Sacramento landmark lost to fire

The Franklin Boulevard tank house was one of the last of its kind

The old tank house on Franklin Boulevard wasn’t the most beautiful building around, but Kathy Tescher misses it just the same.

“I was totally bummed. I could hardly drive up and down Franklin for a while,” said Tescher, executive director of the North Franklin District Business Association. “It was one of the few landmarks we have on the boulevard.”

The tank house stood for years on an otherwise empty lot across from the El Novillero restaurant, a bit south of Sutterville Road.

It didn’t make news when it was burned to the ground this winter. In fact, it was probably only ever noticed by a few people. But its disappearance marked the loss of one more of a dwindling few of these overlooked historic buildings.

A tank house is pretty much what it sounds like—usually a tall skinny building containing a water tank that supplies a house or other buildings nearby.

These structures were once all over the more rural Sacramento area of a century ago. The water would be pumped up into the tanks by windmill power and stored for later use. Gravity provided the water pressure to the house.

“It was just part of the way we lived in Sacramento in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” says Roberta Deering, the city’s senior planner for historic preservation.

The Franklin tank house is mentioned in property records going back to the 1930s, but Deering says the siding on the tank house suggested is was more likely from the 1910s.

But the tank house burned to the ground December 4, 2011, a century or so after it was built. Fire investigators determined the fire was arson, and made an arrest on December 6.

It’s not clear why the man who was accused of the crime, a 38-year-old with a history of drug abuse and psychiatric problems, might have set the fire. His public defender wouldn’t talk about the case, and the crime report doesn’t contain much detail.

The man was determined by a judge to be not competent to stand trial, and a decision on whether to commit him to a mental hospital was pending when SN&R viewed the case file. His is certainly the saddest part of this story.

Still, Tescher wonders whether things might have gone differently for Franklin Boulevard’s historic landmark.

She had tried without success to get the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency interested in buying it. She envisioned a small park where people could gather in the shade of the fixed-up tank house.

And at one point the landowners had a plan to develop the lot that incorporated the historic structure into a new retail building.

“It was great. The designs were really neat,” said Deering.

But the recession hit, and the property ended up in the hands of North Valley Bank, which last year put in an application to knock down the tank house.

The city’s historic preservation department scrambled to list the tank house as an historic landmark in Sacramento, but suspended the effort when the property owner backed off the demolition plan.

The property had changed hands again by the time the tank house was set ablaze in December. Tescher is nagged by a certain doubt. “Should I have been more vocal? Should I have approached the new property owner about putting up a fence?”

Deering only knows of about three tank houses still left inside the Sacramento city limits. One is at Witter Ranch, in the Natomas area of the city.

You can see another in the backyard of a large house off Riverside Boulevard, about a block south from Vic’s Ice Cream in the Land Park area.

Then there’s the Midtown tank house, near the corner of 20th and J streets, nestled up behind a large green wooden building that’s next to the railroad tracks.

There are others spread around the region. In the city of Davis, the Dresbach-Hunt-Boyer-Mansion Tank House has its own entry in the Davis Wiki, and it made news when it was moved out of downtown. (There’s even a YouTube video of the move.)

But the Franklin Boulevard tank house was never so celebrated. By chance, it is featured in a small mural on the corner of the High Fashion Fabric building, about a block north of the tank house lot. The painter must have felt the same as Tescher.

“I just thought it was really cool,” she said.