over a carport or an entry patio.

Beautiful little home
The well-preserved among the Elkhorn Village homes show the quiet beauty that Anshen and Allen gave to even the most modest of their homes.

Sometimes, as a nice touch, the roofline over the outdoor space is slatted to allow light through, or has a cutout to allow a tree to pop through.

And unlike Eichlers, which provide glass walls facing the rear for private backyard living, here the glass faces front.

A few of the homes look sharp, suggesting owners who appreciate their modern design. Most do not, and many have been remodeled beyond recognition. Such a fate often faces tracts that are modern – but not modern enough to speak clearly for their own historic value. Some homes in the tract are well kept, others less so.

Speaking of value, though, these are mid-century modern homes that can go for less than $300,000. Five minutes from downtown Sacramento.

To find Elkhorn Village, take the I Street Bridge from Sacramento and continue west seven or eight blocks, as I Street becomes C Street and then Sacramento Avenue. Elkhorn Village is just north, set off from Sacramento Avenue by Elkhorn Plaza. The Anshen and Allen homes are on Reuter, Beasley, and Casselman drives, Douglas Street, and intersecting streets.

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