Celebration Keeps Neighborhood Spirit Alive

Elaine Jegi, an original owner at Rancho de Los Santos in Concord, says the neighborhood has been a special place for each of its 50 years. Photos by Dave Weinstein

Sometimes a place, even an extraordinary place, a place that you love, can come to seem almost ordinary. That’s what happened, in a way, at Rancho de los Santos, the saintly little Eichler neighborhood in the shadow of the Mount Diablo that just celebrated its 50th birthday in style.

“What I see happening now that’s so positive is the Eichler image is resurfacing,” said Elaine Jegi, who has been living in the neighborhood in Concord since it was new and who bought there because the home “felt right.”

It was a fun party, 50 or so people, a few from other neighbor Eichler tracts, kids playing, plenty of food, cloudy with a lively breeze after several days of 100 degree heat. Lead organizers Matt and Camila Baum kept it moving with a sound system, a raffle, and good cheer.

“I don’t think we fully appreciated (the Eichler style) when we moved into the houses,” Elaine continued. “We appreciated the architecture, but we had no idea that 50 years later people would still be talking about it. I don’t think people really, fully understood what we really had.”

John, Bill, and Steve Schaefer pose in front of their home with their father, Milton. Historical photos courtesy of Steve Schaefer.

It was always a great little neighborhood, she recalled, with “a lot of esprit de corps in the neighborhood. We all became a little politically active, going to Concord city council meetings, expressing our views. We had a reputation.”

One issue they fought for was to integrate the local Elks Lodge.

“As a group,” she said, “you could say we reflected a more liberal point of view than the rest of the (Concord) community.”

Bette Boatmun, also an original owner, one of about six who remain, agreed that Rancho de los Santos was known for its particular spot on the political spectrum. “We were written up in the local paper all the time. ‘Salem Street starts at one end, and then makes a very hard left into that tract’,” the paper would write.

“When you first moved in you met everyone right away because everyone was outside planting grass,” Boatmun recalled. “We had some people who used to cut their lawns three times a week. They would manicure them.”

Boatmun, a longtime elected director of the Contra Costa Water District, is proud to report that lush green lawns are no longer a neighborhood feature due to water conservation efforts.

“Each house had a plot of dirt and everybody got a plum tree,” Jegi recalled. “We kept the plum tree the longest of anybody because our children had learned to climb trees there.

Bette Boatmun, who has long been active in the wider regional community, has enjoyed living for 50 years in Rancho de los Santos.

“It would have been nice to have had everything landscaped, but what was nice about it, we had to figure it out,” she added.

“Everybody put in lawns and it’s how you got to know everybody. We had block parties from the beginning. We would close Salem Street.”

“When we first moved in were many stay-at-home moms,” Boatmun said. “They’d all hire a babysitter for six or seven children and all go to an event. We took care of each other’s children and got involved with city government and city schools.”

Steve Schaefer, who lives in Castro Valley these days but grew up here and still has friends, set up a display of historical photos from his family. He always knew Rancho de los Santos was a special place.

“These houses are kind of a little island here,” he said. “I thought that the people in the other houses were something else. They were regular folks.”

Steve, who lived in the neighborhood for four years, remembers carefully detailing a neighbor’s Pontiac LeMans to earn money to buy comic books, and playing in a band with brothers and friends. Today he’s a blues and classical musician by avocation.

Steve Schaefer may have moved away years ago, but Rancho de los Santos is still part of his life. In the carport to the rear is his historical photo display

“I moved away at age 16 but I listened to music here. This is where I first fell in love with girls. My identity as a person is based on this period of my life,” he says.

Among the neighborhood’s relative newcomers are Monica and Ron Zorman, here since 2001. They’ve witnessed a generational changeover. When the Zormans arrived, their daughter Kaylee was the only toddler.

Today, Monica says, “There are a lot of strollers coming through. There are more younger families.”

Bette Boatmun adds, “It’s wonderful having children coming back into the neighborhood. The kids had left.”

As the years went on, Elaine Jegi says, many people didn’t focus on the unique attributes of the Eichler homes. “I made some changes that were a little too traditional to the kitchen,” she says, noting that her home retains its mahogany panels and has an original atrium.

“We didn’t have any idea till the Eichler newsletter started coming out,” she said, meaning the early incarnation of Eichler Network. “Then we got more information. We saw articles and we started paying attention.”

Monica and Ron Zorman enjoy the occasion with neighbors.

In a short speech – what’s a 50th anniversary without a speech or two?  – Elaine also thanked the younger generation of Eichler enthusiasts for keeping the spirit alive.

“For you who are new to the neighborhood, we thank you for keeping the idea of mid-century modern alive. When we moved into these houses, we didn’t think that 50 years later we would be living in something that would be a gem. That is testimony not only to the houses, but to the neighborhood.

Kaylee Zorman and Lola Medina, who live on the same cul-de-sac, keep their eyes on the ball.

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