Streng Owners are Bastions of Community

Francisco Streng home
John and Barbara Francisco (above) are original owners in an original Streng home in Carmichael, and have been active in the neighborhood for almost 50 years. New photos by Dave Weinstein.

Streng homes have become hot commodities among fans of mid-century modernism. As young and youngish individuals, couples, and families buy, restore, and remodel the homes, which are found in and around Sacramento and Davis, it’s a good time to chat with a pair of original owners who love their home so much they have changed hardly a thing.

On top of that, John and Barbara Francisco are the neighbors every neighborhood needs -- repositories of its history, a friendly presence on the street, helpful to neighbors in times of need.

John, a retired plumber, and Barbara, a volunteer at Mercy San Juan Medical Center who retired from a job in the records department of Sierra College, “are the nicest older couple,” their youngish neighbor and avid Streng fan, Tyler Wichmann, says, adding that John has done much to help neighbors with plumbing and other chores over the years.

  Streng room
Clerestory glass brings light into the Franciscos' living room. Floors are new but all else is as it was originally built.

There was the time, for example, when a neighbor inadvertently sliced into his gas line while digging a trench, and John crawled down to close it up. “Here comes the fire department,” John remembers, “Here comes Jim Streng.”

Today, says John, who is 80, “I try, but I'm getting too old to do some of that stuff anymore.”

If John is particularly adept at repairing the plumbing in their 30-plus-home Streng tract of Wildflower in the suburb of Carmichael, it’s because he installed it originally. For a decade, John worked for Modern Plumbing, installing pipes in many Streng subdivisions.

He came to admire both the Streng homes and the Streng brothers, Jim and Bill. He got to know Jim, and still runs into him. “He remembers everyone,” John says. Jim will ask about Barbara, and ask, “You still live on Lot 27?”

“There were six guys that worked for Modern Plumbing at the time,” John recalls. “Five of us bought a Streng.”

What became Wildflower Circle was an almond orchard when John first encountered it back when Modern Plumbing went to work on the tract in 1975.

Work crew
John Francisco was part of the crew that constructed his home in 1975. John is at far left. Courtesy of John Francisco.

He says Streng homes were well built.

“Streng had their own people for many crews,” John says. “They had one guy come out, and he laid out the house, chalked it out. And then they'd hire the trencher for the footings. They set the forms up. We’d come in and plumb it, and their crews would backfill, put the rock and the wire down. They had their own concrete crew, their own framing crew, their own rafter crew.

“All the interior finish work they did. They didn't build the cabinets, but they set the cabinets. And they also had a pickup crew. They would come in after the house was framed and the rafters put on, and they would straighten every stud in this house, so they were all perfectly plumb.”

“Everything had to be done right. That's how Jim liked it.”

“So I came out and I put the underground in, and looked at the neighborhood, and I got home and I said, 'I know where we're going to live.’ That Saturday, we went out and talked to Jim at the office over on Mariposa."

  Francisco Family
Barbara and John (above) raised two daughters in their peaceful Streng Brothers home.

At first Barbara wondered if the move to remote Carmichael was a good idea. “This used to be way out in the boonies, when you live in the South,” Barbara says, referring to their small home at the time south of downtown Sacramento on 47th Avenue. Barbara and John are native Sacramentans.

“Who's going to visit us way out there?” she wondered, when John proposed the move,

There was also concern about the cost, about $52,000.

So John proposed sweat equity. “I traded labor with [Streng Brothers], and Jim deducted it from the price of the house,” John says.

“And no written contract,” Barbara says. “It was a handshake.”

  Hanging coffin
Attesting to the originality of the home is this kitchen cabinet, which Streng owners often call a "hanging coffin," John says.

The Strengs were always willing to customize their plans, and the Franciscos asked for some, including a larger water heater that he installed for extra shower capacity for their two athletic daughters. But when John proposed putting the garage on the right, Jim said no: “You put it on a left because that's your afternoon heat,” he told John.

The tract sold quickly, within weeks, John says. “We’d come home and there'd be a traffic jam of people going around looking for a lot.”

John and Barbara are not the most outgoing people. They generally haven't attended neighborhood parties or the annual garage sale. One of their daughters lives nearby, another in San Rafael. They spend much time with their grandkids.

The Franciscos once golfed seriously and traveled to tournaments. John coached softball. They have traveled much, to Italy and elsewhere. They once raised German shepherds, and showed one of them.

The Franciscos no longer own dogs, but John keeps treats handy while sitting outside, and dogs know he is an easy touch. “We have a lot of dog walkers and runners and bikers,” he says. And many of them appreciate John and Barbara.

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