Slipping Away

The Eichlers of Atherton and Hillsborough—living dangerously in a peaceful world
Slipping Away
Slipping Away
One of the four remaining original Eichlers of Atherton's 'Eichler Six,' this home (top), on Placitas Avenue, is shrouded by large trees and foliage. Above: Inside its atrium, the blend with nature continues.
Slipping Away
Slipping Away
Slipping Away
Another of Atherton's 'Eichler Six' is the home of Eric and Rena Lane, who are seen in the top photo enjoying their vintage Austin-Healey sports car in front of their 1959 soaring-gable model on Encina Avenue. Center: The Lanes inside their kitchen, which still maintains much of its original Eichler look. Above: In the rear of the home at poolside.

They're among the largest and loveliest you'll find anywhere—the Eichlers of Atherton and Hillsborough. And one of them is among the most historic.

Built custom and semi-custom, these homes are striking in variety, ranging from among the very first in Joe Eichler's career to dramatic, steep-gabled late designs.

One is a split-level design that steps down a hillside. Another has—or is that had?—an octagonal atrium completely surrounded by bedrooms and living areas. All are on large lots—some that are forested.

A fair number of the Eichlers in these two towns, which have some of the highest-priced homes in the nation, preserve their looks. Some retain original mahogany paneling and siding, and radiant heat that still works.

Bucolic and peaceful as these two Peninsula communities may seem, however, they are dangerous places for Eichler homes.

Just ask Eric Lane, who's been a planning commissioner in Atherton for five years and lives in a Claude Oakland gable model with a ridge line that soars about 18 feet above his radiant-heated floor.

"When I see a mid-century modern or a ranch in Atherton, I know it has a short life," he says. "Virtually every mid-century modern in Atherton that I've seen has been torn down and replaced."

"It's not uncommon to have three- to five-acre lots with a 6,500-square-foot house with a 3,000-square-foot basement," Lane says, noting that he is speaking as an individual, and not on behalf of the planning commission. "Houses get very big around here."

"People often like the open living areas [of mid-century modern homes]," he says. "But the small bedrooms and bathrooms, no. It's a little bit tight."

A recent tour of the Eichlers in these two towns does, however, suggest that they may not be destined for extinction—if people who want them for homes continue to beat out those who would tear them down.

But the tour also shows how a number of Eichlers have disappeared, most of them in recent years. It reveals parcels that once held Eichler homes and now hold much larger homes. One Eichler in Atherton was ripped down so its neighbor could use the land to extend a garden.

The tour reveals at least one modest Eichler from 1957 on a large lot that is surrounded by neo-French mansions. One such mansion, with ornate gates, is guarded by two stately white poodles.