Historic Quest: Eichlers in the National Register

At last—Eichlers get their place in history, reach the National Register of Historic Places

national register plaqueCannons weren't fired when Green Gables and Greenmeadow of Palo Alto, among the earliest and best preserved of neighborhoods developed by Joe Eichler, were officially added to the National Register of Historic Places in summer 2005. The Keeper of the National Register simply notified property owners, committee members, and local government officials via letter.

But the appreciation runs deep. Members of the Eichler 'Historic Quest' committee, who put in four years of volunteer effort to win designation, were particularly pleased. "This is a nice moment in time, when Joe Eichler will finally get his just reward," said Adriene Biondo, who lives in an Eichler neighborhood in Southern California. "Our purpose was to give the Eichlers the respect they deserve," said Marty Arbunich, co-chairman of the committee, "and, at the same time, reinforce homeowner pride and a desire to preserve these homes."

Winning National Register recognition for Green Gables and Greenmeadow will make it much easier for other Eichler neighborhoods to achieve landmark status as well, said Paul Lusignan, the National Register historian who reviewed the nominations for the National Park Service, which granted the neighborhoods the coveted recognition. The Historic Quest committee "did a lot of groundwork that can be used by future applicants," he said. "Because these were the first Eichler homes to be listed, we wanted to be sure they really captured the Eichler story," he added.

Having their neighborhoods listed as historic districts on the National Register will not alter life for residents. No rules or restrictions are imposed. "People say 'what's the downside of all this?' There is no downside, no penalty," said Carroll Rankin, a member of Historic Quest and resident of Greenmeadow.

But "a certain clout comes with being listed," said Cynthia Howse, a state historian at the California Office of Historic Preservation (SHPO), who worked closely with the Historic Quest committee. Being listed on the National Register automatically places the site on the state historic register, which can make it harder to demolish or alter exteriors. Cities may require applicants to do environmental reports if they propose to demolish or alter historic or cultural resources.

National Register recognition should increase the value of the designated homes, said Historic Quest committee member Stephanie Raffel, a real estate agent in Orange County. Owners of historic properties, according to SHPO, can also benefit from state tax breaks and by using the state historic building code when remodeling.

Green Gables and Greenmeadow are among the first suburban tracts in the country—and among the first modern suburban tracts of any sort—to be added to the Register as historic districts, Lusignan said. The neighborhoods illustrate how California, with its booming economy, was transformed after the war, and how Eichler became "a leader in modern design" by employing architects to create innovative and aesthetically pleasing neighborhoods that influenced builders nationwide. "The modern ranch house owes a lot to the work he did," Lusignan said.

example of green meadow eichler

Fans of modern architecture have applauded the National Register's action. "The National Register recognition means there's an understanding that these places have some importance," said Andrew Wolfram, president of the Northern California chapter of DOCOMOMO (Documentation and Conservation of the Modern Movement).

Only a handful of modern subdivisions throughout the country have preceded the Eichlers onto the National Register. They include Arapahoe Acres in Colorado, 124 individually designed homes built from 1949 to 1957; Rush Creek Village in Ohio, 49 homes designed from the 1940s to '70s by Frank Lloyd Wright disciple Theodore Van Fossen; and three subdivisions in Maryland from 1951 to '61 designed by Charles Goodman. An application is in the works for another Goodman neighborhood, Hollin Hills in Virginia.

On the West Coast, only one modern neighborhood is on the Register, housing for nuclear plant workers in Richland, Washington.

example of green gable eichler

No one is happier about the Green Gables and Greenmeadow success than members of the committee, who never dreamed the effort would take so long. Enthusiasm was high in 2001 when a group of nearly 20 Eichler owners and aficionados from Northern and Southern California—spearheaded by Marty Arbunich, publisher of the Eichler Network, and Barry Brisco, a San Mateo Highlands Eichler owner—formed the Historic Quest committee.

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