Homeward Bound

From Eichler to Mackay to six more Eichlers—the house-hopping odyssey of the Walling family
Homeward Bound
This composite image brings together two portrait pairings of the Walling daughters from their youth with a later photo of their original Eichler home in Palo Alto. L-R: Robin, Beverly, Kathie, and Savannah.

Fashionable, artistic, decisive, and a working mother, Bettie Walling was a modern woman in the 1950s and '60s who loved nothing better than Eichler homes.

Bettie loved Eichlers so much that she and her husband, Jim, wound up living in seven of them—a remarkable journey—and inhabited one of them twice.

Along the way the Wallings also lived in a mid-century modern Mackay tract home and a ranch-style house. All nine of those homes were within 25 miles of each other, on the Peninsula and in the South Bay.

All of the family moves were driven by Bettie, says daughter Beverly Walling Powell, who calls her mother "ahead of her time" because of her drive and her interest in career over being a suburban stay-at-home mom.

"I did ask why we moved so much, when I became an adult," Beverly says. "My dad said my mom wanted to do it."

The Walling family, with four daughters—Savannah, Kathie, Beverly, and Robin—moved into their first Eichler in 1954. It was a rental, on Palo Alto's Francisco Way (since renamed Park Blvd.) in the Charleston Meadows tract. A year later they moved to a floor plan Bettie liked even more—the Eichler next door.

  Homeward Bound
The Walling family got their first tastes of modern living on Park Blvd. (then called Francisco Way) in Palo Alto. Pictured here from 1955 at 4135 Park are (L-R) Bettie, Kathie, Robin, Jim, and Beverly. Savannah was behind the camera.

Then, in 1956, the family uprooted again and bought their first home—not an Eichler, but a mid-century modern Mackay in Mountain View, one town away.

This remained their residence for three years. Would it be their forever home?

No. In 1959 Bettie and Jim and their daughters moved to the only non-mid-century modern home of Beverly's youth, a ranch-style house in Sunnyvale, again one town away.

As they did with their Mackay, the Wallings seemed to settle into the ranch house, staying there close to three years. But then, in 1962, the family hauled themselves to another home in Sunnyvale, an Eichler, just three miles away in the Rancho Verde development.

The oldest of the four girls, Savannah, was born in 1946 and the youngest, Robin, in 1953, so all took part in every move. The earliest moves, when Beverly was four and a preschooler, did not bother her; but the dislocation from Mountain View to Sunnyvale lost her some good friends.

Beverly's uprooting from the ranch house in Sunnyvale to the Eichler in the same town came when she was in a period of adolescence, a delicate time for us all.

Homeward Bound
Early photo of the entire family, 1953.

"I was starting junior high," Beverly recalls.

"I did not want to move from the ranch home. I loved my neighbors, we had fun, we had a community in our little cul-de-sac," she says. But move they did.

"The hardship we had was losing our friends," Beverly says. "We did not like that. At all."

The move to the Sunnyvale Eichler, their first atrium model, made five moves in eight years. The moves were not aimed at acquiring more square footage as the girls grew up. "The smallest of our homes was the three-bedroom Mackay," Beverly says, and the rest were mostly four bedrooms and two baths.

Nor were the early moves motivated by changes in employment. Jim had a steady job as a mechanical engineer at the Stanford Linear Accelerator.

But one move was motivated by work—their mom's. Bettie, who had studied drafting as a young woman, then got a degree in design at San Jose State. Later she got a degree in library science there and took a job as reference librarian at the San Mateo Library.

Homeward Bound
A year before living at 4135, the Wallings were living at this Eichler next door, at 4133 Park Blvd.

The library required employees to live locally, so in 1965 the Wallings left their Sunnyvale Eichler, after three years there, for another Eichler on the windswept hills of San Mateo Highlands. "It was cold and foggy," Beverly recalls.

Bettie, who hailed from West Virginia, had always enjoyed working out of the home. She had met Jim, an Oklahoma farm boy, in 1943—a year later they married—when both were working at a refinery engineering company in Huntington, West Virginia. There, Jim served as a mechanical engineer, Bettie a draftswoman.

"My mom loved working at refineries, doing jobs men would have done," Beverly says.