Fairglen Additions Aims for the Register

Enough homes in San Jose's Fairglen Additions 1, 2, 3 retain enough of their original looks to qualify the neighborhood as historic, proponents of placement on the National Register say. Neighborhood photos by Dave Weinstein

It may not be easy to put a neighborhood of Joe Eichler homes on the National Register. But it’s a lot easier if you’re working with a place like San Jose’s Fairglen Additions, where architect Sally Zarnowitz determined that a remarkable 204 of 218 original homes retain enough of their original looks.

That says something about the people who have been living in them and loving them since the neighborhood was completed in 1961.

'Fairglen Additions No. 1, 2, and 3,' which is seeking National Register placement, is bordered by Curtner and Fairwood avenues to the north, Booksin Avenue to the east, Andalusia Way to the south, and Briarwood Drive to the west.

At least two other nearby Eichler tracts have 'Fairglen' in their names, but they are not part of this nomination. Asked why the effort was limited to Fairglen Additions 1,2, 3 and not to other Fairglen tracts, Zarnowitz said, "It's our neighborhood and we decided to start here."

In past coverage of the neighborhood, the Eichler Network has often simply called Fairglen Additions 1, 2, 3 'Fairglen,' as have others.

A map from the nomination shows streets in the tract, and indicates which homes contribute or do not contribute to the historical integrity of the place.

Being placed on the National Register of Historic Places (which comes along with placement on the California Register of Historical Resources) does not bring with it regulations on what people can do with their homes. That sort of thing could come from local government.

But being on the National Register is a major honor – and a reminder to local officials, and to homeowners and buyers of these homes, that these Eichlers are important historic and architectural wonders.

What’s happening in San Jose is important for another reason too. It could be the start of something big – other Eichler neighborhoods elsewhere achieving similar recognition.

Ah, but that’s what fans of the iconic mid-century modern homes thought would be achieved 13 years ago, back in 2005 when the ‘Historic Quest Committee’ worked to successfully place two Palo Alto Eichler tracts, Greenmeadow and Green Gables, on the federal and state registries. The hope was that other tracts would soon follow.

But for some reason it never happened. It takes time, for one thing, research, and building support among neighbors.

Several other Eichler neighborhoods are eyeing National Register designation, including Pomeroy Green in Santa Clara, and three neighborhoods in the Southern California city of Orange. In Davis, neighbors are working to give historic status to a wonderful tract of modern homes by the Streng Brothers.

According to the nomination, this home has experienced "siding alterations [stone]," but still qualifies as a contributing structure.

Zarnowitz is part of a group of neighbors, the Fairglen Neighborhood Preservation Committee, who have filed the nomination with the state’s Office of Historic Preservation. The state’s Historic Resources Commission determines whether nominations are worthy, and forwards their decision to the National Park Service, which almost always follows the state’s recommendation.

The Commission is scheduled to consider the nomination at its February 1 meeting in Sacramento, which is open to the public.

The nomination for Fairglen goes into great detail about each of the 13 house models there, discusses the architects, the circulation, the plantings. It notes that Eichler’s plan to build a community center and pool, mentioned in contemporary news accounts, never came to pass.

Zarnowitz also writes of the general integrity of the neighborhood.

“Although alterations, including changes to roof forms and second-story additions, have been made to individual homes over the years, the area as a whole continues to exhibit significant character-defining features of postwar housing tract construction, and the individual homes continue to exhibit significant character-defining features of modern residential architecture as viewed from the street; retaining integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.”

A page from the nomination includes photos that suggest the history of the neighborhood.

“The majority of the altered homes retain the primary features of the original home designs, and all of the alterations are either compatible or reversible,” she writes, later in the document.

“The Fairglen Additions subdivision retains integrity of location, design, setting, materials, and workmanship, and continues to convey its historic postwar development patterns and mid-century modern design. It therefore retains integrity of feeling.”

The nomination makes the case for the tract’s inclusion on the National Register: “The Fairglen Additions subdivision is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places at the local level of significance under criterion C.”

(Category C requires that a place “embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction or represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values, or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components lack individual distinction.”)

“The subdivision represents a significant and distinguishable mid-century modern postwar housing tract by master builder Joseph Eichler,” Zarnowitz writes. “While the houses may not meet criterion C individually, in its totality, the subdivision is a distinctive example of its type and conveys a sense of its time.”

Homes in the tract do show some significant, indeed unfortunate changes, including added attics. Nonetheless, some of these remodeled homes are seen as contributing structures.

Getting Fairglen onto the National Register will be a tribute not just to Eichler and his architects and to Zarnowitz and others who worked with her, but to the people in Fairglen who over the years have treasured their homes.

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