Not everyone thought Sacramento was ready for modern homes in 1955, the year Joe Eichler expanded his operation outside of the Bay Area for the first time. His son, Ned, the company sales manager, advised against it. "I thought we were spreading the whole thing too much," he says. "We didn't have any subcontractors we could use in Sacramento. It all had to be brand new." Joe didn't heed the warnings. But he couldn't ignore the consequences. "Oh, they didn't sell at all," exclaims Nadine Crose, an early buyer who loved her home and still lives there, but says most Sacramentans just didn't get the Eichlers. Eichler pulled the plug after building about 60 homes—they don't even reach nearby Eichler Street, which has nary an Eichler on it.
"Eichler pulled out because people weren't used to these models of houses with all this glass and flat roofs in Sacramento," says another early buyer, Marie Pardini. "And Eichler was saddled with all these lots."
"I don't think we ever sold the houses very well in Sacramento," Ned says. "We needed a fairly sophisticated middle-class buyer, and you didn't have that too much there."
The Eichler neighborhood, a tract Eichler Homes originally marketed as South Land Park Hills, may not have succeeded as a business venture, but the folks who bought fell in love with the neighborhood and their love never grew cold—judging by how many original owners stayed for decades, the handful who remain, and by several of their children who have returned.
The Eichler subdivision, like the wider neighborhood South Land Park in general, has always been well-tended, with softly curving streets, an ever-deepening canopy of trees, evening breezes from the Delta, and easy access to downtown, just five miles to the north.
Just over a decade ago, life turned even better for the Eichlers, as serious fans of modernism started moving in and fixing up. It also helps that a woman who recently bought into the neighborhood is a true fan who runs a popular blog promoting all things modern in Sacramento—a town that is finally starting to acknowledge its modern heritage.
Many neighbors credit Michael Triglia and Clyde Brown, who began restoring a dilapidated Eichler in 1997, for sparking the restoration trend. "The remodel they did on their front of their façade was so dramatic that people began paying attention," says Pam Rice.
Her husband, Joel, was particularly taken by a low wall Triglia and Brown installed in their front yard, matching concrete blocks used on the house. "I asked them if I could copy their wall idea," Joel says. "They said, 'Sure. We're flattered.'"
The homes, built from 1955 to '56, are three and four-bedroom Jones & Emmons models, plans JE-80, 83, 84, 85, and 89, mostly with flat or low-gable roofs. They originally sold for $17,750 to $21,000.
A stroll through the neighborhood's three streets—South Land Park Drive, Fordham Way, and Oakridge Way—reveals homes with surprising integrity. Fordham is particularly rich in original garage doors. "I guess it's a credit to the neighborhood, its sensibilities," Pam Rice says. But well-preserved houses sit alongside some that have been so badly altered only a stray beam reveals the Eichler beneath.
"One Eichler," Nadine Crose says, "you don't know it's an Eichler. You walk right by it." Joel Rice observes, "There used to be one that looked like a Taco Bell for a while."
"But I think those days are over," says Tom Graham, who says he bought in the neighborhood five years ago "for the fun, for the Eichlers."
"I think people today are coming here because they are Eichlers," he adds. Both originally and today, many buyers have come from outside the Central Valley and many work for the state, which dominates this company town. Jon Hill, who has filled his Eichler with classic modern furniture and space-age Syroco clocks ("At night you can hear them ticking away"), is from the San Francisco area. Marie Pardini and her late husband, who bought in 1959, had been living in a modern home in Los Angeles. Pardini's home remains one of the best preserved in the neighborhood, with intact mahogany walls and with classic mid-century furnishings, including a boomerang table.