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A look at Sacramento’s architectural marvels

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More than just Victorians

Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse.
Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse.
Photo by J. Stephen Conn

It’s nice to see Sacramento get its design-worthy due. Long thought of by Bay Area style snobs as merely a dusty cowtown, the state capitol has basked in the limelight for Oscar-nominated Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical 2017 coming-of-age tale set in Sacramento, and for the impending arrival of Gavin Newsom, onetime San Francisco mayor and former lieutenant governor, who will move into the governor’s mansion following his inauguration.

All this hoopla got us thinking—where there are cool people doing cool things, a shred of design cred is required, right? And that’s when we discovered this landmark study officially recognizing the city’s midcentury-modern buildings.

Sactown Magazine contributing writer, San Francisco-based Leilani Marie Labong, explored the River City’s most noteworthy structures last year. Here’s a look at some of her favorites and some of ours, from brutalist beauties to midcentury marvels.

Last stop. #bonbons

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↑ Gunther’s Ice Cream

“Gunther’s far-reaching glass façade, which forms three sides of an unusually shaped (read: attention-grabbing) building, is the design’s exhibitionist moment, allowing a voyeuristic glimpse of the happy cone heads inside,” notes Labong. ”The apparent M.O.? Incite the fear of missing out in every passerby. Even the slight outward pitch of the tall windows is intended to accentuate the building on a quiet level; more resoundingly, the angular cantilevered roof, though symmetrical, unapologetically adheres to no geometric shape in particular, considering the zigzag tendrils that drop down on either side.”

Photo by Carlos Chavarría
↑ Midcentury-modern homes

Many midcentury modern homes can be found in Sacramento, which are now a hot commodity for wealthy folks itching to leave San Francisco for calmer grounds. There are also a slew of other likeminded homes, like Todd Gage and Rick Welts’ renovated gem recently featured in Curbed House Calls. Dig those breeze blocks.

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↑ Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse

While not nearly as dramatic as San Francisco’s own U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit, an over-the-top Beaux-Arts powerhouse, the muscular Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse, built in 1965 by Starks, Jozens and Nacht, makes a case for eye-catching brutalism.

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↑ Iva Gard Shepard Garden and Arts Center

“This classic 1958 example of mid-century modernism anchoring the McKinley Park annex was designed by an unsung local architect named Raymond Franceschi as a love letter to the community,” says Labong. Hire a band and book the chapel—it’s true love.

exterior shot of the governor’s mansion Photo by AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
↑ Governor’s mansion

From 1903 to 1967, the historic governor’s mansion of California, a 30-room, three-story Italianate Victorian built in 1877, housed 13 governors. Avoided for two decades, former governor Jerry Brown, who opted for small apartment during his first two terms (1975 to 1983), finally moved into the property in 2015 with his wife, Anne Gust Brown, and their two dogs, Cali and Colusa Brown, after a $1.6 million renovation.

↑ Fabulous Forties neighborhood

Former governor Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, moved into a beautiful home in the Fabulous Forties enclave of east Sacramento while the Carmichael mansion was being built. The neighborhood was most recently seen in Ladybird. The the big, blue one the title character pines for (pictured above) is one of the neighborhood’s best specimens.

↑ California State Capitol

The Beaux-Arts circa-1874 behemoth is certainly no Hawaii State Capitol, but it’ll have to do.