Life on the Line - Page 2

When Joe Eichler swayed starry-eyed Los Altos owners with a 'promise' of the national spotlight
Life Line
Life magazine as it looked in the 1960s.

"That's why he threw in the fountain," recalls Pam Gordon, Margot and Barry's daughter. The fountain, which can be enjoyed just as easily from inside the gallery as from the garden, is a low, attractive, tiled rectangle with a jet of water shooting out in the middle.

Eichler made a few other changes to the plan, Margot says, including adding louvers in the gallery, "so there would be cross-ventilation, which makes a big difference."

In the course of these dealings Joe and Barry hit it off. They'd walk around smoking cigars, Margot recalls.

"He wouldn't hesitate coming in and saying, 'I smell steak,' because we were indoor barbecuing," she says of Joe, who lived for a time in the tract. "He wanted to taste the steak. He wasn't a shy guy. He was pretty aggressive."

Then photographer Ernie Braun arrived to scope out the house.

  The Re-uppers
All the Gordons pose for a family photo, 1968: (L-R) Barry, Dan, Margot, and Pam.

Braun may not have designed Eichler houses, but he did as much as anyone to define how people saw them through a series of remarkable photographs for ads, brochures, and, yes, magazines.

The photos showed sophisticated people enjoying cocktails in Eichlers, kids playing in backyards, and Sunday painters with their easels in atriums.

Braun arrived first with a Polaroid to take quick test shots. But the real shoot that followed was anything but quick. The Gordons' house was suddenly a stage set.

Most of the furnishings were the Gordons' own, though the house was sparsely furnished as they'd recently moved in. Ernie brought in plants and accessories and moved some of their furniture from room to room.

All told, the experience took close to a week, with Braun working mostly during the days, but some nights as well. Joe Eichler stopped by; and Claude Oakland, Joe's architect who'd designed the house, also was there several times.

  The Re-uppers
Joe Eichler (left) with Claude Oakland, architect of the Gordon home.

"I had two young children and a husband, and I tried to work my daily routine around this," Margot says. "I'm not complaining, but it was far more time consuming than I had anticipated. It wasn't like taking snapshots of the house."

"Ernie was very painstaking, and it took days to set up different aspects of the shoot," Margot says. Braun did not joke or engage in much small talk.

Ernie directed members of the family as though they were models. "He moved us around according to what looked best," Margot says.

Ernie apparently hit it off better with the ladies than with the guys.

"My husband and son didn't enjoy it at all. It took too long, and they probably wanted to be elsewhere. My husband probably wanted a cigar," Margot says. Barry was not often in the photos because he was at work at his dental practice a few miles away.

  The Re-uppers
Photographer Ernie Braun circa 1960s.

Then the shoot was over, and the stage set became a home. And home it has remained ever since.

Margot and Barry, who died six years ago, were committed modernists, visiting every Eichler open house for miles around. Barry meticulously collected every Eichler brochure and floor plans from each subdivision.

The family loved their Los Altos Eichler and, other than adding a carport when Barry moved his N scale model train setup into the garage, have preserved it essentially intact. Why is that? "My taste hasn't changed, basically," Margot says.

Barry, "a little OCD, very detail oriented, very hyper," in the words of Pam, was a man with many hobbies—reading and collecting books, scuba diving, underwater photography, fishing, traveling ("esoteric places like Papua New Guinea," Margot recalls), "and trains—oh, my God," Pam adds.