Harmony in the Hills - Page 5

Oakland Eichlers’ historic charm inspiration for us all
Harmony in the Hills
Harmony in the Hills
Harmony in the Hills
Original owner Alfreda Abbott (above middle) reflects on photos of her years with husband Bob, now deceased. Top and above: Two shots of Abbott’s Eichler.
Harmony in the Hills
Looking down from Sequoyah Hills, into an expansive view and a fog bank in the distance.

Jeff and Mary, who remember being the newcomers 20 years ago, now watch as the new newcomers are meeting each other. "Now the younger people with little kids are getting to know each other," Jeff says, mentioning the Halloween party. "You could tell they all know each other, and there's that bond because of the little kids.

One thing that unites many old-timers and newcomers is appreciation for the architecture—and that can be seen inside the homes as well as outside. Many interiors are essentially intact—including Jeff and Mary's. They redid their kitchen, but in a way to play up the modern.

Jeff, who owns several classic cars from the 1950s and '60s, plays up the modern in another way at home—with his collections of mid-century modern sofas and other furnishings, various collectables, and artwork he's created out of leftover auto parts.

Many of the homes have intact mahogany paneling and grass cloth closet doors. Some even have intact kitchens. Theresa and Gordy Wray are please that their kitchen has the original breakfast table with a wing that slides out from the counter and pivots.

"We were here for a year before we even knew we had it," Gordy says. "A neighbor said you know, you can pull [the table] out."

Not everyone is an Eichler purist. One of its most ebullient residents, psychologist Sandra Smith, owns one of its most ebullient houses, with gleaming white walls, displays of African-American and Shona art, and a curved wall of glass brick between atrium and inner hallway.

Smith's bedroom has steep gables and skylights. "I don't feel closed in, and I enjoy looking at the stars at night. I can see the Big Dipper through the window there, and sometimes I sleep with the moon in my face," she says.

"When I was going to stucco this house I had to fill out some forms for the environmental committee," Smith says. "There were some Eichler owners who had a little pushback about it. 'Are you going to stucco an Eichler?' And I said, 'Yes, I'm going to stucco the house, and it's my house.'"

The committee let her proceed.

Other façade changes in recent years have included what Sandi Bethune calls the pumpkin house, because of a loud color scheme that marries bright green with a pumpkin orange door.

And Mei Mei Spaulding is among some neighbors upset about a shed-shaped addition to one home.

Then there's the flat-roofed Eichler that, during a remodel, lost its original projecting beams that supported a trellis, giving it an awkward, boxy look.

If the Oakland Cultural Survey came through today, which of these homes would be deemed original enough to 'contribute' to the neighborhood's historic look?

But the most troublesome issues have always been—not home remodels, but trees blocking views, Sandi Bethune says. The association tries to have neighbors work out those arguments on their own, and refers them to mediation as needed.

In the future, Sandi Bethune says, issues about trees, remodels, paint color, and home maintenance will be professionalized at Sequoyah Hills. Rather than depending entirely on volunteer members of the environmental committee, they are bringing in a property management firm.

Sandi and her board have already spoken to an attorney, who told them that "just because one homeowner does something wrong, that doesn't mean the next person can get away with it too."

They are taking that advice to heart. It is this sort of attention to affairs that can keep Sequoyah Hills looking good for another half century.


• The Eichlers of Sequoyah Hills can be found near the neighborhood's entry, at Hansom Drive at Keller Avenue. Eichlers are on Coach, Hanson, Phaeton, and Shay drives.

• Photography: Sabrina Huang