Halloween Brightens Up the Neighborhood

Although none of the neighborhoods visited a week before Halloween in the East Bay had significant concentrations of decorated homes, there were enough to capture that spooky spirit. Photos by Dave Weinstein

Is there a war on Halloween? The author of this blog just returned from the remote Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, where, among the big news stories, was the banning of the holiday by a local school district.

Officials said Halloween promoted a religion. They didn’t specify what religion.

People on the left who love the holiday, meanwhile, blame people on the right – fundamentalist Evangelists – for ganging up on all things having to do with goblins and witches.

People on the right who love the holiday in turn blame politically correct Lefties for going after anyone who dares to dress up as a person from a different culture, like an American Indian. Or a pirate.

This unnerving display, as well as the one above, can be spotted in Walnut Creek's Rancho San Miguel.

And this season, with a rash of sightings of 'scary clowns,' who sometimes have tried to accost little children, parents might have another reason for forsaking costumes.

Can it be that Halloween trick-or-treaters will soon be a relic of the mid-century, like phone booths or LPs?

To absorb what remains of the Halloween spirit, drive through your mid-century modern neighborhood or neighboring ‘hoods. People who live in Eichler tracts have often made the spooky holiday special, using it as another way of connecting with neighbors.

Over the years we have run into many Eichler owners who have treasured Halloween traditions, including Liz Doherty, whose home is in the Southern California Eichlers of Thousand Oaks. In her case, as in the homes of many, the atrium becomes focus for scary times.

“We haunt our atrium every Halloween time,” she told us. “The water element becomes a bubbling cauldron [dry ice], creepy pictures of dead relatives on the walls, cobwebs, spooky lighting, the plant beds become a mini-cemetery.”

Also in Rancho San Miguel is this display. The skulls are only one part of an ensemble that fills most of the home's front.

Liz would invite neighbors to stop by, and sometimes attracted up to 40 people, mostly young. “We usually have one kid crying by the end of the evening.  Good times!”

“The atrium is really handy [for Halloween décor] because you can put all your stuff in there,” Liz said. “You don’t have to worry about your stuff walking off.”

In San Mateo, as in many Eichler and other modern tracts, pumpkin-carving parties and adult and family get-togethers are common. For years people in San Mateo’s 19th Avenue Park would celebrate with communal carvings of the pumpkin.

For many years Halloween events have been a tradition in Rancho San Miguel, the Eichler enclave in Walnut Creek. John Dark, who grew up in the neighborhood, recalled 60 children all in costumes parading down the street. “It was just adorable,” he said.

A jolly pumpkin invites entry to this home in Concord's Eichler neighborhood of Rancho de los Santos.

Undoubtedly the best-known pumpkin carver who lived in an Eichler home was the late artist Matt Kahn, a longtime professor at Stanford and a close associate of Joe Eichler.

For years Matt (and wife Lyda) decorated Eichler model homes, often installing his own art and art by other artists to make the point that Eichlers are truly creative spaces.

As part of one of his innovative courses, Matt would have his students carve pumpkins for Halloween. Many would be displayed in front of the Eichler home he inhabited on the Stanford campus.

The Halloween display was “a sight that must be seen to be believed!,” Stanford noted when it recognized Kahn for “distinguished teaching and service to Stanford University” in 2010.

Mark Fuller, one of Matt’s students and later founder of WET Design (it stands for "water entertainment technology, and produces fabulous water displays"), said that what Matt and his students produced was as “if [expressionist architect Antoni] Gaudi did pumpkins.”

An invading arthropod proves entertaining back in Rancho San Miguel.

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