A “sold” sign recently appeared in front of 2115 Portola Way, a two-bedroom home occupied when new by a family whose 7-year-old daughter would later become one of Sacramento’s most famous native daughters – Ray Eames.
In collaboration with her husband, Charles, Ray Eames designed era-defining architecture, industrial and commercial furnishings, textiles, sculpture, medical tools and toys. She designed pieces in the collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Library of Congress. Her commercial and industrial designs from the 1940s to the 1970s received international recognition.
Called Ray-Ray by her family, she was born on Dec. 15, 1912, at Sutter Hospital to Edna and Alex Kaiser. Alex Kaiser managed the Empress Theatre (now the Crest), but by 1920 he was a successful agent and general manager of the Sacramento Agency for the California State Life Insurance Co. The family owned the home at 2115 Portola Way from 1920 to late 1923.
Today, much of the two-bedroom home looks as it would have during the Kaiser family’s time. Notable changes include a remodeling of half of the front porch, which allowed an enlarged master bedroom. One bathroom looks to have been remodeled in the 1940s.
During the family’s years at 2115 Portola Way, Ray attended Highland Park School for third and fourth grade and the brand new Sierra School for fifth and sixth grade. She is certainly Sierra School’s most famous graduate.
In 1924, the Kaiser family moved into a Donner Way home that they owned until 1934.
Ray had a creative and culturally active childhood and teen years while living in Curtis Park. Her parents introduced Ray to the arts at an early age. Theater, drawing, design and dance were all key elements in her life. She was a member of the Sacramento High School Art Club, took art and design classes at Sacramento Junior College, and worked in local theater.
She produced many design drawings and paintings in this period. Her designs focused on women’s fashions, fabric patterns, residential architecture, and abstract shapes which show themes similar to those found in her later sculptural, molded plywood furniture, and textile designs. One of her signature design shapes was first documented while she lived in Curtis Park.
Alex Kaiser died unexpectedly in 1929. Edna Kaiser moved the family to New York after Ray’s brother Maurice received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1931.
In 1940, after several years of study with abstract expressionist painter Hans Hoffman, Ray was admitted to the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. McClatchy Newspapers president Eleanor McClatchy was a personal reference when Ray applied to Cranbrook and remained a longtime friend and advisor.
Ray married Charles Eames, an instructor at Cranbrook, in 1941. They moved to Los Angeles, where they developed the work that would eventually make them among the most recognized designers in the United States.
Ray maintained lifelong ties to Sacramento. The California Museum had an extensive exhibit in 2013 titled “Ray Eames – A Century of Modern Design,” with many examples of her Sacramento work.
She is one of two former Curtis Park residents inducted into the California Hall of Fame – Ray in 2012 and Joan Didion in 2014.