Eichler Guidelines Win Modern Approval

The Eichlers in Orange are beautifully preserved, in general, and guidelines that were just given an award by Docomomo were designed to keep them that way. Courtesy of Page & Turnbull

Unlike journalists or aggressive advocates for saving historic places, architectural historians surveying sites for governmental agencies are paid to be even-handed, objective, stick-to-the-facts-as-observed sorts of people.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t love what they are investigating nor that their final products – a survey, a report, a set of design guidelines, that sort of thing – won’t be something worth devouring by readers.

Case in point are sets of design guidelines devised by the San Francisco firm Page & Turnbull on behalf of two very different Eichler-inflected towns, Palo Alto in Northern California, and Orange down south, which created ‘Eichler Design Standards.’

A page from the Orange design standards shows the variety of rooflines.

Docomomo US, the American branch of the international organization dedicated to preserving modern places, has just given a prestigious award to the firm for its work on “Preserving Eichler Neighborhoods,” as part of its Modernism in America Awards.

In Palo Alto, the work done by Page & Turnbull’s crew, resulted in voluntary guidelines that are advisory in purpose. In Orange, the result were design standards that people must follow in modifying their homes.

In both cases, the documents are filled with history, aesthetic advice and discourse, photos, maps, and more. In Palo Alto, Page & Turnbull visited and mapped each of the many Eichler neighborhoods and mini-tracts.

(Janus Consulting was also listed as a winner for its participation in the Orange survey.)

In its awards citation, Docomomo wrote:

“The Survey Award of Excellence is given for the Preserving Eichler Neighborhoods project in Palo Alto, California and Orange, California. After World War II, developer Joseph Eichler offered middle-class Californians a slice of the ‘American Dream’ with high-style, modernist, suburban homes at affordable prices.

The neighborhood of Faircourt in Palo Alto is one where some neighbors sought, but failed to secure, a zoning change to protect against larger homes. Neighborhood discord tied to the issue led to the development of guidelines. Photo by Dave Weinstein

“What Eichler offered was rare – tract homes designed by notable, talented architects like Anshen & Allen, Jones & Emmons, and Claude Oakland.

“The Preserving Eichler Neighborhoods project sought to address the questions of how the ‘American Dream’ has aged in this context and how to manage that change.

“Although the two cities face different challenges regarding housing, critical to both efforts was giving residents opportunities to voice their opinion and to shape the approach from their input. Page & Turnbull’s historians and designers hosted community-wide educational workshops in both cities to seek the residents’ views and priorities and test options for acceptable changes.

“They tailored additional efforts, such as walking tours, formation of an advisory committee, online surveys and more, to each city.

“The result was two documents offering a range of approaches, enabling the communities to manage change while preserving the essence of their Eichler neighborhoods.

Attendees of the California Preservation Conference toured the Eichler neighborhood of Greenmeadow in 2018, with preservation much on their minds. Photo by Dave Weinstein

“The jury was impressed by the robust community engagement element and dynamism of the project. Jury chair Peyton Hall hailed it as a ‘broad, deep effort that adds up to a very significant educational, regulatory, and practical impact on livable modernism for real people in real neighborhoods.’”

It’s interesting that these similar efforts to provide protection for Eichler neighborhoods began in very different ways in each city.

In Palo Alto, the decision to pursue guidelines came after neighbors fought and sometimes lost battles with homeowners who sought to tear down their Eichlers and replace them with larger, out-of-character homes – or remodel them by adding a second story.

In Orange, which is not part of Silicon Valley, no such threats loomed. Instead, people in the three tracts decided to seek protection before it was too late. An effort is also underway to put these neighborhoods on the National Register of Historic Places.

Docomomo says of the winner, “These projects highlight the best in preservation practice by today’s architects, designers, and preservation professionals, for modern sites, landscapes, and beyond.”

John Lautner's concrete shell Silvertop house has been restored and its restoration recognized with an award. Photo by Tim Street-Porter

Other winners include the Gateway Arch Museum in Saint Louis, an original design by Eero Saarinen and landscape architect Dan Kiley; preservation of the Isami Enomoto Labor Murals in Hawaii; and an incredible home designed by John Lautner in Los Angeles, Silvertop.

About the restoration of Silvertop, by Bestor Architecture, Docomomo writes: “One of the most technically and structurally innovative houses in the world, Silvertop is a touchstone in the evolution of architectural design.”

“The brilliant restoration of the sculptural house Lautner built on a difficult and spectacular site has brought back to life the ingenious mechanisms imagined by the architect,” jury member Jean-Louis Cohen wrote. “Under the innovative pre-stressed concrete vault, the original finishes have been kept, the warm wood paneling allowing an astonishing engineering achievement to be at the same time a homely retreat – a mansion in the sky of Los Angeles.”

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