By Bob Masullo Photos by Scott Duncan
As nice a neighborhood as South Land Park is, its homes don’t look like those of, say, Rome or Paris.
Except for one.
That house, in fact, has a front door imported from Italy and the overall look of a small European villa – or a small, stylish East Coast apartment building. The two-story, four-room structure, located just a few blocks south of the Sacramento Zoo on Del Rio Road, is, indeed, like no other in Sacramento.
Despite a large-seeming outward appearance, it is quite small – only 1,019 square feet – set on a 2,178 square-foot lot. Both the lot and the structure are shaped like a slice of pie. The house’s width is fifteen feet on the north, thirteen in the middle and only nine feet on the south. Co-owner Michael Mendez says it may be the second narrowest house in California (undercut only by one in Long Beach that is in the Guinness Book of World Records). It abuts the edge of a bluff overlooking unused railroad tracks. It has no backyard and its front yard is minuscule. Although the house is only five years old, the Italian front door is more than 100 years old and the home’s window grates, which come from Boston, are about 90 years old.
The home was mainly designed by its first owner, John Johnston, with minor assistance from the local architectural firm Sheybani & Associates. “It started out just to be a garage,” says Johnston, noting that he ran into some problems with that plan because of street traffic and it evolved into a house. “Some people thought it was impossible to build anything on the property but I thought otherwise.”
Johnston now lives next door, and the house has been owned for three years by a young, married couple, Michael Mendez, a member of the city planning commission, and Richard Stapler, deputy secretary for communications of the state’s Natural Resources Agency.
Originally, Johnston, who is in his mid-60s, planned to live in the house himself and did so for a short period, “But I found the stairs a little hard to take because of leg problems caused by tennis injuries.”
The more youthful couple has no issue with the stairs – or the more unique quirks of the city’s skinniest home.
“Being an urban planner, I like the idea of in-fill development,” says Mendez. “That this house was a perfect example of in-filling helped sell me. Richard and I were living in a very small condo downtown and were looking for a house. We had looked at some traditional ones but were struck by the unconventionalness of this one. It was new, yet had some nice Old World charms.”
As for the size, Mendez notes that “it is about as large as most starter homes and compared to our condo, which was only about 500 square feet, is very comfortable.”
Actually, it looks more spacious than one would think from its dimensions. The ground floor contains a roomy living room (on the wider side) and a galley-style kitchen (on the narrower side), with a small entry hall between a half bathroom and the stairway to the second floor. The second floor has two bedrooms and a full bathroom, although the couple uses the bedroom on the narrower side (just above the kitchen) as an office.
“We’ve had as many as 60 people here for Christmas parties,” notes Mendez. “So it is not that small.” Guests tell Mendez and Stapler that they love the unusual house. “Some say they would not want to live in it themselves, but they all love it for us,” adds Mendez.
“It is a rare pleasure to live in a house that is so well known,” says Stapler. “It’s always a great conversation starter. I have no regrets about buying it. In fact, I love it even more now than when we first moved in.”