Historic Quest: Eichlers in the National Register - Page 2

At last—Eichlers get their place in history, reach the National Register of Historic Places

Eventually reduced to a core group of eight devotees, the committee set its sights high, seeking historic designation for four neighborhoods and two individual homes. Nominees also included Rancho San Miguel in Walnut Creek, part of Terra Linda in Marin County, Joe Eichler's own home in Atherton, and the all-steel X-100 house in San Mateo Highlands. "That shows how naïve we were," said Brisco, co-chairman of the Quest committee. "We had no appreciation of the magnitude of the task."

After several discussions with Howse, who reviews Register nominations at the California state level in preparation for the National Park Service, the committee narrowed its focus to what Quest member Merritt Colman calls "the cream of the crop."

Committee members toured every Eichler development in Northern California built before 1960, scoring each one based on criteria they had developed in conjunction with SHPO. Ultimately, Green Gables and Greenmeadow were selected, and the front elevations of all of their houses were appraised and scored as 'contributing' to the neighborhood's historic integrity, or 'non-contributing.' To contribute, a house had to be "true to the original," as viewed from the street, Colman said. Houses would lose points for roll-up garage doors, inappropriate windows or doors, and other features that did not reinforce the original aesthetic. "Anything with a second-story addition was out, no matter how well done," Colman said.

Once the two neighborhoods were chosen, Arbunich and Brisco, supported by author Paul Adamson's Eichler research, took on the exacting task of writing—and rewriting—the nomination text statements. That documentation needed to be well-argued, heavily documented, and precise. Photos had to be presented just so.

Then came public hearings to give residents time to comment or protest. Rankin, the only Historic Quest member who lived in one of the neighborhoods, wasn't expecting much opposition. Still, some neighbors worried that with national recognition would come national regulation. If 51 percent of the property owners protested, the application would die. "We thought there were going to be objections," Rankin said. There were questions, but no protests. "When we came out of the meeting, I think we were all feeling pretty good."


How to Landmark Your Neighborhood

Touring every Eichler neighborhood in Northern California convinced members of the Eichler 'Historic Quest' committee that others deserve a spot on the National Register as well. But don't wait for the committee to do it for you.

"If you want to make it happen," said Marty Arbunich, Quest member and publisher of the Eichler Network, "go make it happen yourself."

The work of the Historic Quest committee [see front page story] has made it easier for subsequent applicants, said Paul Lusignan, who review s applications for the National Park Service. The committee has done much of the documentation needed to prove Eichler's importance.

"We would welcome seeing additional neighborhoods and single homes," Lusignan said. He noted, however, that every neighborhood must focus on what makes it most significant. "There are a limited number of neighborhoods with good physical integrity that are really able to convey the essence of Eichler homes."

The state Office of Historic Preservation (SHPO) has a modern committee to encourage landmarking modern buildings and communities, said historian Cynthia Howse. Her office wants to help people landmark their neighborhoods, and will meet with applicants to walk the neighborhood and offer advice.

Most properties listed on the National Register are at least 50 years old, but that is not an inflexible rule.

"Nomination," Howse said, "can be technically demanding." Expect to spend two years on the process, she said. Many people hire professional consultants.

National Register nominations are submitted first to the State Office of Historic Preservation for technical review. They must be approved by the state Historical Resources Commission before being sent on the National Park Service for final approval at staff level.

"Be prepared to work your tail end off and be prepared for setbacks," Quest member Wally Fields said. "And be prepared to be very proud, whether you succeed or not."

Already several people are considering additional Eichler nominations. Quest member Adriene Biondo hopes to secure Nationa l Register status for her Granada Hills neighborhood in Southern California.

Merritt Colman would like to do the same at Rancho San Miguel. And DOCOMOMO (Documentation and Conservation of the Modern Movement) is looking at Eichlers in San Francisco's Diamond Heights development.

The Historic Quest committee's success has emboldened Stephanie Raffel, a Quest member who hopes to preserve the integrity of three Orange County subdivisions by establishing guidelines and landmarking.