From Orchards to Eichler Homes

Frank Tripiano
Frank Tripiano loves recounting tales from days past in Mountain View, and about his and his dad’s experiences with Joe Eichler. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Frank Tripiano was a young man at the start of the ‘70s, a hard-working plumber working for the family firm installing plumbing in, among other things, Eichler homes. At the time, Joe Eichler was building homes just a mile from a ranch where Frank had grown up, and Frank and his wife, Judith, wanted an Eichler for themselves.

But could he afford one? His dad, Tom Tripiano, certainly could; he chose the largest lot in the subdivision, which Joe called Grandmeadow.

“They are kind of expensive,” Frank recalls thinking. “I’m 30, and they were expensive for me. I mean, we were reaching.”

Joe, who had his sales office for a time in Tom Tripiano’s garage, convinced the young couple to take the plunge.

Tom's house
Tom Tripiano’s large, custom Eichler next door to Frank’s during a recent open house. Tom and his wife lived there for only a few years. It sold for $3,800,000 earlier this year. Photo by Dave Weinstein

“Joe said, you guys will keep the house for two years and make more money than I make building it, selling it,” Frank says. They bought the house for $50,000. It was next door to Frank’s father’s house, and the two families shared an immense backyard that backed up to a creek.

“That turned out right,” Frank says of Joe’s words.

“This is a standard floor plan, just a gallery house,” Frank says of the home where he still lives on Eichler Drive. “But my dad’s is a big custom. It was just he and the wife. The kids were grown by then.”

Frank says that Joe provided a few extras and price breaks for the homes, because Tom’s firm, Crowley Company Mechanical Contractors, was handling the plumbing.

It also helped that Joe and Tom became friendly. “They were buddies,” Tripiano says. “They talked together, laughed together, shared all their stories about their past; and they had lunches together, and dinners together, and went to affairs together.”

House plan
Claude Oakland’s elevation drawings for “a residence for Mr. And Mrs. Tom Tripiano,” for J.L. Eichler Associates suggest the extent to which this was a custom home. Courtesy of Laura Ackerman-Shaw

Frank got to know Joe a bit too, but not well. “That’s pretty important to get, that Joe and my dad were 70, and I was 30. There’s a difference between the two of us, you know?”

The coming together of Joe Eichler and Tom Tripiano, in a way, represents the coming together of old, agrarian Mountain View with burgeoning suburban Mountain View.

It also represents the coming together of two men who saw how they could benefit from suburban growth, and got into the field at the same time – just after the end of World War II.

“So one day after about six years of ranching, [my father] said, you know, the war’s ending, there are changes, and houses. The Doelger story,” Frank says, meaning San Francisco’s mass-builder Henry Doelger.

So in 1948, a year after Joe started building homes, Tom formed a partnership with Nicholas Crowley. “They started a company, and we did dingbat houses. The typical house was like $750 for the plumbing, which was one bath and kitchen.

“And when I left in ‘92, we were sometimes doing homes in the Los Altos area for about $150,000 worth of plumbing.”

Frank plays poolside with his daughter, Emily Tripiano, and grandson, Benjamin. Photo by Rory Earnshaw

Besides plumbing for Eichler, the firm worked for other leading home builders, and plumbed Stanford’s Tresidder Memorial Union, the UC Medical Center in San Francisco, and much more.

By this time Tom was living in Los Altos Hills, but Frank, Judy, a schoolteacher, and their daughter Emily enjoyed their Eichler too much to leave. Judy died in 2007.

“Emily loved it. Judy loved it,” Frank says. “And we went out three times, I guess, looking at houses. But every time we came back, we just said, 'Well, we like this.' So I’ve been here the whole time, 50 years.”

The Tripiano clan truly is part of Mountain View’s history. There is even a Tripiano Court near the site of their former ranch.

“We would walk from the house on Sleeper Avenue, down to the corner of Grant and El Camino, to get a horse,” Frank recalls. “Louis ran the barbershop there and would rent us a horse so we could plow between the rows of the apricots."

Farm house
Frank Tripiano grew up in this early-20th century farmhouse on Sleeper Avenue about a mile from his present Eichler home. The farmhouse will be remodeled, Frank says. Photo by Frank Tripiano/July 2022

“I still remember with my mother, she would shop downtown, and there were wooden sidewalks. Not concrete, not gravel, but wood,” Frank says.

The town could get raucous. “The naval base was operating, so there were a lot of sailors in there, with their sailor suits with the sailor hat and the button fronts that they used to wear.”

“It was always a sort of a friendly town. My dad knew a lot of the players, my uncle Dave was the mayor. My uncle Frank was the fire chief. My aunt Jenny lived in the middle of town, so we would go to visit the family.”

Frank has never lost his fondness for those days. Indeed, his other home is in a quiet part of Merced.

“That’s part of [the appeal] of Merced. It’s like the ‘50s were in Santa Clara, and I just happen to like it. It’s kind of silly, but that’s what I like.”

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