I Resolve to be More Mid-Century Modern

As we enjoy the holiday season and think about our activities this year, many of us reflect on how we can do even better in 2018. Focusing on your neighbors and neighborhood is one possibility. These holiday lights were seen in Upper Lucas Valley. Photo by Mark Neely

Sure, you’re vowing to exercise more, lose weight, and be more understanding of other people’s frailties. But does living in a modern home and modern neighborhood bring with it the need for any special resolutions?

Maybe it does if you think of your house as more than a place to live and as your neighborhood as more than a bunch of houses that you pass by on your way to your home. And we’re not talking here of such mundane, though perhaps necessary, resolutions like keeping your eye on your roof beams to prevent rot.

Think for a moment about the future of your community – not just your neighborhood, but the wider community that has come to be called 'Mid-Century Modern.'

Over the past year we have visited many people who live in neighborhoods of Eichler, Streng, and other 1950s-1970s modern homes – and have learned much. 2017 was an important year for this community, as neighbors in one tract after another, and not just in California, banded together to preserve their neighborhoods’ character and quality of life.

And in many other areas, people did things – little things sometimes, or big things – to make life better for themselves and their neighbors.

Lauren Sorokolit, who lives in a home by modern architect Carter Sparks in Sacramento, loves her original stove top and has tried hard to preserve it. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Perhaps their accomplishments will supply some inspiration when New Year’s resolution-making time rolls around

I will get involved with my homeowners association. Sure, attending meetings and dealing with occasional neighborhood grievances can be a pain – but nothing ensures community harmony, both architectural and personal, than a well-run association.

In neighborhood after neighborhood, from Lucas Valley in Marin to Sequoyah Hills in Oakland, we learn that associations need more active members. Here’s a tip for the holidays -- to see the benefit of a well-run association enforcing design guidelines while enjoying wonderful holiday lights, visit Upper Lucas Valley.

I will think twice before removing my home’s original features. Yes, homes have to function and modernizing is often necessary, especially in a workaday space like a kitchen. But it’s inspiring to meet people who so love the style of Eichler and other modern homes that they agonize before replacing an original cooktop – and often struggle to keep the chic, old equipment working.

A home in Lynwood Park designed by Anshen and Allen, who also designed Eichler homes. This Novato neighborhood has a few jewels remaining and is little known to mid-century modern fans. Photo by Dave Weinstein

I will learn more about the wider world of mid-century neighborhoods. Many Eichler and Streng homeowners enjoy visiting homes in other tracts when they come on the market – just to see what there is to see and sometimes to get ideas for décor and improvements.

But how often do they explore lesser-known neighborhoods of the same era, usually by lesser-known developers? It’s worth doing if only to enjoy the architecture – and to see some wonderful little tracts that have yet to be rediscovered.

In 'Marincognito' we explored several of these hidden gems in Marin County, and in a blog post considered some 'Likelers' worth a look around the Bay.

I’ll work to preserve my neighborhood’s historic character. It can be hard work – and it doesn’t always succeed.

But following the lead of people like Allen Lowry, in the Streng Brother’s University Estates neighborhood of Davis, or Kelly Laule in the three Eichler neighborhoods in the city of Orange, can be a valuable thing to do. While an effort to create a historic district out of the Eichlers in Saratoga failed this year, efforts continue in both these locations. Why not your neighborhood too?

In University Estates in Davis, most of the Streng modern homes are intact enough to justify a historic district, a historian has discovered. Photo by Dave Weinstein

I’ll throw a neighborhood party. And not just any party – how about an art festival or a neighborhood tour? CA-Modern ran a nostalgic article about the Fairglen Art Festival, an annual event for 30 years that proved so successful in promoting neighborhood artists and bringing folks together that it got too big for the neighborhood to handle – and was shuttered.

People still recall it fondly.

Several neighborhoods put on tours of homes regularly. The San Mateo Highlands Eichler Home Tour, ever popular, was particularly appealing this year. And the Eichlers in Thousand Oaks, in Southern Calfornia, got into the tour act as well.

Several years ago we surveyed the entire phenomenon of modern home tours, with an article that might provide both inspiration and useful tips if you and a few friends have a few hundred hours to spare!

I’ll add  a playing field to my neighborhood. Over the years we have met several people in modern neighborhoods who have successfully advocated for or even hand built playgrounds and other recreational spots for the neighborhood at large.

Few, however, have gone so far as to get together with a neighbor to build a two-household bocce court – that they often share with the neighbors for bocce ball tournaments.

“Everybody is quite close with each other and good friends,” says Marc Vanlerberghe, one of the owners. “The bocce is another expression of that.”

Happy New Year!

Jim Palmer was the lead organizer for the 2017 San Mateo Highlands Eichler tour, which pulled in 1,500 people, the most ever. Such tours take a lot of work, but Jim seemed relaxed on the day of the tour. Photo by Dave Weinstein

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