Eichler Owner Uses Books to Unify Two Planets

Susan
Susan Price-Jang has stocked the Little Free Library with books that will appeal to Spanish-speaking children. Photo by Victor Jang

A 'Little Free Library' may be little but its impact can be large, as shown by a recent free book box in an Eichler neighborhood whose goal is to unite two different planets that exist side by side.

Susan Price-Jang, who’s lived in two different Eichler homes in the San Jose neighborhood of Rose Glen since 1986, has tried for years to bring together folks from the middle-class neighborhood of single-family houses with poorer folks from the nearby apartments that are also part of Rose Glen.

Her Little Free Library, part of a worldwide movement to distribute books on a 'take-one - add-one if you care' strategy, is filled largely with books in Spanish aimed at kids.

“The goal was to get to children in the local apartment complex, where most of the families speak Spanish to enjoy books,” Susan says. “I had learned from the librarian at our new library, Bascom Community Center and Library, that Spanish-language children’s books were not being checked out as expected. So I fill it with children’s books, often in Spanish, which I buy at the Book Nook at our library.”

Bike
'The Lost Eichlers' are a lively neighborhood, as Jimmy Dresbach's quirky vehicle suggests. Photo by Susan Price-Jang

“And I decorated a chair donated by a neighbor so that people could site down and look at the books,” she adds.

“My neighbor over the back fence, Bob Slater, a retired woodworking teacher from the local high school, built [the library] for me and tried to design it to look like an Eichler,” Susan says.

Susan once worked as a family advocate at the local elementary school, Sherman Oaks, working closely with Latino students and mastering Spanish. “It’s kind of funny,” she says. “The school is, what, about 73 percent Latino. The Latinos live in apartments that are all around us. This is one geographic area with two different planets.”

“I just want to pull people out,” she says, “and get them to meet each other.”

Bob
Bob Slater constructed the Little Free Library. Photo by Susan Price-Jang

“As a result of the Little Free Library, I am getting to know more people in my neighborhood, especially mothers of children, both English- and Spanish-speaking,” she says.

“I also encourage visitors to the Little Free Library to give me their e-mail address if they have one so that I can send them an invitation to join our neighborhood e-list, Nextdoor Rose Glen. So far we have 131 members; last summer it was only 30.”

Rose Glen, with three blocks of Eichlers from 1952 and 1953, is a neighborhood in transition, Susan says. “We call ourselves the Lost Eichlers because no one writes about us,” she says. “We are pre-atrium Eichlers.”

“The neighborhood is kind of turning over,” she says. “The houses are going for what is for us huge sums of money—$750,000, $760,000.”

There’s a Google bus stop nearby, she says. “Young people are starting families. They work for LinkedIn, high-tech companies in Mountain View.”

Chair
The chair used by browsers and readers is in itself a work of art. Photo by Susan Price-Jang

Susan throws periodic neighborhood gatherings so newcomers can meet oldtimers. One coming up will have a '50s theme, she says. One neighbor recently found an original sales brochure for the neighborhood, which will be on display.

“We would like to celebrate the Eichlers and also the community itself,” she says.

“Many of the original owners were professors and instructors at both San Jose State University and San Jose City College who could not buy elsewhere because they were people of color or Jewish,” she says.

Price-Jang has helped revive the Rose Glen Neighborhood Association. It covers between 900 to 1,000 households in both single-family homes and apartments.

Ongoing community building efforts include creating a playground on school property through Kaboom, a national nonprofit that helps local groups create play opportunities for kids, especially poor kids.

“The local school district has closed its playgrounds to the public because they’re afraid of vandalism,” Susan says, but adds, “The superintendent said we can have a grassy area outside of the school yard on the corner.”

“If you raise money and volunteers with Kaboom,’ she says he told volunteers, “it can be on school property, and we will do the maintenance.”

Garden
Neighbor Charles Crowder is proud of his garden, with its many water conserving native plants. Photo by Susan Price-Jang

Helping out are the Sharks Foundation of the San Jose Sharks; many local volunteers, including some from the Eichler homes; and the Sunnyvale Moose lodge, which will cook for volunteers when they build the playground this month. Susan is recruiting volunteers and seeking donations of food.

 

If that’s not enough, she’s part of an ongoing effort spearheaded by the Responsible Landlords Engagement Initiative to get landlords to clean up and repair the apartments and get rid of criminals who inhabit some apartments. “There was a chop shop in the neighborhood,” she says.

While some local landlords are responsible, she says, “Some owners are plain, outright slumlords.”

“It’s kind of busy,” Susan says of her life these days.

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