By Greg Brown
Architectural design is a subject I don’t know a whole lot about. I ain’t gonna lie. But I know cool Mid-Century Modern when I see it. “Hey, look at that cool building!” I always just called it “retro” or “old school”.
I decided to get schooled on everything Mid-Century Modern by local MCM enthusiast Gretchen Steinberg. She is the President of SacMod (SacramentoModern) and researcher/blogger at Eichlerific. She is a resident of South Land Park Hills, and of course, resides in a beautiful Eichler home with her husband and two children.
She’s gearing up for another Mid-Century Modern Home Tour on Saturday, May 18. The tour will highlight more than 30 spectacular mid-century modern residential and commercial structures in South Land Park and Land Park neighborhoods of Sacramento. There will also be a vintage transportation show, historic displays and exhibits, and lots of goodies!
Here’s my MCM Q & A.
Greg Brown: How did you become interested in Mid-century Modern architecture and all things Modern?
Gretchen Steinberg: I was raised by my grandparents in SoCal near Palm Springs. We went there every weekend to hang at their second home. I would say MCM was imprinted in me big time from my childhood. But I didn’t realize it until I got older.
GB: How would you describe Mid-Century Modern?
GS: Mid-Century Modern in architecture has:
- clean lines with an emphasis on the horizontal/vertical
- a blend of natural and manmade materials
- large windows to allow maximum light and promote “indoor/outdoor living” (hangin’ on the patio, Daddy-O)
- open floor plans
- low-pitched, wide-angled or flat rooflines
and usually depicts the era between 1945 (post WWII) and 1970, give or take. It has roots dating back to 19th century design movements and Japanese design — but that’s a long history lesson.
GB: What’s the difference between architecture and design?
GS: Architecture is a type of design that focuses on structures that shelter people where they live, work and play. Design is a wider category that includes a wide array of items that are made to enhance our daily living — such as consumer products, graphics, fashion, machines, etc.
GB: I notice the slew of Eichler homes along South Land Park Drive and the surrounding areas. How many Eichler homes were built and why were they mostly all built in South Land Park?
GS: Eichler Homes wound up building roughly 60 homes in Sacramento. All Eichler Homes in our town are in South Land Park.
GB: I also notice the same type of homes in Carmichael. Would you call these homes Eichler inspired?
GS: Those are likely Streng Bros. Homes, designed by Carter Sparks. We have one on our tour. They built roughly 3800 homes in the Sacramento, Placer, and Yolo counties.
GB: Three of your most decadent points of interest on the Mid-Century Modern Tour are Marie’s Donuts, Mahoroba Japanese Bakery, and the Pancake Circus. Will there be free samples?
GS: We are providing the feast for your eyes – but don’t let that stop you from indulging your inner sugar monster!
GB: A lot of Mid-Century modern homes do not have a garage, they have a carport. Where the heck do you store all your stuff? A hoarder would panic in a Mid-Century Modern home!
GS: The carport was designed so that the post-WWII consumers could show off their gigantic finned cars! A well-designed MCM home has plenty of interior storage. Our home originally had a carport but the previous owner closed it in. Nowadays, garages are treated more like closets. Some people can’t even fit their cars in them.
GB: Why is preservation important? New is always better, right?
GS: Preservation is important because our very cultural identity and sense of place is inherently rooted in our historic landmarks. Take those away and you have a generic McCity. No one wants that.
GB: How important is color in Mid-century modern design?
GS: Very important! Hard to extrapolate from the old black and white photos — but if you look at old Kodachrome slides you will see that that era was quite colorful.
GB: Mid-Century Modern design is finding its way back into pop culture. Do you think the show Mad Men has helped popularize Mid Century Modern? You watch that show? And if so, do you find yourself looking at the furniture more than Don Draper?
GS: Definitely — but I think MCM was already starting to regain popularity before Mad Men. They just tapped into it. MCM has always been the darling of Hollywood. You can’t watch television or movies without seeing MCM in the background. Speaking of which, no time for me to watch TV — too busy with my family and volunteer work!
GB: I’m a “Generation Xer and mid-century modern is the look of my childhood. I think that is why I like some of its features. Which elements of Mid-Century Modern most appeal to you?
GS: I totally agree. I was born December ‘63 – the last month of the Boomer generation. I tend to gravitate toward the early 60s designs. I have a weakness for commercial buildings and neon signs of that era.
GB: Mid Century modern is being celebrated at the California Museum. It’s MCM Mania! Don’t you have some artifacts at the museum?
GS: I did some volunteer background research into Ray Eames’ childhood years in Sacramento and contributed some books that are displayed in the exhibit.
GB: You have some surprises at this year’s Mid-Century Modern Home show don’t you? Can you spill the beans for us here?
GS: We will have extra goodies and swag. Plus a surprise remodeled room at SacMod HQ. Here’s a hint: it abides, Dude.
GB: Preserving and protecting modern architecture is important, but I also think it would be cool to preserve the original concepts! I say bring back Woody’s Smorgasburger and The Zombie Hut to Freeport Boulevard. Whaddya think?
GS: I have been hoping someone would bring these classics back! In our guidebook we have devoted a two-page retrospective to Zombie Hut.
GB: A few of your favorite things:
Favorite Sacramento neon sign?
GS: Jugglin’ Joe in front of Gunther’s Ice Cream. I used to live in Curtis Park and would take the long way home just to see him throwing scoops at night.
GB: Favorite architect?
GS: That’s like asking who your favorite kid is.
GB: Favorite designer?
GS: See above.
GB: Favorite Mid-Century Modern home on the tour?
GS: See above.
GB: Favorite Point Of Interest on the MCM tour?
GS: I’d have to say the neon signs are my favorite points-of-interest. Our historic signs are really taken for granted. But we sure notice when they are gone.
GB: Okay, last question. Brady Bunch House. Mid-Century Modern or not?
GS: Oh sure — split level modern ranch. There’s a wacky one in SLP Hills. Absolutely enormous! Mr. Brady was an architect you know. Note that we will have four open buildings besides the homes and 22 additional drive-by points of interest. Ultimately what I’m hoping for is that people will know more about the stuff they pass by daily — and have an increased appreciation for and fondness of all that is around us. I’m proud to be from Sacramento. Everyone who lives here should be.
If you go:
What: MCM Home Tour
Where: Through out Land Park, starting at Sacramento Executive Airport, 6151 Freeport Blvd.
When: Saturday, May 18. The vintage transportation show is 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., registration and exhibits open from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Homes and other tour locations open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tickets: Get your MCM Home Tour tickets at www.sacmod.brownpapertickets.com til May 15th. $30 general admission $20 for SacMod members. SacMod is also on Facebook