Razing the Roof - Page 3

How decades of community building led the Fairglen Eichlers of San Jose to National Register success
Razing the Roof
Razing the Roof
Julie Butterfield and Ramon Colcer (top), residents of Fairglen for 15 years, are self-proclaimed “originalists” who have restored their Eichler, including this nicely furnished living room (above), over the years.
Razing the Roof
At Fairglen, Bunco is a vital social activity that brings folks together. Monika Kafka, Shaheda Zaman, Barbara Weidmann-Werres, and Rosa Maria Garfunkel (seated L-R) are big fans.
Razing the Roof
Gathered at a recent meeting working up plans to keep Fairglen alive and well are neighbors (L-R) Jerry Escobar, Mike Dorner, Sally Zarnowitz, Peter Hurd, and Bill Pfahnl, the core team responsible for bringing home the neighborhood's successful National Register nomination.

"I would say the new generation coming here has done things to their houses. Many of these houses have been in terrible shape," Jerry says. "I think this neighborhood has improved in the last five years in ways I never thought possible.

Andrea and Sander Leech, who arrived six years ago, shortly before Andrea gave birth to their son, Coen, are typical of many newcomers—except, perhaps, for the cockatiel that rides Sander's shoulder wherever he goes.

Sander works for a tech firm, he and Andrea love Fairglen's neighborliness, and they have improved their Eichler—replacing a floor that had concrete in shades of blue, red, and yellow. "It was somebody's personal taste," Sander says. "It didn't have universal appeal."

The neighborhood attracts true Eichler lovers, Andrea says.

"Everybody who is moving in now is paying a premium to live here," she says. "Everybody who moves in takes better care of their homes, and they're improving their homes in some way."

It's worth noting that the Willow Glen district of San Jose is "way down" on the Peninsula, in the words of Christian Rober, a new homeowner who works as an engineer. That means longer commutes to jobs in Palo Alto or Mountain View—and Eichlers that generally cost a bit less than those to the north.

Several couples said that the price break made it possible for them to afford to buy an Eichler, and several said they bought Eichlers that needed work, also to save a few bucks.

Karolina Buchner, who works for Apple, and husband David Ross, who works for Google, are among the newcomers restoring their homes. They won a Joey for improving their home, which they bought in 2000.

Natives of the Toronto suburbs, they had been unfamiliar with Eichlers, and found their looks off-putting at first—from the outside. "But then we went into the first open house and it opened up," Karolina says. "I narrowed my search criteria [to Eichlers only]."

The couple's efforts to restore their home included removing paint from mahogany hallway panels. "We stripped it, and we wire-brushed it," Karolina says.

She adds, "We've been tweaking it a little bit just to bring back the original features."

Another "originalist," in her own words, is Julie Butterfield, a Fairglenner with husband Ramon Colcer since 2004. She counts herself as one of the neighborhood's "Eichler nerds."

"We are always willing to help each other with Eichler globe lights or other ephemera," she says. She and Ramon have repaired a home that had experienced "a Sears remodel" by, among other things, bringing back an original oven.

Melissa Leman and Christian Rober, who are raising a young daughter in their Eichler, are imports from Long Island and New Jersey who, like Karolina and David, were determined to own an Eichler.

Their goal with the home is to "make it livable for a modern family but to keep the original aesthetic," Melissa says. Christian adds, "We wanted to save what was original and do minimal updates."

They removed vinyl siding from the exterior, salvaged original Eichler cabinets from another Eichler home and from their own garage, and are working on other projects, doing it all themselves.

Like several newcomers, Melissa and Christian said the appeal of Fairglen was the community, as much as it was the stylish houses.

Eric DesFossés and Veronique Bourdeau, who hail from Montreal, were also looking for a community where children could play outdoors. Their childhood memories included playing hockey in the street.

"We were driving in the neighborhood," Veronique recalls, and saw 20 or so kids chasing each other on bicycles. Eric says, "We thought this was the right place to start a family." Their son, Zachary, is pushing four, and within a ten-house radius, they say, there are ten kids between ages one and six.