SMUD HQ nominated for National Register of Historic Places

Through the efforts of SOCA (Sacramento Old City Association) the SMUD Headquarters building has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.  Local architectural historian Carol Roland conducted research and wrote the nomination, which is pending approval by the National Park Service. Roland believes the building is "strongly influenced by the work of Mies van der Rohe and the International sub-style of Modernism."

The architectural firm of Dreyfuss & Blackford began in 1950, opened first by Albert Dreyfuss. According to a Sacramento Bee article written by Gary Delsohn dated June 18, 1995:
"Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Dreyfuss served in the Navy before going to architecture school at Tulane University and then the University of Illinois. He spent some time knocking around the Caribbean with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

He eventually went to work for the State Architect's office and started what later became Dreyfuss & Blackford in April 1950 after a developer friend asked if he wanted to design some apartments. Blackford came on board a few years later and was made partner in 1957."

According to historian Roland, Leonard Blackford was:
"... a recent graduate of Berkeley’s architecture school, joined (Dreyfuss) in 1953, following a short stint in the Office of the State Architect.  Although Blackford did not become a partner until after the completion of the SMUD building, according to Dreyfuss, he was a very important member of the firm, exercising considerable influence over designs from the mid-1950s."

From its inception, according to the firm's website, their:
"... design approach has been rooted in Modernism. A clear and intuitive understanding of steel, concrete and masonry construction has resulted in striking and innovative projects -- buildings that have timeless, lasting character. In the early years, the firm designed many public schools, private office buildings and, in 1959, the SMUD headquarters building -- a landmark project that stirred international interest and earned multiple design awards."

Per historian Roland, one such feature that stirred international interest were the custom-designed extruded aluminum vertical louvers that could be tilted according to season:
"The louvers were a very innovative means of glare and temperature control entirely in keeping with the mission of the utility company and its desire to have an energy efficient facility. The louver design created considerable interest among the architectural community of the time. Architectural Forum magazine featured a stylized photo of the louvers on the front cover of its May 1961 issue."

Water City (1959) by local and world renowned artist Wayne Thiebaud
graces the exterior of the SMUD HQ building

Another striking feature of the building is Water City, a 1959 abstract tile mural by local artist Wayne Theibaud. Per Roland, this mural:
"... alludes to Sacramento's sitting near two major rivers. The mural suggests buildings aligned along a water way and the motion and reflectivity of moving water.... During the late 1950s Theibaud experimented with Abstract Expressionism and did other mural designs for the California State Fair. This is one of the few surviving representations of the early period of the artist's work before he adopted his mature and well-recognized realist painting style and the only work in a mosaic medium."

Dreyfuss & Blackford have built other notable buildings in our region, including:
- Lincoln Plaza
- Herman Miller in Rocklin (collaboration with Frank Gehry)
- the Vogel Chevrolet showroom (1959)
- the IBM building (520 Capitol Mall, 1961)
- the old Sacramento Union building (301 Capitol Mall, 1967 - demolished for dead project Towers on Capitol Mall)
- the apartment complex at 4100 Folsom Blvd.
- the Powell-Teichert Office Complex
- the first Arco Arena
- the original Nut Tree complex
- the original master plan for Sacramento Airport in 1963
- the United Terminal at San Francisco Airport plus other projects there
- their own firm's office building on Folsom Blvd. (1965)

However, one of Dreyfuss' favorites, per the 1995 Sacramento Bee article mentioned above, seems to be the SMUD HQ: "If we've made a contribution to the community... it's to produce buildings that have lasting qualities and will be here long after we've gone and still be good buildings. There's no reason a building shouldn't last 50 to 100 years."

UPDATE: The building is now on the National Register of Historic Places.