Part 1: Remembering Len

September 26, 2014

This is one of a three-part series of a behind-the-scenes look at the architect, Leonard D. Blackford, who passed away Wednesday, September 24, 2014.

Our firm’s founder, Leonard Dam Blackford, was an extraordinary architect and planner. He accomplished a rare feat that most of us architects can only dream of – leaving a lasting built legacy in his community. We will think of him every time we see or experience one of those memorable projects he created. As a work family we are deeply saddened by his departure, but know that he lives on for us in the design culture of our firm, and the many notable buildings he helped create. Here are some thoughts, stories and memories of Len, the firm, the projects and his community.

Leonard D. Blackford and Albert M. Dreyfuss had an extraordinary creative business partnership. For nearly 50 years they worked in perfect harmony, a potent balance of business acumen and creative inspiration. Albert could promise the prospective client an inspired landmark design and Len would always deliver it.

The two met when they were neighbors in the Arden-Arcade area of Sacramento. Jere Strizek was a developer who created a group of smartly designed and very economical houses in 1952. Albert bought one for $8,000 and shortly thereafter Len moved in across the street. Upon their first meeting in the neighborhood they quickly discovered a common set of design values – they were both architects with big ambitions. Both had been lured to Sacramento by jobs with the Office of State Architect, and both felt creatively stifled. Albert quit to hang out his own shingle, and he encouraged Len to join him. After a few months of moonlight work, Len decided to. Below is the first office at 2127 J Street.


Albert had recently landed several new K-12 school projects in the area and Len set about planning and designing them. Al recalls that he quickly realized that Len was the stronger designer “and the best thing I could do was to get out of his way,” he said. Among the schools they produced were Browns Valley High School, Bret Harte High School, Billy Mitchell, Mary Deterding (shown below), Isadore Cohen and Starr King Elementary Schools.

80032_Mary_Deterding_School_02

Leonard had a very rigorous discipline for high quality construction drawings. He fully understood the importance of clear and accurate detailing, particularly with minimal modernist design. Contractors appreciated his thoroughness and exactitude. An early endorsement by one builder was fortuitous in securing their first major project – the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) headquarters building. Below is the 1958 groundbreaking photo with Albert on the far left of the bottom row, Len in the middle of the bottom row, wirh the mayor, developers, and SMUD officials.

And a few finished building photos: