Folks moving to Rancho San Miguel today are no longer pioneers. But by all accounts they resemble their predecessors. "It seems to be a little touch of the eccentric," says Julia Pattinson, who recently moved into the neighborhood with her husband and two children. "It's a nice mixture of people." "Families come and go," says Haslett, "and the same type of people seem to buy Eichlers. We used to call them eggheads."
Today, the neighborhood attracts lovers of modern design, people attracted by the charms of Walnut Creek (an easy commute, plentiful shopping in a lively downtown, a regional arts center) and young families who appreciate the excellent schools, neighborhood parks and the nearby Mount Diablo State Park.
John and Stephanie Dark, both lovers of design and parents of young children, are part of a welcome trend—the return of young families to the neighborhood. Their cul-de-sac was once home to 33 children, they were told. When they arrived in 2001, there were only two. Today, counting the dark's two, there are 14. "It's a little community just like the old days," John says.
How the Darks went about finding their home says much about the appeal Eichler houses still carry. "We actually went door to door with flyers asking folks to sell their Eichler, as there were none on the market at the time we were looking," John says.
Rancho San Miguel was one of Eichler's first forays away from the Santa Clara Valley and the Peninsula. Although Central Contra Costa was largely undeveloped at the time, it was clearly ready to grow. The first phase of Broadway Plaza shopping center had recently gone up in Walnut Creek, and Kaiser Permanente was providing the town with a modern hospital. Plans were underway for a freeway. Eichler himself donated land to the city to establish two parks with views of Mount Diablo, a grade school, and what would become his tract's social center, the Rancho San Miguel Swim Club.
"Eichler was looking for a place to make a splash," says Bob Brownbridge, a neighborhood historian who was a buyer in the 1950s for the department store Capwell's, which opened a branch at Broadway Plaza. "He named this place as an up-and-coming suburb in the East Bay and the place he picked was pretty accurate. This is the hub of the valley out here. Just using his good nose he picked a good area."
Ygnacio Road, today a river of traffic, was two lanes, and wary drivers had to watch for cows. The commute to San Francisco took an hour and a half, stopping at every traffic light. "It was miserable," Charles Dorsett remembers. Bruce Good, who often came through as a boy, remembers when Ygnacio Valley was awash in walnut and almond orchards. "The walnut trees were so big you would drive through tunnels of trees. They touched you. You felt like you were going through a tunnel."
Eichler, who built his neighborhood on the old Randall Farm, saved as many trees as possible, wonderful old oaks and walnut and almond trees as well. For years the Goods enjoyed the pink and white almond flowers, and harvested the nuts. Dorsett was so entranced by the valley oak that towered over one of Rancho San Miguel's new houses that he bought the house on the spot—even though it was designed by the firm Jones & Emmons, and not by his employer Anshen + Allen.
"I understand you bought a house over there—but you bought a Jones and Emmons house," Bob Anshen cautioned Dorsett when he returned to the office. "Please don't buy a Jones and Emmons!" But Anshen proved a reasonable man. "He came out and looked at the tree and said, 'I understand why you bought the house,' " Dorsett recounts.
Dorsett, who helped arrange the houses on their lots, says: "They were designed for young professional families before they became young families. We knew when we were designing them that within a short time there would be one and a half children per house, so we had to plan for that. Eichler was socially conscious."
In the early days, mothers stayed at home with their children, gathered in the evenings to chat, and formed cooperative babysitting clubs. Dorothy Dorsett enjoyed biking through the quiet valley as far as Mount Diablo.