How Joe Eichler Sent Out the Hounds

Think you know a lot about Eichler Homes? Even if you do, an exhibit at the Los Altos History Museum will teach you much more -- including the story behind this unusual looking dog. Photos by Dave Weinstein, courtesy of the Los Altos History Museum

After writing about Joe Eichler and the 11,000 modern homes he constructed for well over a decade now, you might think that new revelations would be rare. And that may be, in the main. But an exhibit in Los Altos provides tempting new tidbits.

For example, it is not true that Joe Eichler’s only office buildings were one he built for his own use in Palo Alto, and a grouping that he built, including classroom and lab space, on the campus of Stanford. The exhibit shows yet another office building built by Eichler, the Los Altos Medical Center and Radiology Laboratory, designed by Jones & Emmons from 1957.

The exhibit, ‘Eichler Homes: Modernism for the Masses,” was curated by Joe’s grandson Steven Eichler and his wife Judi, with the help of coordinator Jane Reed. It continues at the Los Altos History Museum through October 8.

Coming up are two events tied to the exhibit (two other events have passed).

Steven Eichler and his wife Judi, the curators of the exhibit, at the opening.

These are:

Lucile Glessner, an interior designer with Lucile Glessner Design, talking about ‘Sustainable Solutions & Materials for the Built Environment,’ 7 p.m. Wednesday May 31. Free.

‘Eichler: His Architectural Influences, an adult iPad Workshop,’ from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 3. The workshop, led by Caroline Mustard of the Mobile Art Academy, costs $75 and require pre-registration.

"I will be focusing on green building and how to incorporate environmental practices and solutions when remodeling homes and more particularly Eichlers," Lucile Glessner says of her talk. "Thankfully, the mid-century modern vintage trend helps with repurposing and recycling of materials like the lauan paneling."

Among the many pleasures of the exhibit, which includes historical wall panels about Eichler homes, are several items from Eichler Homes Inc. that provide an almost tactile sense of being in the office along with Joe and with his longtime team.

This suggests one major benefit of collecting objects, as well as paper documentation. Objects give a sense of reality that words on paper often do not. This is why historical museums collect things, and in fact why they exist.

We see, for example, an ashtray, with blue crackling inside and a simple ochre glaze without. It was crafted by Heath. Sitting inside the ashtray is, guess what? Eichler Homes matches that look like they are ready to set aglow one of Joe’s ever-present cigars.

Even Eichler Homes matches were designed with a touch of modern artistry.

The matches are embossed with an artfully designed ‘EH’ for Eichler Homes. The ‘H’ appears to be fashioned of post and beam.

In another display case is an authentic Eichler Homes satchel made of vinyl. It is holding the Eichler Homes Service Policy that was given to new homeowners.

And as evidence that some, at least, of Joe’s original architects had an ownership stake in the company for which they worked, we see an Eichler Homes Inc. stock certificate for 10 shares made out to A. Quincy Jones.

Adding to the period flavor of the exhibit, which fills a large room in the museum, are displays of mid-century modern collectables that are not specific to Eichler or associated with his homes.

We see Russell Wright kitchen ware in all its sleek glory, Eames chairs, tables by George Nelson, and much more.

An Eichler Homes satchel contains various documentation from Eichler Homes.

But what really caught the eye of many was a simple Eichler Homes document from 1963 in one of the display cases, featuring the goofy countenance of an Afghan hound, its forepaws splayed, its jaw dropped low to reveal a protruding tongue, its eyes gazing upwards in awe, like the eyes of a saint.

This dog could have been yours!

“Be the first kid on your block to win an Eichler Watchdog. Practical, fun and a wonderful status symbol,” the copy read, under much larger type that proclaimed:

“Eichler Pick-a-Name Contest. Win an Eichler Afghan.”

It appears that Eichler Homes was preparing to publish a newsletter – and needed a name for the publication. The contest was open to owners of Eichler homes and their immediate families.

The copy went on: “Send in your entry for a name for this new publication and you stand a chance of winning an honest-to-goodness live cuddly Afghan Hound puppy – his name is Fang.”

OK, so you get to name the publication but your promised dog already has a name.

“Alert, sensitive, and probably more intelligent than your neighbors,” the promotion continues, “Fang will be given away during the month of February.”

Imagine how many dog lovers might have responded to this campaign. Woof Woof.

Architect A. Quincy Jones was an Eichler Homes investor as well as one of Eichler's chief designers.

It's not clear who originated the campaign. The idea may have come from the late Matt Kahn, says curator Jane Reed. Kahn was one of the more creative people who ever worked for Joe Eichler. But Steven Eichler notes there were other creative minds working on marketing, including Jerry Grantz and Joe's son Ned, who was Steven's father.

An artist and long-time professor at Stanford, Kahn designed interiors for Eichler model homes, provided artwork for them, taught art classes to Eichler staffers, and clearly had some influence on the look and feel of Eichler promotional materials.

It’s not clear who won the adorable Fang. Perhaps one of our current readers was the winner? If so – let us know.

And don’t miss this exhibit. The Los Altos History Museum is at 51 South San Antonio Road near beautiful downtown Los Altos and the fabulous mid-century modern city offices and library designed by Ernest Kump. The free museum is open noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays.

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