Image That Moved Eichler - Page 2

Touching image of inspiration that stirred Eichler's soul—two boys, two races, one poignant photograph

Kahn's beliefs also included a deep appreciation of racial equality, something Joe Eichler adamantly pursued in his company policy. "Joe Eichler was blunt and straightforward about his feelings on integration," asserted Catherine Munson, Eichler Homes' first female salesperson and long-time staffer. "Remember, Joe was a man of few words—so there were no 'pep rallies' at the staff meetings. It was clearly understood by everyone in the company that the integration policy was overt company policy." These grounds for mutual appreciation set the stage for Kahn's meeting with Eichler. In 1963, when Kahn captured the two boys on film, he and his family were living in Glen Ellen, north of Lucas Valley. According to Carolyn Caddes, a Palo Alto Eichler owner who, in the early 1970s, was befriended by both Joe Eichler and Albert Kahn, when Eichler saw Kahn's photograph for the first time "he told Kahn that he was overjoyed." "Mr. Kahn said to me," Caddes continued, "'I don't mean to be boasting, but how can I forget what [Eichler] said: 'That picture catches within [me] one form—it sums up—what I believe in and what I'm working for in life.'"

albert kahn

It should come as no surprise that a large, framed copy of Kahn's photograph became the centerpiece of Eichler's Palo Alto office, even taking precedence over his two autographed pictures taken alongside President John Kennedy and Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. In the mid-1960s, when Eichler moved company offices to San Francisco, and even years later to Burlingame, Kahn's image stayed close and prominent.

One Christmas, Eichler featured the photograph on the face of a holiday card, which he mailed to every congressman and senator. "You know, the only one who acknowledged," Eichler told Carolyn Caddes years later, "was Senator Eugene McCarthy's wife, and she sent me a very nice note."

While marketing the Geneva Terrace development in San Francisco during the early 1960s, Eichler emblazoned Kahn's photograph on billboards near his Visitacion Valley townhouse development, and even incorporated it in display ads in San Francisco's major newspapers. "Back then we were looking for a community that was forward-thinking, liberal, and integated," recalled Charlene Avery, whose family eventually bought one of the Terrace townhouses. "We loved Eichler's belief of integrated neighborhoods and wanted to show the world, and our parents, that it could work. A flyer with the two children was one of the selling tools that worked. It tugged at our hearts."

In December 1965, at the formal ceremony for the twin high-rise Geneva Towers project in San Francisco, both Hubert Humphrey and California Governor Edmund Brown participated. With a framed photograph of Kahn's image of the boys in hand, Eichler reached out to the vice president and, according to the program's transcripts, gestured: "May I hand you this picture, as I think it will be of particular interest to you as one of the early and foremost leaders in the battle for equal opportunity for all Americans."

"While I consider this building a great accomplishment," Eichler continued, " the spirit expressed in this picture means a great deal more to me since it is a most eloquent expression of the philosophy of my organization, Eichler Homes."

After much searching, we eventually uncovered a copy of Albert Kahn's distinguished photograph. Finding the final piece of the puzzle was most satisfying.

children playing

All photos courtesy Albert E. Kahn family.