How Saratoga Eichlers Keep Their Looks

The Eichlers of Saratoga display much historic integrity throughout the tract. But only this home has been deemed historic. Photo by Dave Weinstein

In recent years some neighborhoods of Eichler homes on the Peninsula have become -- well, 'war zones' is too strong a term. So let’s just call them places of contention. That’s why it is a pleasure to visit the compact, 35-home development that we profile in ‘Pride Runs Deep,’ an article that appears in the new winter ’18 issue of CA-Modern magazine, which goes into the mail January 15.

In Palo Alto, Atherton, and Sunnyvale, new owners have come in with plans for demolition or massive alterations, setting off opposing forces to preserve neighborhood aesthetics and privacy, resulting in planning efforts to achieve that aim.

The Eichlers of Saratoga have seen none of that. Instead, they made the news this fall for something very positive. One of the homes in the tract, owned by Keith Hendley and Misa Miyahara at 19277 Shubert Drive, was declared historic by the city of Saratoga. The city declared, moreover, that the home also would qualify for state historic status.

The home “exemplifies or reflects special elements of the cultural, social, economic, political, aesthetic, engineering, or architectural history of Saratoga,” the report stated, also stating that:

“It embodies distinctive characteristics of a style, type, period, or method of construction, or is a valuable example of the use of indigenous materials”; and “It is representative of the notable design or craft of a builder, designer, or architect.”

In assessing how historic the homes in the tract remain, planners looked at broad outlines but also such details as doorknobs, as illustrated in the survey document. Courtesy of the city of Saratoga

The home “appears eligible for the California Register of Historic Resources,” the report said. Being listed on the local inventory also means the owners can seek designation under the state Mills Act, which provides a tax break to owners of historic properties who take advantage of the funding to improve and maintain their buildings.

The award is a tribute to the home’s current owners, whose modifications to the home were judged consistent with the original style and admirable by the city official who put together the historic report, and by the city panel that approved it, the Heritage Preservation Commission.

It is also a tribute to the original owner, Kenji Matsuda, who owned the home from when it was new, 1965, to 2005. Although Matsuda added 576 square feet of living space, he did so in a way that preserved the home’s character and look.

But what’s truly remarkable is that the Matsuda home, as it is called by the city, does not stand out from its neighbors for its architectural integrity. Any number of other houses could have qualified – if the owners had sought out the distinction.

Out of the 35 homes built by Joe Eichler here, only two on a visit in recent months no longer looked like Eichlers – and one was on its way to a renovation to make it more in keeping with the style.

The plan for the historic Saratoga Eichler shows an unusual aspect -- an atrium that is entirely surrounded by interior rooms. Several homes in Saratoga share this plan. Courtesy of the city of Saratoga

Adding the home to the city’s Heritage Resources Inventory was the idea, surprisingly perhaps, of the Heritage Preservation Commission. “Part of the duties of the Heritage Preservation Commission is to add resources to the inventory,” senior planner Sung Kwon says.

Commission member Alexandra Nugent and Kwon walked the neighborhood seeking out potential historic homes. "That was one of the better ones,” Kwon says of 19277 Shubert, while adding that any number of other Eichlers would also qualify as historic.

“The homeowners were very excited about it,” he said.

Keith Hendley says as soon as he got the suggestion from the city to add his home to the historic list, "I wanted to sign up right away."

"I have a feeling that the city of Saratoga, they were seeing all the other cities in the Bay Area that have Eichlers, and all the excitement about them," Hendley says. "They looked in their own city and saw an Eichler neighborhood here and thought, what can we do to build on that."

Asked why a historic district was not proposed for the whole tract, Kwon says, “That would have to be initiated by the homeowners.”

Being on the inventory restricts certain changes to the home’s exterior. “Anything that requires a building permit would have to go before the heritage commission,” Kwon says. That would involve changes in siding, adding windows, and the like, but not repainting.

“We would make sure the style of the house is not being changed,” Kwon says.

The Eichlers of Saratoga have some of the larger homes in the Eichler oeuvre, many 2,400 square feet, and some of the grander plans. Designs are by Claude Oakland.

The Saratoga Eichler neighborhood is filled with lovely gardens, and many gardeners add to the streetscape. Here, Saratoga Eichler owners Lloyd Binen and Liz Owen are surrounded by plantings. Photo by Sabrina Huang

The Matsuda home is a gallery model, House Plan #674, according to the city’s 18-page historic report.

The report, prepared by Alexandra Nugent of the heritage commission, suggests how a home can be modified and still retain its historic value -- if the work is properly done.

“The wood and stone block wall at the left front yard was added in 2015, replacing the original wood fencing,” she wrote in the report. “The horizontal lines of the wall and materials are consistent with the style of the front of the home and the mid-century, Eichler design.”

Nugent appreciates the retention of original details, focusing on, among other things, the door knob.

“The door knob is surrounded by what was known as a ‘Saturn’ escutcheon plate, also favored by the architect and builder,” she writes. “A simple, original black metal and frosted, white glass 'globe lamp.' used on many Eichler homes, provides illumination at the entry door.

She praises the current owners for the landscaping. (Throughout the neighborhood, landscaping tends to be beautifully done.)

“The recent contemporary landscape visible in the front [of the home] is noted because it connects successfully with the simplicity of the home,” Nugent writes.

For more on Saratoga’s Eichlers, don't miss ‘Pride Runs Deep,’ a sneak preview of the new winter ’18 issue of CA-Modern magazine.

Keep in touch with the Eichler Network. SUBSCRIBE to our free e-newsletter