Did Joe Eichler Ever Sign Any of his Homes?

Even the younger generation helps with the restoration. Young Issac gets to work. Photos courtesy of Marc and Cat Percher

Anyone who has ever refurbished a mistreated Eichler home knows that it can be both torture yet deeply rewarding – sometimes at the same time. But few remodelers have found the sort of reward discovered quite by chance by Marc and Cat Percher – Joe Eichler’s autograph on a wall of their home.

Or is this common? Did Eichler often sign his homes? If he has signed yours, let us know.

But let’s make it clear from the start – to find one of the homebuilder’s signatures may require you to remove a few walls.

Marc discovered that someone, perhaps Joe himself, inscribed Joe's name behind one of the wall panels.

Here’s how it happened for Marc and Cat, a pair of engineers – he a civil engineer, she a nuclear engineer – both with a love for mid-century modern.

As Cat confesses, in her blog:

“I'm a twenty-something (although almost thirty-something) woman who always felt I was born 50 years too late. I've always been fascinated by early and mid 20th century science (especially nuclear physics), so much so that I chose it as my career! Throw in my love of '50s and '60s modern style in the mix, and I am truly atomic inspired.”

So there was never any question, after they bought their Eichler Home in Greenridge, a steep-streeted subdivision in Castro Valley, that they would do all they could to bring it back to aesthetic life.

And, as they have recorded on their blog, they’ve been doing it almost entirely themselves – which ensured that when the discovery was made, it was not ignored, as it might have been by a contractor.

“Sometime in the ‘70s or ‘60s,” Marc says, “somebody painted every piece of panel. A previous owner took down the original lights, and they put pink tile all throughout the house.”

Joe Eichler's 'Joseph' signature on a letter in Eichler Network's collection shows a strong resemblance to the signature on the panel.

The couple has been working on the project since buying the house in 2012. They hope to be done with the project in 2016, maybe 2017.

“It’s a slow process. We also have a three-year-old,” Marc says, meaning Issac, a lad who is “full of way too much gumption.”

“We do the work four to six hours every weekend. It’s been a very long weekend project,” Marc says.

One of Marc and Cat’s goals is to restore many of the original mahogany panels. Marc notes, however, that for a lighter look they are not restoring all the panels, but doing some sections in drywall.

Rather than buying new luan panels, which Marc says just don’t have the same look as the originals, he and Cat took a suggestion for Hunter Wimmer’s blog Redneck Modern. Wimmer is an avid Eichler enthusiast in Concord.

'This may actually be me taking off the panel (with Joe's name behind it), strangely enough,' Marc says.

The suggestion was, remove the mahogany panels from the wall, flip them around and turn what had been the invisible rear of the panel into the visible front.

“We have been taking the panels off, flipping it around, and refinishing the other side,” Marc says, adding, “It’s actually kind of amazing. The panel on the inside is actually finished.”

“A lot of them look really nice.”

“Some of them have spots where you see the outline of the studs,” he says. “But often you have a totally finished panel on the inside of your walls.”

Many panels have been damaged by the installation of light switches and electric outlets. “Comcast kills me,” Marc says. “They punched holes everywhere.”

The discovery of the 'Joe' signature came several months ago, when Marc and Cat were removing panels from the studs. There, on the rear of one of the panels, where no one would ever have seen it, was – ‘Joe.’ It was signed in a broad cursive, with an immense, flowing ‘J.’ The signature covers about eight inches of panel.

Could it really be Joe Eichler’s signature? Did he always sign his houses? Did he ever sign his houses? Did it mean this was a special house? Or could it be some other Joe entirely? One of the carpenters perhaps?

Eichler certainly didn’t sign all of his houses. In fact, according to Jim Dougherty, who worked for Eichler Homes in several capacities during the  mid-1960s, when Greenridge was constructed, “Joe didn’t go out to the construction sites very much. He would mostly work in the office, meeting with (in-house architect) John Boyd and going over the plans."

The Perchers have been living in the house through all of the remodel and the rooms that are done look great.

“He wasn’t out in the field very much. But he did go out and go through the houses,” Dougherty says. “He would take people out to lunch with him, and we’d go through a subdivision.”

So Eichler clearly could have signed the house.

In fact – the signature closely resembles others that are known. There’s the same playful ‘J,’ the same swinging little ‘e.’

Seeking a solution to the mystery, Marc and Cat consulted with their neighbors through an online group and found several of Eichler’s signatures that seemed to suggest this was indeed the mark of the master. They also reached out to the Eichler Network.

It looks like Joe's signature to us. But – can we really know for sure?

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Marc says. “That’s why I have been asking folks. It just seems kind of odd to me. But it’s also kind of fun. I’m going to tell myself it is his signature, to justify all my effort.”

But he has another suggestion. That the signature is “Probably the best prank ever.”

Remodeling an Eichler presents dangers both physical and psychic but Cat and Marc are clearly ready.

But if it’s a prank, why hide it in the wall?

That could have been the point, Marc says.

“Well, it looks like something done on a whim [very quick scribble], so more like an inside joke to himself knowing that no one would find it for 65 years.”

Marc notes that their home was one of the first built in the neighborhood, and he says it was the first to have a view of San Francisco Bay – a beautiful little sliver.  “I’d like to think [he signed it because] it’s such a nice house.”

Marc and Cat aren’t quite sure what they will do with the panel. They may frame it and put it on display.

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