Has Covid Changed Eichler Life Forever?

Court party
Neighbors gather on a court in the Mountain View neighborhood originally called Grandview. The pandemic-born tradition, part of what could be a trend towards more street-facing activities in modern neighborhoods, continues even as the pandemic eases. Courtesy of Anne-France Fricker

As Covid-19 began spreading in the spring of 2020, folks living in mid-century modern neighborhoods adapted, sometimes in ways that changed the way their homes functioned vis-à-vis the outside world.

Eichler homes, known for their inner focus – with family and friends in fenced backyards, hidden atriums, or interiors that lack windows onto the street – were suddenly opening themselves to the street.

In many modern neighborhoods, including the Alliance homes of Terra Linda in Marin, and the Streng modern homes of Elk Grove, residents began partying with neighbors in the streets – socially distanced of course. In Castro Valley there was a drive-by birthday celebration for a young girl.

Closed facade
The typical Eichler presents what some see as a forbidding face to passersby, with little hint of what the people inside are up to. This home is in Palo Alto’s Fairmeadow subdivision. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Artists and craftspeople decorated home exteriors to entertain neighbors – encouraging them to walk and enjoy – and wave to neighbors with whom they once gathered in close quarters.

Some people, confined to working from home, turned outward, working not in home or backyard offices, but in their street-facing garages with doors wide open.

Designer Virginia Gutiérrez Porter, who lives in a Palo Alto Eichler, has been creating beautiful and meditative beaded canvases in her garage while greeting neighbors who walked by.

Yaar Schnitman, a Google programmer who lives in a Mountain View Eichler, has taken to working from the office in his garage. “I work well,” he has said, “waving and talking with the neighbors as they walk their dogs.”

“I see people running in their garages. and working in their garages,” says Anne-France Fricker, who lives in the same neighborhood. “With the doors open you can see them and talk with them.”

House concert
House concerts have returned to a Castro Valley Eichler home, but only out of doors and with limited attendance. Courtesy of Dennis and Renée Hermosa

Are Eichlers changing from a focus on interior privacy to greater orientation to the street? Maybe just a little. Still, architect and Mountain View Eichler owner Joyce Yin notes the importance of turning inwards to the Eichler design.

“It’s very solid in front,” she says of an Eichler. “Eichlers open to our own personal, private space. There is very little relationship between the houses and the front yard, the street.

“If you imagine homes with porches, from the street you see the porches and people spending time on the front porches. You have a communal space in front, and front windows. It’s a different mindset.”

In the Alliance homes, resident Kristi Fish says, neighbors have dropped the early pandemic tradition of outdoor social gatherings, as fear of the virus has eased and more people “have one another over for dinner for more intimate food, sharing, and conversations.”

Artist in garage
Virginia Gutiérrez Porter started creating bead-bedecked canvasses during the pandemic, working in her garage with door open to see and be seen by neighbors. Photo by Dave Weinstein

“In my little circle there has been a return of simpler activities like card games and puzzles,” she says, “something that is both meditative and stimulating and that you can do alone or in groups.”

Another change caused by the pandemic, she says, has been increased attention to home and yard improvements as people spent more time at home, both living and working.

“Some of our neighbors started working from home in garages, backyards, patios, even bedrooms with the faux office backgrounds and made it work. A few built small offices in their backyards to separate their work life a bit,” she says.

Walking through one’s neighborhood has always been a popular way to socialize. In the Greenridge Eichler development of Castro Valley, Dennis Hermosa says, “I have noticed more people walking in the neighborhood, even those without dogs. I hope that continues.”

The Americana folk music house concerts he and his wife Renee halted once Covid hit have started back again, “but with a limited number of attendees. We haven't done any indoor concerts, and probably won't resume them in the foreseeable future. Our homes and climate are perfect for outdoor entertaining most of the year.”

Jean-Philippe and Anne-France Fricker got into diving thanks to encouragement from neighbors who talked-up the activity during outdoor gatherings. Courtesy of Anne-France Fricker

In one Mountain View neighborhood, the pandemic-born tradition of curbside entertaining does appear to be permanent – or at least it hasn’t stopped yet, says Anne-France Fricker. 

“At first we all sat far away,” she says of the gatherings, which she started at the onset of the pandemic. “Now we are close.”

“Fewer people are coming to our gatherings because they are doing other things, things they couldn’t do before,” she says.

The regular get-togethers have been a way for neighbors in a tight-knit neighborhood to get to know each other much better than before the pandemic, Anne-France says. She says she and her husband, Jean-Philippe Fricker, were already tied to several neighbors due to a Swiss connection.

The Frickers are Swiss, and two nearby American couples had lived in Switzerland. Among them are C.W. Hobbs and Stephen Carney. Chatting with them during pandemic sidewalk parties led the Frickers to new adventures.

“C.W. and Steve were divers,” Anne-France says. “I was interested in diving, my husband not at all. We talked to them about diving, and they gave us advice, where to take diving classes.” Since then, she says, “We’ve gone diving in Monterey and even took a diving trip to Tahiti.”


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