Sacramento Home Girl: Ray Eames

Almost everyone who is interested in mid-century design knows about the Eames' husband and wife collaborations. Their body of work, ranging from architecture, furniture, film, textiles, art, industrial design and other intellectual pursuits is well-documented.

What many do not know is that Ray Eames (December 15, 1912 – August 21, 1988) was born at Sutter Memorial Hospital (where my two children were born) and raised here in Sacramento.

According to Pat Kirkham in the book "Charles and Ray Eames: designers of the twentieth century"
Bernice Alexandra Kaiser was born on December 15, 1912 in Sacramento, the daughter of Alexander and Edna Burr Kaiser. She was known as "Ray Ray" and later simply Ray. Her mother was a housewife; her father had been a jeweler and the manager of a variety theatre before finding more secure employment as an insurance salesman for the Californian State Life Company in the 1920's. Ray came from a loving but overprotective home. Her elder sister died a few months after Ray was born and her parents thereafter lived in fear that they would lose her too....

How far the California lifestyle's emphasis on the new affected the attitudes of the young Ray Kaiser is impossible to ascertain, but she later developed a passionate interest in new forms of art, design, film, and dance. She showed a very early aptitude for art -- she remembered drawing from the age of 3. At Sacramento High School she belonged to the Art Association and enjoyed French and English. Her talents as a decorator revealed themselves even then, and she chaired the decoration committee for the school's annual football dance....

After graduating in 1931, Ray spent a term at Sacramento Junior College before she and her widowed mother moved to New York to be near her brother, who was a cadet at West Point.
According to an excellent article written by Rob Turner for Sactown Magazine's Premier Issue in December 2006, Ray's parents met in Stockton and moved to Sacramento in 1911. Her father managed a vaudeville theater called the Empress Theatre -- better known now as the Crest Theatre. Through her father's theater connections she met many entertainers and later studied dance in town.

She attended elementary at Highland Park School, which is now Sierra 2 Center for the Arts and Community and went to Sacramento High School which was (and still is) in nearby Oak Park.

Ray (Kaiser) Eames' High School photo, 1931 Sacramento High School Yearbook
- courtesy of Nancy Pratt-Melton, Golden Nugget Library Sacramento County Genealogy Databases

Sacramento High School circa 1931

A record search of the Sacramento City Telephone Directories shows that during most of Ray's formative years, the Kaisers lived in Curtis Park. One of the homes literally is six houses away on the same side of the same street as my old 1920 cottage (where I lived for seven years!) Of course, when I learned of this today I went running out of the house with my camera.

This beautiful two-story home (six houses down from my previous home) is a quintessential Curtis Park Tudor with multi-paned float glass windows. I spoke with the owner, Adrienne, who was aware of Ray having lived there. Adrienne herself lived in an Eichler with her parents in Palo Alto (small world!) Many thanks to Adrienne for allowing me to photograph her home.

This is the Kaisers' other Curtis Park home: a lovely cottage/bungalow, also very representative of Curtis Park architecture. I also spoke with owner and native Sacramentan, Tami, who was not aware of Ray having lived there. Many thanks to Tami for giving gracious permission for me to take pictures. (Tami recalls when the Sacramento Eichler neighborhood was built. Apparently at the time Saramentans took note of the Eichler Homes' modernity.)

Even after Ray moved away, she reportedly returned to Sacramento to visit friends. Her legacy in the modern design world is unmistakable.

Ray's desk at the Eames' studios

I understand there is a Ray Eames display at the California Museum here in Sacramento, which has an online timeline, photos, and video.

Stay tuned; I hope to continue to add to this post as I find additional information, records and photos.

And all you mid-century and modern-loving Sacramentans: proudly wave your cowbells and rejoice in the fact that Sacramento has been and always will be the home of good design and talented designers. Y'all come back now, y'hear?

P.S. for those of you interested to see pictures of my previous home down the street from Ray's in Curtis Park --

-- plus a Sacramento Bee article regarding my Curtis Park home's interior from 10.31.98.