Eichler Homes Win Fans in the Netherlands

A Dutch architect visits an Eichler neighborhood thanks to developer, author, and tour leader Edwin Oostmeijer. Courtesy of Edwin Oostmeijer

It’s not surprising that many people in California love Eichlers. But why are there dozens of fans in the Netherlands? Credit Edwin Oostmeijer, like Eichler a man who began building homes as a second career.

And these fans, by the way, are not just any people. They are architects, landscape architects, planners, developers, and others in the building professions, many of them highly esteemed in their fields. These include Oostmeijer, whose innovative residential schemes repeatedly win praise.

For the past five years Oostmeijer has been organizing and leading tours of modern residential architecture in the greater Bay Area, bringing in a different two dozen Dutch building professionals at a time. He calls his tour ‘The Summit,’ after Joe Eichler’s high-rise on Russian Hill.

The ambitious tours, which generally last just over a week and involve seeing buildings virtually all day every day, always include Eichler neighborhoods, often in Marin or on the Peninsula. The tours also include many other mid-century modern homes by such architects as Henry Hill, Joe Esherick, Jack Robbins, and many more.

Edwin Oostmeijer visits with the late Catherine Munson, a longtime Upper Lucas Valley resident and business woman who began her real estate career working for Eichler. Courtesy of Edwin Oostmeijer

Over the years, many of the tourists have said they gained inspiration from seeing Eichler homes.

The tours range from the South Bay to Sea Ranch in northern Sonoma County. They have often included more contemporary homes as well, and occasionally have taken in something non-residential, like St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco.

This writer has gone along on one or more segments of the tour each year as a guide, generally in Berkeley and San Francisco.

In 2009, as Oostmeijer was planning his first tour, he described his start as a developer. He had been working as a journalist.

“For me it all started with a large camouflaged German bunker in the historic centre of the city of Utrecht. The bunker had lost its purpose, and I often walked past it with my dog. Property development seemed like a serious option to me. It took eight years for all necessary permission to be granted. Twenty-seven explosions and 500 trucks were needed to remove all of the reinforced concrete from the site. We have realized apartment building 'het Bolwerk,' which has stood on the site of the old bunker since 2006.”

One of the Dutch architects takes advantage of visiting Eichler's Summit to take photos of the view. Photo by Dave Weinstein

“In 2006 I was awarded a Golden Pyramid for developing this apartment building, which is the National Prize for Inspirational Building Commissioner.” He has just been nominated for another Golden Pyramid for his project Ithaka.

As for the tour, Oostmeijer says,

“To me it all started with the book of Paul Adamson,” meaning ‘Eichler: Modernism Rebuilds the American Dream.’

“I was intrigued by the background of Mr. Eichler,” Oostmeijer says. “Like me, he did something completely different before starting developing houses.”

”The construction work of the Summit started in May 1963, the month I was born. I visited The Summit for the first time in 2008 and went to see his suburban houses in Palo Alto as well.”

Architect Don Olsen (center) discusses his work with Oostmeijer's group in the Berkeley home Olsen designed for himself and his family. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Over the years Oostmeijer, an outgoing chap who has also written and edited books on architecture, has become friends with many off the people he visits, including several Eichler owners. He became particularly close with the late Catherine Munson, a real estate broker who’d worked for Eichler in Marin.

“She was so heartwarming and enthusiastic. Over the phone we spoke about real estate and doing the garden,” he says.

“I would never have guessed that I would have organized this tour over and over,” Oostmeijer says. “But people keep asking me after they heard stories about the previous tours.

“It turned out to be a boost of inspiration -- experiencing wide-open spaces flowing from the inside out. Glass from floor to ceiling. Meeting the people in their habitat.

“It’s not only Eichler. It’s the whole context of housing and ‘framing landscapes,’ as our landscape  architects Esther Kruit and Marielle Kok put it in the book they have made after last year’s tour.

Members of the tour group read CA-Modern magazine while riding to their next stop in the East Bay. Photo by Dave Weinstein

“To us, the Bay Area is a hidden gem which reflects the optimism of the ‘fifties and ‘sixties -- light, cheerful, everything seemed possible and within hand reach.”

While Oostmeijer makes return visits to many homes every year, he is always looking for new Eichlers to visit as well.

“What I have done every year is to visit different places, and different people as well, so it’s a fresh tour for me as well,” he says. “What remains are the wonderful meetings in Palo Alto and Upper Lucas Valley. If people want to open their Eichler home to us, just let me know!”

Days of architectural touring take it out of you. Dutch architects relax in the grass at Greenwood Common, a community of modern homes in Berkeley. Photo by Dave Weinstein

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