Carter Sparks: The Architect

I thought the time was right to talk more about Carter Sparks. While I've posted a little history regarding Mr. Sparks previously in this blog, I feel there is more to be said. Especially before I post yet another stunning example of his work that is currently for sale.

A synopsis of his personal history was written by Steve Gibson in Sparks' Sacramento Bee obituary, dated November 2, 1996:
Carter E. Sparks, an architect known for designing large custom homes with lots of glass and wood that blended in with the surroundings, died of cancer Wednesday at his Clarksburg residence.

He was 73.

"To me, he was a fine artist, not just a person creating a plan," said artist Greg Kondos, for whom Mr. Sparks had designed a home and studio. "His homes came out with a warm feeling."

Mr. Sparks designed some of Sacramento's most impressive homes, including some on the bluffs overlooking the American River.

Known primarily as a residential architect, he spent many years designing homes for Streng Brothers, which built thousands of units on subdivisions in Sacramento, Davis, Woodland and Elk Grove.

In addition to his work for Kondos, Mr. Sparks designed homes for Dr. Franklin and Sandra Yee, Dr. Israel and Joan Ore, Jim and Sharon McCuen and Dr. Thomas and Virginia Marshall.

A native of Ogden, Utah, he was the only child of Faye Carter Sparks and Cecil L. Sparks. His father was a master mechanic for Southern Pacific railroad and the family eventually ended up in southern Oregon.

Mr. Sparks studied engineering at Oregon State University before enlisting in the Navy as an aviation cadet in 1944. Dropping out of flight school, he was trained instead as a navigator, and commissioned as an ensign just as World War II drew to a close. Immediately after the war, he was transferred to Washington, D.C., and assigned to the Bureau of Naval Personnel, where he met his first wife, the former Billie Dare, an enlisted person assigned to an office job there.

They began dating and married a few months later. Leaving Washington in 1946, the two Navy veterans moved to Berkeley, where they both enrolled at the University of California under the GI Bill. She studied liberal arts, while he signed up for classes at the School of Architecture.

He graduated in 1950 and worked for two architectural firms in the Bay Area before moving in 1955 to Sacramento, where he went into partnership with another architect, Don Thaden. In addition to homes, they also designed schools.

After he and his first wife divorced in the late 1970s, Mr. Sparks married the former Dolores "Dodi" Hernandez, who survives him. Other survivors include his daughter, Jennifer Sparks-Bellarbi of Sacramento; stepchildren Dennison Sheya of Phoenix, Charles Sheya of Lake Tahoe and Edward Sheya of Folsom; and six grandchildren."

Sparks' approach towards design, in his own words, were captured in another Sacramento Bee article by Patricia B. Smith dated January 24, 1988:
"The more idiosyncratic the client, the more interesting the house will be,'' says Sparks. "The same thing goes for the site. If it's interesting, it's easier to build an interesting house on it. One of my clients decided to build into a hill and that made for an interesting floor plan. Another couple, who were teachers, wanted a house that would be very flexible so they could teach at home after they eventually retired. So all the walls are storage units on wheels so they can be moved to change the number and the configuration of the rooms.

"At the moment, I am working on designs for inexpensive factory-built houses that young couples can afford. They average about 1,400 square feet and, including the lot, should cost about $75,000 in this area. My factory house designs are contemporary and can be put together in 'h,' 'l' and 't' shapes to make them more interesting.''

Carter Sparks says really listening to his clients is one of the ways he gets to know them. "I also like to look in their closets to see if I can find a favorite color and style of clothes they like.'' Though he says of the last group of volume house designs he did to fit a "general attitude,'' 35 of them sold to young architects. "I guess that says something about architects thinking alike,'' he said.

While it is well-known that Sparks designed custom homes, commercial buildings, schools, and models for Streng Bros. Homes, many are unaware that he also designed homes specifically for Blomberg (of Blomberg Windows) that were built here in town. I'll have more details regarding this in a later post.