City on a Hill - Page 4

Joe Eichler’s tower and co-op at San Francisco’s Laguna Heights are holding up well 50 years after their debut as model neighborhoods

Originally a brownish beige with even darker balconies, today whitish, the high-rise remains a handsome building. It helps that the homeowners association enforces a rule that keeps bikes, barbecues, and worse off the balconies and mandates that window coverings be white or off-white and vertical—no Venetian blinds, please.

Designer Linda Belden (left), pictured here with neighbor Jeanne Milligan, has restored much of the original landscaping spirit to her building’s courtyard.

Both the high-rise and low-rise Eichlers have lost many balconies, as residents have turned them into living space. “It doesn’t change the look of the building all that much,” says Carol Stack, former president of 66 Cleary Court’s board.

Concrete has its advantages. The structure rode the 1989 quake well, with only cosmetic cracking, says Dennis Normandy, a 40-plus-year resident. Thick walls dampen sound between adjoining units, he says, and “fire in one unit is essentially self contained.”

But, artist Diane Wiersba says, “The building is like a big, concrete drum,” with sound reverberations moving from floor to floor. Residents are discouraged from installing hardwood floors over the original concrete slabs because of noise. “If the upstairs is carpeted,” says resident Vince Nevarez, “you don’t hear anything.”

The concrete slabs contain radiant-heat pipes, which work well—sometimes too well, if you live in the unit below.

“We had neighbors upstairs,” Nevarez says. “After they moved in they turned the heat on and never turned it off for four years. The Japanese screen on our wall began curling. It became insufferable in here. It was over 80 degrees constantly.”

Over the years, much has changed in the interiors of units in both complexes. The high-rise went condo in 1978, a movement that Normandy helped lead. That started a round of kitchen and bathroom remodeling. “There was ownership involved, you see,” Kathie Barr explains, “and that makes a change. People took better care and began decorating.”

 “It began to have the look of a luxury condo internally as well as externally only after the owners took over,” Normandy says.

Units at 66 Cleary Court originally had Philippine mahogany walls but few remain. Don Rogers and Hiroko Kajino share one of the few units that still has original walls, along with an original Eichler kitchen. They credit former longtime owners Fadil and Selma Sabucuoglu for leaving well enough alone.

When units at 66 Cleary are for sale, they are often advertised as Eichlers, but not always. “No one ever mentioned Eichler when we moved in or when we bought,” says Diane Wiersbam, who arrived about 15 years ago.

Wiersba, who’s recreated her unit’s Eichler-style cabinets, says most people in Cleary Court are not sufficiently Eichler-centric. But there are some, including Nevarez, who “respect the original design,” as he and his partner Craig Pavlich did when redoing their kitchen.

And the true fans have made their presence known. Several years ago, says longtime resident Connie Knott, ‘furor’ erupted when the association redid the mailboxes, adding classical dentils. “The Eichler people got really upset when we put this molding up,” Carol Stack adds.

Since then, however, more attention is paid to he building’s modern aesthetics, says Brad Cheng, the homeowner association’s president. Don’t expect to see dentils added in the future.

Jung, head of the design committee, has emerged as the tower’s architectural conscience. He designed the lobby remodel and is helping redo hallway rugs and colors. “We’re taking a hint of the mid-century,” he says, “but we’re not trying to be retro.”

At the Laguna low-rises, Angela Little says, “Quite a few of us like the idea that we’re in an Eichler.” Some people have restored their units to recapture original flavor—including one owner who restored her original balcony by giving up indoor living space.

Neither the tower nor the low-rise development may throw block parties. But they remain sociable places.

At the tower, “People are like family,” says Paquita Reyes, a retired doctor from the Philippines. “You know, they’re all nice people. Once they walk in here, they become nice.”

Fifteen or so wealthy Filipino families have units in Cleary Court that may be their second, third, or fourth homes, says Dennis Normandy, who also knows why. He’s the longtime chairman of the San Francisco-Manila Sister City Committee, and says many Filipinos learned about 66 Cleary Court through him.