Eichlers Win Praise and “Joey” Awards

In Fairglen, neighbors build a strong sense of community and pride in their homes in several enjoyable ways -- the latest being the Joey awards for exterior improvements. Here is the first gold winner, owned by Karolina Büchner and David Ross. Photo by Karolina Büchner

“The house was not a complete eyesore,” Sam Horner says of the home he and his wife Safia Baig bought in San Jose’s Fairglen neighborhood. But it stood out – and not in a good way.

“The house had pink vinyl siding,” his neighbor Jerry Escobar recalls.

“When we started work, people would come by and ask us what we were going to do,” Sam goes on. “They would be jumping for joy when we told them we were taking off the pink siding.”

“As soon as the pink siding came off,” Sam says, “we had people celebrating in front of our house. ”

Their work also gave birth to a new tradition in a neighborhood that already has several traditions that add to a sense of community, the annual Joey Awards.

Here is what the Silver award-winning house owned by Sam Horner and Safia Baig looked like -- before it was renovated and the vinyl siding removed. Photo courtesy of Eichler Homes Realty

“Ohmigod, what a comeback!” Jerry says. “This house prompted the idea for the Joey awards.”

“You guys are so awesome,” Jerry thought. “They deserve something for this great work.”

Jerry, who has lived in Fairglen for 15 years and helps put on the annual Fairglen Block Party, came up with the idea for annual awards for “improvements that can be seen from the street.”

“Joey is named for Joe Eichler, jokingly,” says Jerry, who devised the moniker himself. Members of the 10- to 15-member block party committee, which is led by fellow neighbor Bill Pfahnl, took the awards seriously.

“We nominated homes in the past year that have done a great job of preserving and maintaining the integrity of our neighborhood. All homes that are nominated get a certificate,” Jerry says. 

This is what the Joey award-winning house looks like now. Landscaping is still to come. Photo by Sam Horner

The improvements could include painting, landscaping, and restoration.

There is a serious purpose behind the awards – guarding against bad changes to homes, encouraging sensitive restorations and renovations.

“It’s a lighthearted proactive approach to the preservation of our neighborhood,” Jerry says. “It’s to award. It’s meant to be more fun and give people credit.”

The winners of the first annual Joeys, Karolina Büchner and David Ross (gold award), and Sam and his wife Safia Baig (silver) were honored at the 16th annual block party in August.

“The winning homes get an award and two free tickets to next year’s block party. The changes are focused only on exterior improvements that can be seen from the street to improve neighborhood curb appeal,” Jerry says. Winners also get festival T-shirts – and much applause from the block party crowd.

The annual block party, which features food trucks, dancing to DJs, a dessert competition, and more, costs $15 to attend – $10 for folks 15 to 20, and free for kids under 14. Between 200 and 220 people attended.

Jerry Escobar (far left), who proposed the awards, with (L-R) winners Safia Baig and Sam Horner, festival lead organizer Bill Pfahnl, and winners Karolina Büchner and David Ross. Photo by Xavier Cohen

“I thought it would be very daunting,” Sam Horner says of the party. “But we had a great time. We stayed until the end, we met a lot of people.”

 “The neighborhood has been improving year after year,” Jerry says. “There have been a lot of [home] sales in the last year or two, and many of the new people are in tech, Apple, Google. They have really improved the neighborhood.”

Karolina and David, who bought their home in 2010, have been improving the home for several years. They repainted three years ago, going from a brown that had been dulled by the sun and looked raggedy, Karolina says, to “a very muted gray and white color scheme, with a bright door to add interest.” The door is yellow.

Then came the landscaping. The lawn had died due to the drought, which precipitated the project. The side fence was covered in part by droopy, dying ivy. Working with the San Francisco landscaping firm Boxleaf Design, they came up with a design to complement the architecture of their home, Karolina says.

The annual barbecue is a great opportunity for young and old to get together. Here, two young children enjoy the landscaping. Photo by Brian Strong

It includes agaves, and a little retaining wall of stacked cinder block with a mid-century look, the sort of thing that Karolina and David had noticed elsewhere in their neighborhood and appreciated.

“It’s really nice to be acknowledged for our work on the house. I was really conscious in doing the landscape design to achieve something that suited the house and would not be too over the top,” Karolina says. “We wanted it to fit the house and fit the neighborhood. It’s nice to be acknowledged, that we got something right.”

“Some Eichler renovations don't fit the style of the home.”

 “Hopefully this will inspire others,” she adds.

Sam and Safia, who moved into their home just nine months ago, began work almost as soon as they moved in. That’s something most preservation-minded people advise against, of course, because often newcomers to Eichlers make changes to the original fabric they later regret.

A raffle seller worked the crowd during the annual block party. Photo by Brian Strong

But that wasn’t an issue here.

“The goal was to bring [the home] back to how it was originally,” Sam says. “We got a lot of advice from people with knowledge about how to replace the siding, to paint, to do the roof. The goal was taking the house back to the high quality that it was.”

“We didn’t feel there was anything different we could do to make it better.”

Sam tells the tale of how he discovered the sort of house he wanted to live in, just by seeing an example of a nice Eichler home. Safia too had that experience and that revelation, and on the very same day. She mentioned to Sam she found the sort of house for them. "Is the home you like an Eichler?" Sam asked her.

You can guess the answer. They searched for 18 months before buying their home in Fairglen.

Their new home was largely intact when they arrived, complete with interior mahogany walls. A few dropped ceilings in the bedrooms had already been removed on the sage advice of the seller’s real estate broker.

The partying continued into the night with dancing, food, and festivities. Photo by Xavier Cohen

Besides removing the vinyl siding, Sam and Safia removed and are replacing the overgrown garden. Sam says it was hard to get the siding just right. But they had a great contractor and, he says, “We are very happy with it.”

“We understand the [Eichler] communities, and the people, and how attached they are to these houses,” Sam says.

He adds: “It’s good to see that everybody living in these houses are interested in the house itself. It’s not just a house, it’s an art piece.”

All in all, then, the first annual awards turned out to be a win-win, with the neighborhood looking better and the recent renovators proud to be acknowledged. But what would Mr. Eichler have thought about being called 'Joey'?

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