Eichlers Bring Class to an East Bay City

The city of Concord is drawing public attention to its three tracts of well-preserved Eichler homes so the city can share in some of their appeal to hipsters and techies. Photos by Dave Weinstein

For years this sprawling East Bay suburb not far from Mt. Diablo has been better known for its working-class roots, excellent taquerias, the Concord Naval Weapons Station, and its historic homes and commercial buildings, many of them rooted in its Spanish Colonial past, than for daring modern aesthetics.

Back in 1989, when the city let artist Gary Rieveschl install immense, angled aluminum 'spirit poles' in the median of a busy street, the town erupted in anguished protest. Town leaders later removed them, citing safety.

Today, however, the city has turned to a true modernist icon to bring attention – and hip, younger, professional residents – to their town. Eichler homes.

Google 'Concord Vibe,' the name for Concord’s hip marketing campaign, and see listed as among the city’s top attractions, 'Eichler home communities.'

The Concord Vibe website shows an Eichler interior and exterior as part of its drive to portray Concord as a hip and attractive place.

Others? 'Global' cuisine, craft breweries, “more than 1,080 acres of open space for hiking and biking,” free downtown movies and music, the Six Flags Hurricane Harbor amusement park, and “urban barbershops.”

Urban barbershops?

They also mention two BART stations and Concord's own airport.

“By Concord Vibe I mean, what’s going on in Concord? What are the fun things in Concord?” says Pedro Garcia, the city economic development official who developed the campaign, which debuted January 2017.

“We wanted to focus on things that shed a different light on the city of Concord,” he says. “The Eichlers definitely fall into that category. Eichlers are very trendy. They have always been a fun housing option. But they have always been in the shadows here in Concord.”

Concord has three neighborhoods of particularly well preserved Eichler homes that are inhabited by particularly enthusiastic owners. They are among the lowest priced Eichlers you can find in the Bay Area.

If Concord wants to play up its mid-century modern bonafides, it could look also to several outstanding examples of civic and commercial architecture, including Concord City Hall, from 1966 and designed by Ernest Kump.

The Eichlers of Concord are not absolutely front and center in this economic development campaign. They are not, or not yet, featured on postcards the way the Victorian houses on Alamo Park serve as icons of San Francisco. But the Eichlers are pictured on the Concord Vibe website, and seen in a rather convincing promotional video, where Eichlers can be seen just over two minutes in.

It’s great to see the wider world – not just mid-century modern mavens – seeing and promoting the value of Eichler homes. Could this be a turning point, a time when mid-century modern gains mainstream acceptance? A time when skeptics stop seeing the style as a transient fad?

We’ll see. If so that’s another accomplishment Concord can claim – to be on top of this changing mindset.

The Concord Library was designed by Donald Powers Smith, 1959.

Garcia says he reached out to Eichler owners to get their buy-in. "We talked to them and let them know they were going to be part of the Concord Vibe," he says. Hunter Wimmer, an owner and Eichler blogger, agreed to have his home shown as part of the campaign.

The Eichlers, Garcia says, appeal to the sorts of people Concord hopes to attract, to live, work, and start businesses in town, “young people, Millennials, people with top buying power who are looking to buy homes and start families.”

“What we’re trying to do is not necessarily compete with the city of San Francisco or the city of Oakland, but just to show that Concord has the same urban amenities,” Garcia says.

Of course, as there are only 187 Eichlers in town, demand may exceed supply if folks flock to Concord seeking mid-century modern living.

In which case, buyers can go to the adjacent town, Walnut Creek. But, you know, Walnut Creek has long been awash with the sort of panache Concord is currently seeking.

“People think of Walnut Creek when they think of the East Bay,” Garcia says. “We want them to think of Concord as well.”

Maybe the city should encourage the developer who plans to turn the former weapons station into new neighborhoods to include some modern home tracts there. The overall planning scheme rivals in scope San Francisco's Hunters Point redevelopment.

Garcia notes that the Concord Vibe campaign has shown much success, with greater interest in Concord, and new companies moving to town – including a restaurant from South Korea.

This classy Eichler can be found in the tract Rancho del Diablo -- an iconic image that says 'Concord.'

Concord Vibe kicked off its campaign with a launch party that drew 200 people and a release of a special Concord beer in January 2017. On its second go-around it drew 400. In the works next is a comedy show at the VIP Terrace of Concord Pavilion.

(The Pavilion, by the way, is a startling sight, and an early work by Frank Gehry.)

Todos Santos Plaza, where the brews festival happens, has been a popular family gathering spot for several decades now (especially since the adjacent porno film theater closed in the 1980s) for families and singles in the heart of the city’s historic downtown. Every Thursday this summer features a market and live music, and Tuesday evening features blues concerts.

“The city is definitely a hub right now,” Garcia says, “for families to come and enjoy our parks, our downtown.”

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