Love Them and Leave Them

Sunnyvale Eichler home
The Walling family loved the atrium in their Sunnyvale Eichler home, one of many Eichlers and other homes they inhabited one after another after another. Photo by David Toerge

Bettie Walling fell in love with her first Eichler home – then left it. She did the same with the second, and with five more that followed. The love story of Bettie and husband Jim, and the tale of their four daughters as the family switched homes, touches on progressive ideals, women’s empowerment – and the impact on children. For the whole story, read ‘Homeward Bound’ in the summer ‘21 issue of CA-Modern magazine.

Bettie loved Eichlers so much that she and her husband, Jim, wound up living in seven of them -- a remarkable journey -- and inhabited one of them twice.

Along the way the Wallings also lived in a mid-century modern Mackay tract home and a ranch-style house. All nine of those homes were within 25 miles of each other, on the San Francisco Peninsula and in the South Bay.

“It was never a family discussion,” one of their daughter, Beverly Walling Powell, says about the moves. “It was just announced: ‘We’re moving.’”

The family
Jim and Bettie Walling flank their four daughters in this family photo from 1953. Beverly Powell remembers a happy childhood with her family, though she tired of the many moves. Family photos courtesy of the Walling family

The Walling family, with four daugh­ters—Savannah, Kathie, Beverly, and Robin—moved into their first Eichler in 1954.

The oldest of the four girls, Savan­nah, was born in 1946 and the young­est, Robin, in 1953, so all took part in every move.

Bettie and Jim “were very interesting and progressive people,” daughter Beverly says, encouraging the children to read, taking them to museums in San Fran­cisco. The parents were proponents of Civil Rights, and admired Joe Eichler for his open-housing stance.

“Other than moving we had a great childhood,” Beverly says, remembering family outings, vacations, and more good times.

“They taught us not to be prejudiced,” Beverly says.

And they were good parents, Bettie a bit distant but admiring of her children, Jim “warm and fuzzy,” Beverly says.

Sisters today
The four sisters: (L-R) Robin, Savannah, Kathie and Beverly.

“We had a rounded life—birthday parties, going to museums, going to movies.”

But the moves did grate on the four daughters, separating them from good friends. It became particularly annoying, Beverly recalls, as the girls grew older.

About one move, not from an Eichler but from a ranch in Sunnyvale to an Eichler, she says,

“I was starting junior high. I did not want to move from the ranch home. I loved my neighbors, we had fun, we had a community in our little cul-de-sac.”

“I did ask why we moved so much, when I became an adult,” Beverly says. “My dad said my mom wanted to do it.”

“She loved decorating them,” Beverly says of her mother’s interest in the homes. “She wanted a new atmosphere.”

  Bettie Walling
Bettie Walling proved to be a strong-willed woman, both in the world of work, in the arts, and in the home.

Beverly says she and her sisters did well despite all the moves.

“We could rely on our little sup­portive group [of sisters],” she says. “We had adapted. We made ourselves adapt. We’d get friends at the new place because we wanted them. We made friends.”

Bettie Walling was no stereotypical suburban, mid-century wife, suffering from boredom and waiting for her husband to arrive home to hand him slippers and a martini.

Bettie, who hailed from West Vir­ginia, had always enjoyed working out of the home. She had met Jim, an Okla­homa farm boy, in 1943 -- a year later they married -- when both were work­ing at a refinery engineering company in Huntington, West Virginia. There, Jim served as a mechanical engineer, Bettie a draftswoman.

“My mom loved working at refiner­ies, doing jobs men would have done,” Beverly says.

Bettie remained a working woman for much of the time even as she raised four girls. Bettie was an artist as well, both a weaver and a painter. Bettie had several jobs, including working in a library. (Jim worked as a mechanical engineer at Stanford Linear Accelerator.)

“She made a looped carpet, with fringe all around the side of it,” Beverly says. “Sometimes I think she would take an easel out in the country.”

For more about the peripatetic Walling clan, read ‘Homeward Bound,’ a sneak preview of the new summer ‘21 issue of CA-Modern magazine.

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