Melting the Mystique

Anshen and Allen's 1950s modern designs for an Eichler competitor unlock the mystery at Sunnyvale's Gavello Glen
Gavello
Gavello
Bob Anshen (left) and Steve Allen, mid-1950s.
Gavello
Builder Elmer Gavello.

For years Eichler fans have puzzled over a group of homes in the South Bay that seems very much like Eichlers—but they're not.

Many have the steep central gable with a glass front that several years later became one of Eichler Homes' signature and most attractive motifs.

Clearly, these are architect-designed homes of real interest.

One clue to their origin comes from examining the map for the roughly 160-home neighborhood and noting one particular street name: Anshen Court. And then another: Gavello Avenue.

Unlike some mysteries, this one is easily solved. All anyone has to do is ask a neighbor.

Some residents of Gavello Glen, as the neighborhood in Sunnyvale is called, still remember the developer, Elmer Gavello; his wife, Betty; Elmer's father and mother, Pierino and Henrietta Gavello; all of whom lived in the neighborhood, as did others in the family.

"Elmer and Betty Gavello gave us a silver candy dish for our wedding," says Sonia Dehazes, who moved to the neighborhood in 1958. The homes were built roughly from 1952 to 1959. Streets are mostly named for Gavello family members. Gary and Gail avenues were named for Elmer's children.

But to outsiders, the Gavello homes remain a cipher.

"No one really knows what a 'Gavello' is, other than some of the original homeowners," says Eric Boyenga, whose real estate team focuses on Silicon Valley with a keen interest in the handful of builders who brought mid-century modern to the region.

"I think people don't know about the Gavellos. People don't understand them," he says. "They're kind of the unknown gem of the mid-mod world."

The neighborhood is more than just another Eichler-like tract.

First, the Gavello homes were designed by Anshen and Allen, Eichler's original architects, who also designed homes for another South Bay builder in the modern, post-and-beam style. This was John Mackay, who built his 'Mackays' in Santa Clara, Mountain View, and Palo Alto.

But while Gavello homes share some essential similarities with Eichler homes—an emphasis on indoor-outdoor living, open-beam ceilings, concrete slabs with radiant heat—their differences stand out.

They're woodsier than Eichlers, thanks in part to the rear wall of glass, which uses wooden mullions to hold the glass in place, not aluminum as in Eichlers.