The Eichler Homeowners - Page 2

Spotlight on Joe Eichler's homeowners—is there a California temperament that inhabits the Eichlers?

gift of artAs the initial burst of postwar house building swelled to fulfill the demand, mere affordability could not be relied upon to satisfy an increasingly demanding marketplace. 'Business Week' magazine remarked as early as 1953 that new buyers were beginning to expect more in their home purchases, and builders were going to have to be creative to satisfy their increasingly discriminating tastes. Eichler would continue to improve his designs—adding rooms and refining the plans—and his architects continued to refine their distinctively minimalist aesthetic. The elegant, stripped-down look and indoor-outdoor connections of this open planning suited an idiosyncratic but growing segment of the Bay Area population. In the South Bay, that included engineers and researchers who worked in the developing aerospace industry. The pure forms of Eichlers homes would appeal to this engineering crowd, who thrilled to the clarity of Eichler's solution to the modern California house. The author David Beers recalls his Lockheed-engineer father enthusing about the Eichlers. "The Eichler design stunned us," he said. "The low lines, all that glass. It had this California look to it." Feelings similar to this engineer's were common throughout the early subdivisions. A 1951 Stanford University business school survey noted the aspect of the Eichler homes that residents liked the most was the "modern design." The second most appreciated was the radiant heating, suggesting again the large numbers of engineering types who were attracted to the homes. Elsewhere in the Bay Area, the Eichler design appealed to a variety of people with specialized tastes, from researchers at Stanford to artists and architects in Marin.

Former Eichler salesman and three-time Eichler homeowner Frank LaHorgue indicates that Eichler residents have always been an interesting collection of people. He recalls that when he interviewed prospective buyers, it did not take long for him to decide whether they would be a good prospect. The Eichler buyers were a very heterogeneous group, he said—different races and ages—but all of them shared certain "core tendencies." They tended to be somewhat adventurous and often creative. Many were doctors, architects, and advertising people, none of which was looking for a traditional house. Those qualities that united Eichler buyers made them good neighbors regardless of their backgrounds, and the mix—unusual for suburban developments—made for especially vital communities.

couple Over time, the makeup of Eichler neighborhoods has often defied the stereotypical suburban demographic. Whereas suburbs are more often defined by a cycle of ownership from young families of fairly uniform income in newer developments to older, wealthier, and retired people in the more established neighborhoods, Eichler communities have tended to retain a broader cross section of residents. LaHorgue cites his own neighborhood of Upper Lucas Valley as an example, where retired people on fixed incomes live next door to the affluent and upwardly mobile. The income distribution suggests that there is something more compelling about an Eichler subdivision than prestige. Whereas a generally acknowledged sign of success, as well as a means to establish wealth, is a home in a "good neighborhood," there would seem to be plenty of Eichler residents who could afford luxurious settings, but chose instead to stay in their more modest, but perhaps more hospitable, communities.

The mix of people—old, young, affluent and middle-income, those with young families and those whose children have grown - compose a community more often associated with urban areas or traditional villages than with the transient suburban metropolis. The hospitality of Eichler Homes' community planning seems particularly well developed at Lucas Valley, where a combination of elements - both fortuitous and preconceived - create a suburban model that might challenge some of the assumptions at the foundations of more ambitious and self-conscious efforts of the New Urbanists. Unlike the traditional town forms proposed by some of these architects, Lucas Valley suggests that modern planning can enable the patterns and habits of everyday life better than nostalgic replays of old village themes. Lucas Valley, with its rural backdrop, semi-casual arrangement of streets and multipurpose community center, seems to offer ample opportunities for the kind of formal social gatherings and accidental meetings between neighbors and neighbor children that traditional urban settings are famous for. At the same time, the houses offer the degree of privacy that may enable residents to be more tolerant of one another's differences than if they were always on display by way of the front porch or picture window.