Eichler Tour Will Benefit Preservation

Fairglen neighbors will open several of their homes to outsiders as part of a San Jose preservation tour. Photos by Dave Weinstein

What does it take for an Eichler neighborhood to win public attention? Well, being placed on the National Register of Historic Places just might do it.

The largest chunk of Fairglen, 218 homes built between 1959 and 1961, was officially added to the National Register in June, after neighbors worked for more than a year researching the area’s history, attesting to its architectural integrity, and winning community support.

Now the wider architectural preservation community of San Jose is responding by scheduling a tour of several homes in the tract, both to mark Fairglen’s success, and to support efforts at preservation throughout this booming city.

“That the neighbors got together to put their neighborhoods on the National Register, we’re celebrating their success,” says Patt Curia, events chair person of the Preservation Action Council of San Jose, which is producing the tour.

In February, Fairglen resident Peter Hurd asked the state Historic Resources Commission to approve Fairglen's National Register application. They did, and the keeper of the register approved the move in early June.

The 'Eichler homes tour -- Fairglen Additions National Register Celebration,' which includes three homes and one very special garage, takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, August 17.

Tickets for PAC members and residents of the neighborhood are $15. Others pay $20. The group advises people to buy them quickly, as there is a limit of 400.

“Please no children under 13,  black soled shoes or heels,” PAC warns.

All the homes are on Fairwood Avenue, where there will also be a Mid Century Modern Pop Up Shop, featuring furnishings and more. The shop is open to non-ticket holders too. Attendees will receive a commemorative brochure with “a map of the district with Eichler models identified.”

“Spend the morning touring the district, shopping for mid-century items at the PAC*SJ Boutique and hear the story behind this enclave of over 200 Eichler homes,” PAC suggests.

“It’s easy walking distance,” Curia says of the tour, noting that shade trees will keep things cool for visitors.

Touring Eichler homes is a great way to meet other fans of the architecture and lifestyle in homey settings. This is a home that was recently on the market in Fairglen

It will be a busy day and night on Fairwood Avenue. Starting around 4 p.m. the neighbors will celebrate what is usually a friends- and neighbors-only block party.

But this year, Bill Pfahnl says, folks from the PAC tour are invited to stop by "to experience the full Fairglen experience."

The idea for the tour came about as PAC organizers wanted to do something to celebrate the National Register victory, Curia says.

“We asked: can we help you celebrate by bringing some outsiders in to this wonderful neighborhood?”

Andre Luthard, president of PAC, says, “We decided we could partner with them and piggyback on their event to do our own home tour.”

The block party, which has been celebrated in this tightly knit neighborhood for decades, is one of the events that brings people together. The sense of community this helped create made it easier to win consensus that being on the National Register would be a good thing, not a threat to private property rights.

Bill Pfahnl, who Pat Curia calls “the unofficial mayor” of the tract, helped find houses for the tour, along with resident Sally Zarnowitz, who wrote the Register nomination,  Curia says.

“They’re beautiful,” she says of the homes, saying that three are very original.

Another home in Fairglen. While in the neighborhood, it's worth walking several blocks. Many homes are original or nicely remodeled, though others have gotten oddball second-story additions.

One home, whose owner has put together a marvelous model railroad attraction showing Santa Clara County, will open the garage to tourists. It’s a whole ‘nother sort of local history entirely.

The Preservation Action Council has been working to save historic places in and around San Jose for decades. Funds from the Eichler tour will go to these efforts.

“We are dedicated to preserving San Jose’s architectural history,” Luthard says. “To have a really vibrant city you have to have a variety of really cool architecture, both old architecture and new architecture."

Luthard, who lives, not in an Eichler, but in Prairie-style house from 1916, says one of the major issues facing preservationists in San Jose today is in downtown, which was once neglected but these days is booming as the heart of Silicon Valley.

“The level of development in downtown San Jose is just unprecedented,” he says. “They’re building as tall as possible, 24-, 22-story buildings adjacent to historic and smaller buildings from the late 19th, early 20th century.”

More attention is being paid these days by PAC and other preservationists to mid-century modern buildings. “The mid-century period had been overlooked until pretty recently,” Luthard says.

PAC is devoting much energy to preserving – or, in a way, reconstructing – one interesting little mid-century Mecca.

San Jose preservationists hope to save what remains of the Century 21 cinema complex, which featured domed theaters, and to incorporate a classic roadside diner into the scene.

This is an area on Winchester Boulevard across the street from a very 21st century Mecca, Santana Row shopping center. Until a few years back the site housed the remarkable domed Century 21 Theaters and a Bob’s Big Boy restaurant. In recent years, the former Bob’s had operated as the Flames restaurant. Now it is shuttered.

"The theater was a city landmark but it has been vacant,” Luthard says. “We are trying to work with the developer to find potential uses for it. No results so far. We want to have the building activated.”

PAC had wanted to preserve Bob’s too, and Luthard says the developer would be happy if someone moved it from the site, which is slated for development. But the structure is partially made out of cinder block, which would be just about impossible to move.

So PAC envisions going back to the architectural firm that designed Bob’s and using still-extant plans to recreate it alongside the domed theater.

“It would be more cost effective to rebuild Bob’s and create an identical copy of the original one,” Luthard says.

Having the theater, the tall neon theater signs, and Bob’s together in one spot “could create a historic mid-century enclave,” telling the story of mid-century suburban California – or a roadside aspect of it, at least.

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