Harmony in the Hills

Oakland Eichlers’ historic charm inspiration for us all
Harmony in the Hills
Harmony in the Hills
Harmony in the Hills
Harmony in the Hills
At home with Gordy and Theresa Wray and their two children, Helena and Gabrielle. “One thing you definitely see” in Sequoyah Hills, says Gordy, “is a respect for the houses among those people who are moving in.” Three recent home sales have brought in the younger generation.

Walk through most any Eichler neighborhood and you will spot them—houses that have sprouted second stories or have turned into Spanish haciendas. That's something you won't see in Sequoyah Hills, Joe Eichler's only foray into Oakland.

It's a city better known for a street-smart art and music scene, urban grit, and some of the most beautiful neighborhoods of faux English and French manors from the 1920s than for Eichlers.

But the 53 Eichlers of Sequoyah Hills show remarkable architectural integrity half a century after they were built. The president of the homeowner's association thinks she knows why.

"I feel it's mostly people buying the Eichlers because they are Eichlers, and they want to keep the character of the house," says Sandi Bethune, who's lived in the neighborhood—but not in an Eichler—for 42 years.

Gordy Wray, who's lived in an Eichler there for four years, agrees. "One thing you definitely see," he says, "is a respect for the houses among those people who are moving in."

The homes are so intact that the Walk Oakland! Map & Guide identifies them as the 'Eichler Houses Historic District'—which isn't quite accurate, though it is close.

The Eichlers of Sequoyah Hills qualify as "a potential historic district," says Betty Marvin, who oversees Oakland's Cultural Heritage Survey. Back in 1998 the survey determined that every one of the Eichlers there 'contributed' to a potential district—which means that every house was essentially intact as seen from the street.

But the Eichlers are not an official district, because no one from the neighborhood has applied.

"We have a survey saying this would be a really good neighborhood for historic designation," Marvin says, "if the neighborhood got it together to do the paperwork and politics."

Being a historic district would provide added protection for the homes. But Marvin notes that Oakland already "provides design review for all exterior changes," so she could flag and prevent inappropriate changes to Eichlers now—when and if planners who hand out building permits bring the matter to her attention.

In all likelihood, no one has sought historic status for the Eichlers because no one saw a need. The Sequoyah Hills Homeowners Association has been doing a good job from the start.

How Sequoyah Hills has succeeded in preserving its historic look can serve as an inspiration for people in other mid-century neighborhoods, who should also heed the challenges that still confront this enclave.