Younger People Seek to Preserve Strengs

Wichmann house
Streng homes, like Eichlers, attract admirers because of their stylish good looks, openness to the out of doors, and livability. The Wichmann home (above) shows all of these characteristics. Photo by Dave Weinstein

A decade and a half ago it wasn’t unusual for a neighborhood of Streng Brothers homes in the Sacramento area to seem forlorn, the architectural character unrecognized by many homeowners. Today Strengs have joined Eichlers as desirable mid-century modern marvels.

Tyler and Jessica Wichmann, who live in a Streng home in the suburb of Carmichael and own an East Sac design shop that attracts young and youngish modernism fans, have seen the interest in these homes zoom just since the pandemic started.

“I mean, this last year, it proved that more than ever, with people moving from the Bay Area, moving from the East Coast. We've met so many people that picked up their lives and moved out to buy a Streng or buy an Eichler,” Tyler says, referring to an Eichler neighborhood in Sacramento.

That Strengs would regain their appeal to design-focused buyers was never a for-sure thing. Throughout California there are tracts of modernist 1950s and ‘60s homes that still have not reclaimed their panache.

  Tyler in garden
The Wichmanns have turned their atrium and their outdoor landscaping into a dry garden. Tyler is tending to the plants. Photo by Dave Weinstein

What helped return the Strengs to the fore were a handful of dedicated people – Gretchen Steinberg, Justin Wood, and others – who advocated for mid-century modern homes and other structures in the Sacramento Valley, forming organizations, putting on tours, leaning on planners and politicians, getting out the word on social media, and more.

It also helped that longtime and new residents of many Streng neighborhoods have always loved and cared for their homes and their neighbors.

Gretchen recently wondered though, whether the younger generation would take up the cause? It’s one thing, after all, to love your home. It’s another to spend dozens of hours a week, sometimes, on neighborhood or historic preservation efforts.

“I absolutely think people are going to take over,” says Tyler, who with his wife, Jessica, have become leaders of the Streng preservation movement.

“I think there's a large population of the generation close to probably us, maybe people in their 30s or early 40s, that are becoming incredibly fond of mid-century modern architecture and want these homes,” he says.

  The family
Tyler and Jessica have a daughter, Betty (above at three months of age), to raise, a business to run, and more. Still, they spend time on preservation issues. Photo by Phoenix Kanada / courtesy of Tyler and Jessica

Tyler and Jessica are busy people. Besides running Timeless Thrills, a business that prides itself on partnering with local organizations, they have a brand-new daughter, Betty Rose.

But still Tyler runs the Streng Homeowners Facebook page, a website devoted to the Strengs’ architect Carter Sparks, which was created by Justin Wood; Justin also created the Sparks Faceboook page. Tyler runs the Facebook page now and has created a Streng Instagram, and a Carter Sparks Instagram.

Tyler and Jessica also promote modernism through Timeless Thrills with Streng and Eichler keychains and other merchandise. “Half the proceeds from the keychains are donated to SacMod,” Tyler says, which is the preservation group founded by Steinberg.

For years, Justin Wood sought to catalog every custom home designed by Sparks, and came up with quite a collection. Tyler and Jessica are keeping up the quest, and are proud they have added others, including one associated with a church.

“There were days where we'd just be driving, and going to check out the homes, and getting out and looking at them, and sometimes talking to homeowners and so forth,” Tyler says of that quest.

Tyler and Jessica are proud that they have an original Streng fireplace, and one that has never been used. Streng researchers have recently learned that these bricks were from a local firm, H.C. Muddox, which is still in business. Photo by Dave Weinstein

With SacMod, Steinberg and associates have also worked to preserve mid-century stores, park buildings, office buildings, neon, and more. Jessica says they too share that interest.

"We have so much history with a lot of the buildings that are out here,” Jessica says of modern structures in Carmichael and nearby suburbs. But they don’t always get the respect they deserve, she says, citing Country Club Lanes, a thriving bowling alley with several catenary curved roofs, that has gotten “new signage that just doesn't fit the building.”

Tyler adds: “If you're into the homes, and you're into the style of architecture, you're going to think these businesses and the banks and the offices are just as cool. I mean, I know we do.”

Tyler and Jessica hope to revive another SacMod tradition – a modern homes tour. They already have candidates lined up for a live and maybe virtual tour. “Obviously, if we were to try and do it, we would have our house be one of the [tour] houses,” he says.

Country Club Lanes retains its striking architectural character, but the Wichmanns worry about its future, noting that a Lazer X sign disfigures the front.

Plus, they are laying the groundwork with neighbors for a bid to put their small subdivision, Wildflower, onto the National Register once it hits 50 years of age in 2026.

Tyler and Jessica, who were collectors of mid-century modern furnishings, decided they had to own a Streng while attending the 2019 SacMod tour. Several months later they did. They have restored and furnished the home beautifully, and argue for owners to preserve their Streng interiors.

Jessica says their preservation efforts do not add to their daily burden because they integrate into everything else they do.

“So it's cool, as Charles Eames would have said," Tyler says, "eventually everything connects, you know, and I truly believe that's so true. When you work hard at something, it just seems like other opportunities come about, and things start to connect in certain ways. And that's kind of what's been happening in our lives lately. And I cannot complain.”

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