Leafing a Legacy

John Webre

July 29, 2014

The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit. ~ Nelson Henderson

John Webre, AIA, has long been a champion of the urban forest of Sacramento, a tree hugger really. He’s also a community builder and President of Dreyfuss & Blackford Architects.

Sacramento is a Hot Spot
When Al Dreyfuss & Len Blackford joined forces back in 1950, Sacramento temperatures were, well, much like they can be today – off the charts. The hottest day that year was June 30, with a high temperature of 108°F. The hottest month of 1950 was August, with an average daily high temperature of 93°F. Mass-produced, low-cost window air conditioners were available as of 1947, but those mechanical systems were not the only answer. Enter Dreyfuss & Blackford’s forward thinking approach to design in the Capital City. Not only to help keep things cool, but to keep things cool.

Original Dreyfuss & Blackford Office, 28th & I StreetEarly Dreyfuss & Blackford Office, 28th & I Street


Green is the new Gold 
From the iconic tree-lined SMUD building and the hanging garden of Lincoln Plaza, to the Sacramento International Airport, our firm was at the forefront of “green” design…literally. The design for these facilities thoughtfully incorporated trees and plants that, some 60+ years later, contribute to the many benefits of living in Sacramento.

Lincoln PlazaCalPERS Headquarters Lincoln Plaza


A recent article in Newsweek details the advantages of trees as part of the urban fabric, not only from a health perspective, but from an economic one. From shoppers being more inclined to buy, to increased property values, to significant energy savings (more on SMUD in a moment), money really does grow on trees!

A Gateway to the City of Trees
Sacramento is credited with being “way ahead of its time.” Take the Sacramento International Airport. When we designed the original airport master plan, it was agricultural land…acres of it. Not a tree in sight. As part of the plan, Dreyfuss + Blackford incorporated 10,000 trees in the design. Now, 50 years later, grove after grove greets you as you enter our City of Trees. With the addition of the new Terminal B, another project Dreyfuss + Blackford had a hand in, we are reminded, by the form of the building, that we live under a canopy of trees.

SMUD’s New Home
In the late 1950s, our firm was designing the iconic Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD) Headquarters. This site off the not yet built Highway 50 would become the permanent home of this community-owned utility. Trees were a design consideration for this dramatic, monumental building, paying careful attention to sun control and flexibility for expected future growth.

The headquarters building now sits in an arboretum surrounded by zelkovas, oaks, elms and sycamores. Plus, it has become a headquarters of a different sort: the home of free shade trees for the community through SMUD’s shade tree program in partnership with the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

A  meaningful partnership between SMUD and Dreyfuss + Blackford has been growing all these years. Not only would we be intertwined by our shared connection to the building (which we have since been selected to renovate), but we’ve become partners in Sacramento’s tree campaign. Canopy contributors, so to speak. Thoughtful, long-term partnerships like this are part of our culture.  

Planting Roots with the Sacramento Tree Foundation
There are two things I am passionate about: Art and the environment. Both bring richness to our lives. I live with my wife, a sculptor, in a hundred-year-old house at the end of a tree- lined street in East Sacramento. I know every day why I live here. I feel blessed by this and so I do work to enhance and preserve the urban forest. I joined the Sacramento Tree Foundation, a community benefit organization working to build healthy, livable communities in the Sacramento region by growing the best urban forest in the nation. We are leading the effort to plant 5 million trees in the Sacramento region.

Me, proudly displaying our Green Leadership Award

Me, proudly displaying our Green Leadership Award

I have been involved for eight years as a member of the board of directors and as past President, and I can tell you it has been, and continues to be, a rewarding experience. Planting 5 million more trees will require help from everyone in our community. There are so many ways to get involved. SMUD is helping by pledging to partner with the Tree Foundation to plant 500,000 trees dedicated to energy efficiency. You can help, too.

Made in the Shade
Trees make Sacramento a livable city. Our tree canopy is a constant in our lives; something we should not take for granted. Trees clean our air, hold our soil, shade our homes, contribute to our economic prosperity and more.

We need to be stewards of our great tree canopy and do our part to support it. We can also encourage others to follow suit; wherever they live. In the words of poet Alexander Smith, “A man doesn’t plant a tree for himself. He plants it for posterity.”

In this summer of triple digits, I’m glad those who came before us planted all those trees so we could enjoy not only the shade, but enjoy a quality life in Sacramento.

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