Despite one second-story addition—and with gabled dormers, no less—the neighborhood retains most of its architectural integrity. There are low-gabled houses, some with steeper gables, and some with flat roofs with central A-frames. The homes were designed by the Strengs' regular architect, Sparks, a well-known modernist who also designed many custom homes throughout the Sacramento valley.
Many houses have original globe lighting fixtures, and many have the original Japanese-style chandeliers that Sparks also provided for his custom homes, both inside and out.
Evergreen Commons also has Sparks' touches that are a bit more unusual, included slatted wooden boxes that conceal fluorescent tubes above several entries. The floors of several of his carports are decorated by beds of embedded river rock. As in most Streng neighborhood, original garage doors are relatively uncommon.
Over the years, enforcement of the architectural rules has waxed and waned, neighbors say. Recently, however, tempers have flared over architectural controls, with one side urging the association to better maintain architectural integrity and the other arguing for individual rights.
"It's been one big fight since February," says Michael Ann Rainey, a former association architectural committee chair.
It all started with a driveway fence, which the board approved although many neighbors say it impinges on the neighborhood's original, open look. "What is a fence and what is a wall?" Culver asks, rhetorically.
The result has been name-calling, association board battles, and resignations—trouble in paradise.
"There comes a point where you do own your own property," says Shirley Dodge, a former association president who sits on the individual rights side of the fence, "and provided you keep it up nicely, people can't impose their own opinions on what you do."
Culver, who wants to see more attentive regulation than Dodge prefers, says: "This has been bubbling along for a long time." He cites the second-story addition that was built several years ago, and a brick gate.
Before she became architectural chair, Rainey herself, along with her late husband, violated the rules by installing a brick gate topped by gilt lanterns between their house and the commons. "We had a lot of trouble when we did the gate," Rainey says. "This gate right here is contradictory to everything else, even though it is beautiful."
But despite the turmoil and occasional faux-pas, fans of the Streng look hope—and expect—that the neighborhood will retain its architectural beauty, Vrieling and Culver say.
And Jennifer Petersen, who served as the social chairwoman when she was on the board, believes the tempest will calm down because everyone loves their neighborhood—and the neighborhood has such a tradition of friendship. "I'm looking forward to a resurgence of community pride," she says, "to bring people together again. I really think we're going to work it out."
What's preserved the neighborhood over the years, Rainey says, is that so many original residents have stayed in their homes, which they have loved. Even Rainey, whose once-modern interior has been 'traditionalized' with the addition of crown molding and crystal chandeliers, worked hard to keep her house looking pure Streng from the outside when she pushed out a wall to enlarge the dining room.
Newcomers too are increasingly getting into the spirit. Several are conscientiously restoring their homes' architecture. Tim and Melissa Beard, whose kitchen cabinets are original but countertops are not, may go back to the original Formica.
Steve Haynes, who serves on the association board and favors architectural controls, says originality is what closed the deal for him. "We wouldn't have bought the house if it didn't have the original kitchen," he says. "We looked at Strengs throughout Sacramento, and we couldn't find one that hadn't been badly redone. We wanted the Carter Sparks original concept."
Their kitchen counters are Formica and will stay that way. "Granite would look too fancy for this house," Haynes says.
Nor does he plan to redo the ceiling. "People see the acoustical ceiling and say, 'Oh! Cottage cheese ceiling,'" he says. "Actually, at night when the lamps are on, it adds some texture and shadow to the ceiling, which is very interesting to me."
Photos: David Toerge
• Evergreen Commons, in the unincorporated community of Arden Arcade, near American River College, occupies several quiet streets south of Winding Way, including Edison Way, Terra Vista Way, Cool Court, and Sesame Street.