"Why Not Just Tear It Down?" - Page 5

Reckoning with the 'teardown point of view'—as neighborhoods erode and homes are going, going, gone
Why Not Just Tear It Down
In 2014, when the wrecking ball brought down this amazing modern masterpiece with the star-shaped roof, designed by
Anshen and Allen in Atherton for developer Elmer Gavello, many fans were outraged.
Why Not Just Tear It Down
Eichler owner Phil Friedly stands in front of a home in his Menlo Park neighborhood that was once a neighbor's Eichler.

Soumya Viswanathan and Shirdi Prem, who recently won permission in Santa Clara to expand their Mackay home by adding a second floor, expressed their reasons in letters to the city. Their plan, which won city approval, was initially opposed by some neighbors, but ultimately won the approval of many.

The couple said they love the modern architecture, "the contemporary style of the neighborhood, the understated modesty of the home's design, ample light from large windows, and the private open spaces."

"Both our children were born here, and have grown up in this home, and made deep connections to our friends and neighbors. As a result, we look forward to being a part of this vibrant community for the next 15 years and more," they wrote.

"We have long resisted the trend to excessively large houses, but adding space for our two school-age kids would be a great improvement. We also find it extremely difficult to accommodate visiting family members from abroad on extended stays.

"The house itself, while well-maintained, is in need of several updates and repairs. A proper remodel that addresses all these concerns is a more efficient and less disruptive approach than a series of patchwork fixes. At the end of the remodel, we will have a new, modern home that our family can enjoy for many years."

Although many loyal mid-century modern homeowners are from Asia or of Asian background, including Chintu Parikh, one of the neighbors who initially opposed the Visnawathan and Prem proposal, several observers note that Asian buyers are behind many teardowns.

"Buyers from overseas tend not to 'get' Eichlers as much," says Ken DeLeon, who has worked with many Asian clients and has traveled in China. He adds, "They have a higher probability of not appreciating the modern architecture, and of tearing the houses down."

He attributes much of this to a predilection for newly built homes among upscale buyers from China. "In that culture new construction is highly valued," DeLeon says.

"In China, the old houses were of very poor construction, and they see old houses in America the same way," he says.

Although the desire for bigness and newness seem far more important, one can't ignore both ideology and aesthetics in seeking the causes of teardowns.

"People don't like being restricted," says Chintu Parikh, speaking about neighbors who believe that second-story additions are a homeowner's right. "'Hey, I bought this. I put a lot of money into this. If you tell me I have to follow a lot of guidelines, that's not fair,'" he says, summarizing that view.

And some people just don't like Eichlers—even some who buy them. "I think Eichlers are ugly," Craig Laughton of College Terrace posted on Palo Alto Online, "a hangover from the post-WWII era, and they were ugly back then, too. I lived in one for a couple years...livable, but still ugly. If someone buys an Eichler, and wants to scrape it, and build something more tasteful, I am fully supportive."

Indeed, maybe it's folly for Eichler fans to fight so hard to save their homes. By asking Palo Alto to impose single-story overlay zones to keep two-story homes out of their neighborhoods, aren't Eichler owners reducing the value of their homes?