An Eichler Neighborhood Does Halloween Right

Scarey
Thousand Oaks' Eichler community knows how to celebrate Halloween. Photo by Inge Maffeo

With their clear glass walls, open plans and feeling of satisfied suburbia, Eichler homes would seem to be about as far from haunted houses as you could imagine. But not when Liz Doherty goes to work on one.

Every year for a decade now she has turned her atrium and front yard into a ghastly sort of place, the kind of place that when children are invited to enter for the purpose of trick and treating, they sometimes cannot.

“The kids just come and it freaks them out,” Doherty says with a light laugh – not a cackle.

“I’ve had kids cry. I had one kid who couldn’t get through the front door. She was just standing there crying.”

Really, though, there’s nothing sorrowful about Doherty’s neighborhood – quite the contrary.

The 100 or so Eichler homes in the city of Thousand Oaks in Ventura County are a neighborly place year round, with neighbors hiking together on a network of trails, sharing gardening tips, and recently celebrating the tract’s 50th anniversary.

Kids
It's not all shock and gore at Doherty's fright house. Princesses and angels can be found alongside witches. Courtesy of Liz Doherty

Thanks to one neighbor’s efforts, they recently built a neighborhood sign proclaiming their existence to the world.

A 50th anniversary celebration, of course, only comes around every half century. Hallowen, though, tumbles by every year. The people in the Thousand Oaks Eichlers do not let it tumble by.

“About half the neighborhood does something [for Halloween],” Doherty says. “One woman put up a decoration in front yard. She sat next to it dressed like a witch, and kids had to come up to her to get treats. She looked creepy.”

Doherty, who raised two girls in the neighborhood, Edie and Lucy, both of whom are sneaking up on adulthood, describes some of the changes that have occurred in their atrium year after year.

“We haunt our atrium every Halloween time. The water element becomes a bubbling cauldron,” thanks to dry ice, she says, “creepy pictures of dead relatives on the walls, cobwebs, spooky lighting, the plant beds become a mini-cemetery. I’ve invested a couple thousand in Halloween decorations at this point.”

“The front yard becomes a graveyard and one year I had a pumpkin patch,” she says, noting that her neighbor to the side had real pumpkins growing in their yard.

Ghastly
Eichlers can take on a ghastly aspect, as Doherty makes clear. Courtesy of Liz Doherty

“The biggest one we ever had, one year, we actually had a costume competition and the kids all voted, and we had prizes and games. Then everyone went around the neighborhood trick or treating.”

“We had a neighbor around the corner showing movies on the garage door, ‘Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy’ or something like that.” The neighbor set up lawn chairs and anyone could watch.

Also huge Halloween fanatics are Erik and Debbie Miller and their sons Ethan and twins Sawyer and Griffin. The Millers are among the earliest to hang up their decorations because the boys can’t wait. And the day after Halloween Sawyer enjoys shopping for décor at a discount, for next year.

“Every year we try to make it a little bit different out front,” Erik says. They also decorate the atrium and the home’s interior.

In the carport are hanging skeletons and the like, and they have lights that project images of ghosts and spiders onto the walls.

To do up Halloween right, you need more than frightful noises and scary décor. You need children.

Ghosts
Halloween spooks can take on a cheery aspect as well as horrific. Photo by Inge Maffeo

“We also have enough kids in the neighborhood,” Doherty says. “There’s a good mix of demographics, from people who have lived here since the beginning to young people who want to raise kids here.”

“Trick or treating gets pretty heavy here,” Erik says, “especially the last three years now that we have more of that age group. My wife and I will split it off. I’ll walk with the kids and she stays home and hands out candy, then she walks with the kids and I hand out candy.”

Interior
Griffin Miller, a neighbor, Sean, and Sawyer Miller seem ready for anything. Courtesy of Erik Miller

To someone who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, driving through some neighborhoods today on Halloween can seem sad and unnerving, with many homes dark and without décor.

Not every neighborhood has got to celebrate the holiday like, say, Tait Avenue in Los Gatos, where several blocks turn into a veritable theme park for shock-proof kids and parents.

But a good Halloween celebration can be good for a neighborhood.

In the case of the Thousand Oaks Eichlers, though, Liz Doherty thinks it’s the other way around. The strength of community already established benfits the Halloween celebration more than the Halloween celebration benefits the community.

“The Eichlers make the neighborhood,” she says. “Everybody is kind of bonded because we all share a common love of Eichlers and the struggle of caring for the Eichlers.”

Neighbors also bond, she says, through a shared love of the out of doors and nature, habitat restoration efforts, “bringing butterflies and bees back, working on sustainable gardens.”

“There’s a commitment to the area, there’s a commitment to the neighborhood,” she says, “and I think from that stems the Halloween thing.”

Cobweb
Inside and out the Miller's Eichler takes on the Halloween spirit. Courtesy of Erik Miller.

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