Suburbia in the Sky - Page 2

San Francisco's Diamond Heights—where there's charm, drama and the most unique Eichlers of all
Inside and outside the Bernstine-Ogden Eichler.

Diamond Heights often gets too blustery to spend time on the Eichlers' decks or courtyards, Litten says. Walls of glass mean you don't have to.

"I spend a lot of time indoors, but with these views it feels like I'm outdoors," he says. "I can enjoy the outdoors while being indoors in a way that a typical apartment with smaller windows doesn't really allow you to do."

Glen Canyon Park, which is adjacent to the neighborhood, also adds a touch of the wild.

"About a year ago a mountain lion came into the neighborhood," says Chanda Williams, a resident since 2001 with Jamie Litchmann, who mentions another park resident that makes its presence known. "When the sirens go off, we can hear the coyotes howl."

"Everybody keeps their cats in the house," he says. "We have a Pekingese, and he stays in the house."

Besides the one-of-a-kind models and the slope, the Eichlers of Diamond Heights are unique because they are in a community of modern homes, some of which rival or even surpass the Eichlers in architectural quality.

Jack Bernstine (right), pictured here watching husband Matt Ogden (left) shake things up during cocktail hour, has treasured the couple's split-level Eichler on Diamond Heights' Amber Way ever since his 1993 move-in.

Among the well-known Bay Area modernist architects who designed custom homes or mini-tracts in Diamond Heights are Warren Callister, Campbell & Wong, and Joseph Esherick.

"Diamond Heights contains one of the highest concentrations of modernist architecture in San Francisco—with excellent examples of the Bay Area regional idioms of modernist design," architectural historian Hannah Simonson wrote in 'Modern Diamond Heights,' her master's thesis in preservation.

Besides arguing why and how this distinctive modern neighborhood could preserve its historical and architectural heritage, Simonson's work explains how the 325-acre city redevelopment project transformed three virtually undeveloped hills—Red Rock, Gold Mine, and Glen Canyon—from a place with more cows than its 374 people into a community of more than 7,000 at completion in 1978.

The Eichlers are on Red Rock Hill, at 690 feet the tallest of the hills. Landscaping for Eichler was by landscape architect Robert Royston's firm, Royston, Hanamoto, Mayes & Beck. Royston and his firms landscaped several Eichler subdivisions.

Development at Diamond Heights started in 1961, with the Eichlers built in the early 1960s, among the first homes there. Guiding it all was a master plan by the socially conscious architect, Vernon DeMars.

DeMars sought to provide a "'suburb within a city,'" Simonson writes, "to appeal to people attracted to the suburban lifestyle, but who still wanted the conveniences of living in the city."

He seems to have succeeded.

Looking down the staircase, leading to the courtyard, of the Bernstine-Ogden home.

"I like the neighborhood because it's basically a quiet neighborhood. We came from the Western Addition," Bernstine says, referring to an older, denser area of San Francisco, "and it was too, too much. Too many negative things going on."

"A lot of people don't like Diamond Heights," Bernstine says, "because it's too suburban. Some people that want to live in the city, they want the pulse of the city."

From the Eichlers it's a short, albeit steep, walk to several of San Francisco's livelier shopping and cultural districts, including Noe Valley, the Castro, and Glen Park. Buses make it easy to get almost anywhere in the city.

The tract is also right above Glen Canyon Park, with trails, playgrounds, and immense rock outcrops, "the largest natural space in San Francisco," Bernstine says. Two of the city's natural landmarks, Twin Peaks and Mount Davidson, loom above Diamond Heights, one to the north, the other to the southwest.

DeMars sought to create a complete neighborhood by varying housing types, from single-family to duplexes, rental apartments, condos and townhouses. The plan also provided a shopping center, today based around a Safeway and with a deli and a restaurant.

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