At Home with the Eichlers

Tracing the revealing story behind Joe and Lillian’s 50 years living in 14 different places around the Bay
At Home with the Eichlers
Eichler's most celebrated home during his building career was the custom Atherton one pictured above designed by Anshen and Allen. He and Lillian lived there for 13 years, beginning in 1951.

 

At Home with the Eichlers
Joe Eichler circa early 1950s.

The Eichler family couldn't have found a nicer house in a nicer neighborhood.

Four bedrooms and three baths, the 2,380-square-foot house was a Monterey Colonial, whitewashed, rectangular, with the style-defining second-story balcony stretching the width of the façade and unsupported by posts.

The deeply inset front door suggested that the home was made of adobe, which of course it was not. Rather than windows facing the street, both upstairs and downstairs had two sets of glass-filled French doors—not unlike, in concept if not in look, the floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass doors Joe Eichler would, in later years, be providing on his 'Eichler homes.'

The Eichlers—Joe, wife Lillian, sons Dick and Ned—had been living in this home since 1936. Located on Amherst Avenue in San Mateo, the house sits on a subtly curving street of fine homes built in the 1920s and '30s—a Colonial next door, and Spanish Colonials, Tudors, and the like marching down the street. They were just a few blocks from downtown and a few doors from the Hillsborough city line. The Eichlers even had a live-in servant.

"Then one day [Joe] came in and said, 'We're moving,'" Ned Eichler, who died in 2014, recalled in a 2005 interview.

And to where? A rental, for one thing. And a strange house, for another. "It had everything that seemed to me crazy," Ned said, mentioning "metal bath tubs." Ned's bedroom was all of four by eight feet.

Followers of the Eichler legend are well aware this was the Bazett house, a Frank Lloyd Wright creation that Joe rented for his family for two years, 1944 and 1945.

The house is central to the origins of the Eichler Homes company, as it is where Joe fell in love with modern architecture. Two years after departing the home—he was forced out by new owners, who wanted to live there themselves—Joe began his career building homes.

The Bazett house, in Hillsborough, may be the most famous house Eichler inhabited.

Still, a survey of Joe's other homes suggests that he was a man who liked quiet good looks in a multiplicity of styles, enjoyed the indoor-outdoor feeling long before he discovered modern architecture, and appreciated both quiet suburban neighborhoods and big city life. We also find a man who didn't mind moving.

Joe and Lillian came to the Bay Area circa 1924, but it's not clear where they first lived. They came along with Lillian's father, owner of a dairy business in which Joe worked as a manager and then treasurer.

From 1927, when his name ('Jos L Eichler (Lillian)' first appeared in a San Francisco city directory, until Joe's death 47 years later, Eichler and family lived in at least 14 different houses and apartments—six in San Francisco, at least two in San Mateo, one in Atherton, one in Sunnyvale, one in Los Altos, and three in Hillsborough.

Sometimes, though briefly, Eichler maintained more than one home.

Of his homes, six could be said to be 'Eichlers,' in that they were designed by his architects and built by Eichler. Two of these were regular tract homes—and he lived in both briefly; the others were custom Eichlers—and two of those he lived in briefly.

Other than his Eichler-built homes, Joe only lived in one other home that was modern in style—a Nob Hill high-rise.