Jim San Jule: Tireless Crusader - Page 4

Eichler Homes’ original marketing director worked hard and passionately so others could live well

At some point, San Jule befriended Bob Anshen, an equally gregarious man who moved in similar left-wing, intellectual circles. In 1950, as Eichler was starting his homebuilding business, Anshen’s firm, Anshen and Allen, came on board as architect and Anshen suggested Eichler use San Jule for marketing.

Eichler and San Jule hit it off. “They had a relation that was almost like a love affair,” says Joe Eichler’s son, Ned Eichler. “They were very close.” Both shared the same political and social convictions.

“We felt we were pioneers, like exploring a new country,” San Jule said in a 1996 interview, “and that's what made us close. I remember back then, there was such a great deal of excitement that I never wanted to go to bed at night.” His bed was in an Eichler home, first in Redwood City, then Palo Alto.

“The days of Eichler Homes were days of great progress in housing in this country,” San Jule said during a 2003 appearance at the ‘Celebrate Eichlers’ event in Palo Alto. “It revolutionized the whole concept of subdivision housing.”

In the 1996 interview, San Jule said he, Eichler, and Anshen formed a partnership with a “handshake agreement.” San Jule always credited himself as one of the founders of Eichler Homes. Ned says that neither San Jule nor Anshen ever had an ownership stake in the Eichler company.

But San Jule clearly made a large mark on the young firm. He designed the publicity, secured local and national press, and handled governmental relations and permitting—which wasn’t easy, given the unusual structure and look of the homes.

He recalled taking out full-page ads in every San Francisco paper for new model homes in 1950. “The first weekend 20,000 people showed up.”

“That could have been the first time anybody ever took out full-page ads for houses,” he said.

After Eichler delivered what San Jule called a “tremendously arrogant, angry speech” to a city council, San Jule replaced him as the public face of the company.

Don Tishman, the developer who used San Jule for similar purposes decades later, recalls San Jule’s effectiveness. “He was calm. He didn’t get excited. He had a great sense of public relations, and he was very good at positioning an entity. He was really good at branding before anyone else was.”

Joe Eichler also gained attention as one of the very few homebuilders at the time who would sell to blacks and other minorities. This was something Eichler believed in strongly. But it’s possible that San Jule goaded him into it, and certain that San Jule was staunchly behind the policy.

“We broke down all the resistance that was based on racial prejudice,” San Jule said in 2003. “We were the first ones [among tract developers] to do that, and it worked.”

Stories from the early days of Eichler Homes tell of Eichler and San Jule tossing out customers who complained about minorities moving in. San Jule brought the same open-door policy to his next job, at the homebuilder Burke and Wyatt, says Koshland, who worked for the firm as loan processor.

Financing for open-plan, odd-looking modern homes was often hard to arrange in the early 1950s. Banks and the Federal Housing Authority and the Veterans Administration were afraid they wouldn’t be marketable. Banks and federal agencies were also reluctant to lend to projects that sold to blacks. San Jule and Eichler lobbied for federal financing reforms.

San Jule continued his crusade against discriminatory lending in later years, when he served on committees of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). He bragged that his efforts helped lead to the creation in 1965 of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Eichler was in business to make money but, like San Jule, he was motivated as well by social ideals. In years to come, Eichler built urban neighborhoods and urban highrises, including redevelopment projects on blighted land. It’s not unlikely that San Jule’s idealism and dedication to providing housing for all rubbed off on his boss.

But San Jule could also rub Eichler the wrong way. “He and my father were bound to clash. They both had big egos,” Ned Eichler says. And Joe Eichler got upset at San Jule’s drinking. “He fired him for some reason,” Ned says.

San Jule was deeply hurt, Ned says, and the two men never had a rapprochement after he left the company in 1953. But in later years San Jule always spoke of Eichler with affection.

The falling out with Eichler was one of several personal and professional setbacks San Jule was to have in his career. It coincided with a divorce from Miriam—and his quick marriage to Yvonne, whose husband was his college friend and who had been living in an Eichler in Palo Alto. Yvonne brought to the marriage three young children; they later had a daughter.