Pocketful of Eichlers

Owners of international diversity are producing sweet music at Sunnyvale's Rancho Sans Souci
Pocketful of Eichlers
Chin and Paul Beckmann relax in their Sunnyvale Eichler's atrium.

Sometimes there's no need to knock, not when the door to the atrium is open and sweet music is wafting through.

While strolling with a friend one evening through her Eichler neighborhood, Ronit Widmann-Levy recalls, "We hear music playing out of a house of somebody I didn't know."

Her strolling companion told Ronit the piano performance was by a woman who had graduated Juillard, and suggested, "You should probably meet her."

"The door was open," Ronit says. "We walked through it."

"She came in, introduced herself," the pianist of the house, Chin Beckmann, says, "and then I was like, oh yeah, that's great. And then she told me she's a musician, too."

  Pocketful of Eichlers
Rancho Sans Souci neighbors Chin Beckmann (left) and Ronit Widmann-Levy (right) collaborate on music and present performances at each of their Eichler homes. Here, at the Beckmann Eichler, Chin plays piano while Ronit sings.
 

The two continue to play together and have given several performances in their homes. "A lot of the people here are very artistic," Chin says of her neighbors. "I think artistic people tend to appreciate Eichlers."

Music is quite literally in the air of a 35-home Sunnyvale Eichler tract with the charming name of Rancho Sans Souci—a ranch without cares!

Is it?

Well, maybe not all the time. But in the heart of Silicon Valley, about a mile from the Apple Infinite Loop, where people work 80-hour weeks for tons of money and expensive possessions (including Eichler homes), music and art remain critical to life "in the valley of silicon and engineers and not so artistic people," says Ronit.

Ronit is a soprano who sang for many years with the San Francisco Symphony, and has performed in concert halls around the world. For years she was director of arts and culture, running a performance series at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto.

  Pocketful of Eichlers
Ronit Widmann-Levy's kitchen.
 

About the arts, Ronit says, "It's something that we need as a society to have a spirit. We have to be better. You know, it softens us. It makes us reflect."

Like many neighborhoods, Rancho Sans Souci has a characteristic sound. It's not the highway hum—though there is a bit of that from Interstates 85 and 280—but the horns and kettledrums of the Homestead High School Marching Band, which can be heard in every backyard.

"Wow, we always get these concerts in the afternoon," Ronit says, adding, "I'm happy when there are young people playing well right next door. It's all but a blessing to have that, and to know that music education is thriving in schools is reassuring."

The tract, with homes designed by Claude Oakland, which borders the school, has forgotten its original 'sans souci' sobriquet—though original owner Fritz Beyerlein recalls it well. Builder Joe Eichler used the name when he was selling homes here from an office in Fritz's garage.

Instead, the neighborhood—along with about 90 later, non-Eichler homes—is called the 'Pocket,' "because, you know, most of this side of Homestead [Avenue] is Cupertino. And so there's a little pocket that's still Sunnyvale," says Paul Beckmann, Chin's husband.

Pocketful of Eichlers
The Beckmann home exterior.

And, no, the Pocket may not be absolutely carefree—though residents recount with amusement how one gentleman a few years back pushed and pushed to start a crime-watch program, which died when he left, as there was virtually no crime. The biggest neighborhood problem these days, and it's not big, involves parents causing congestion when they pick up their kids from school.

And much as the neighborhood loves the arts, it does not eschew tech. From its beginning in 1968 residents have included engineers, like original owner Fritz Beyerlein, who worked for Fairchild Semiconductor and later, as he says, was "building factories for the semiconductor industry all over the world. In China and Japan and Malaysia and Taiwan and Belgium and Germany, all over the world."

Today, Ronit's husband, Raphael, works as an engineer for Qualcomm. Chin herself is in tech, a founder with husband Paul, an audio engineer, of a software company they started in their garage that improves the sound produced by speakers in cars and other places.