Marincognito - Page 2

In the shadow of the Eichlers, four little-known neighborhoods lie low as the North Bay’s ‘last frontiers’ of affordable mid-century modern
Two looks inside an Alliance—from 1954 (top) and now (bottom).
Longtime Alliance owners Kristi and Bill Fish with daughter Hannah and Cash the Giant Schnauzer.
Choice Alliance exterior.

It's more than that these non-Eichler homes are overlooked. There almost seems to be a deliberate disregard for them.

Ironically, it could have something to do with all the Eichler homes in the county. In Marin, when people think 'mid-century modern,' they only think 'Eichler'—so anything else has to be, well, a cheap knockoff?

One of Leo Bersamina's neighbors casually referred to the Lynwood Park homes as 'Eichlers' when asked about their history. Gene Kelly, who's lived in the tract 50 years, says he was told the homes were built as Eichler imitations, adding, "These are what is called a poor man's Eichler."

In Ferris Gardens, 30-year resident Rich Rinck said, "I don't know if anybody I know in the neighborhood has any idea who the original architect or builder was. Some people believe they are Eichler knockoffs."

In neither of the Cliff May tracts did anyone say they'd ever heard of Cliff May—even though a real estate broker in Marin who focuses on modern, Renee Adelman, identifies the homes as Cliff May homes on her encyclopedic website, and they have been listed as Mays in some realty ads.

Even in the Alliance homes developments of Terra Linda, where many if not most people appreciate the architecture, the Eichler myth persists, abetted by some real estate brokers. When Marcia Rey and her husband, Mac Johnson, bought there two years ago, their broker falsely said their home was an Eichler.

"I believed Eichler designed these," says Rey's neighbor, Marcia Cummings, who has lived in an Alliance home since 1962. "I was told that, and I believe it."

In spite of continued tall tales, it should be pointed out that Adelman's Marin Modern Real Estate firm has done a superb job of identifying not only the Alliance neighborhoods, but pretty much all modern residential areas in Marin, on their website. Both tract and custom homes are included, plus their condition and even a good bit of history.

Still, the word needs to get out more about these tracts. As Leo Bersamina says about his new neighborhood, "Where is the information? It's not readily available."

Although many people see these homes as Eichler copycats, in fact each of these neighborhoods has an architectural and historical heritage all its own—and it's worth rediscovering.

Will these neighborhoods one day win the fame and panache of Marin's Eichlers? Maybe so.

"The areas are a little more blue collar in Novato," Adelman says, noting that during the economic downturn of the past decade many suffered foreclosures. "Historically there has been less interest [there] in modern architecture versus affordable housing—although there are some owners that know what they have and have made their homes quite lovely and updated.

"But it is a longer battle to bring the neighborhoods up to where they were when they were built."

About the Terra Linda homes, Adelman says, "They are getting renovated and are selling for good prices. The Alliance neighborhood is quite nice."