Plaque Needed for Former Eichler Office

The entry to the former Eichler Homes office at 1101 Embarcadero retains a mid-century modern feel, and the entire exterior remains intact -- but the interior has been totally redone. Today the building serves as offices. Photos by Dave Weinstein

The building has undeniable style, even now, even after the interior was largely gutted. It’s low-slung and sleek, with a glass entry, concrete block walls, and restored landscaping harking back to the original late 1950s design.

But the building at 1101 Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto also has an air of mystery even though it is a truly historic site – the former headquarters of Eichler Homes during the period, the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the firm created some of its most iconic neighborhoods.

The Eichler office was completed in 1959.

Many of these neighborhoods are regarded as historic today and are deeply loved. The office of Eichler Homes, on the other hand, is slipping out of history.

On a recent visit, several people questioned at the shopping center – also built by Eichler – that sits alongside the office claimed no knowledge that the development was built by Eichler – the only shopping center in his extensive oeuvre.

While retaining the shape and general size of the original Edgewood Shopping Center buildings, detailing and arrangements of buildings to each other have been changed.

Moreover, one gentleman who works in the former Eichler headquarters wondered why someone was taking a photo of the place. Why, because it’s the historic office of Joe Eichler.

“Who is that?” the man asks.

The guy who built the houses that you can see, just mere yards away, directly across the street from the office and shopping center.

“Oh, I get it. An architect?”

The saga of the Edgewood Shopping Center, which Eichler developed in the mid 1950s, following up a few years later with his own office, was big news in Palo Alto for many years.

Over the years the retail portion of the site had become dilapidated and lost many tenants. The Eichler office for many years was operated as the Maharishi Vedic Center.

Way back in 2001 efforts began to rehabilitate the center, under the aegis of Palo’s Alto’s redevelopment agency.

The freestanding sign still evokes the 1950s.

As the city pushed for the center to be redeveloped, some neighbors in the nearby Green Gables tract of Eichler homes, which is so well preserved it is on the National Register of Historic Places, pushed for preservation of the center as well.

Many noted the importance of the shopping center to the neighborhood, both in terms of its architectural style and its service to residents.

Residents urged that the shopping center and office could be rejuvenated without losing its looks.

“Just as poorly maintained Victorians look blighted until they're restored," Angy Volterra, a leader of the neighborhood effort, said, the Eichler shopping center and offices would benefit from restoration, not replacement or complete remodeling.

Historian Alan Hess urged preservation of the center in its original architectural state, noting that it was Eichler’s bravest attempt to create, not just a grouping of homes, but a total community. The designers of the center were architects Jones & Emmons.

Hess wrote in 2006, “Edgewood Plaza, next to a large Eichler tract, is historic proof of the progressive design and planning in Palo Alto 50 years ago. Look beyond the center's neglected maintenance to see its wide, sun-splashed walkways, the intimate scale of its classic modern architecture. Its one-story buildings create a comfortable scale for the neighborhood; proposals for three-story structures on the site would cripple that unity. Edgewood's original sign is not the usual unimaginative tombstone sign of today but an elegant sculpture, marking one gateway to Palo Alto.”

In the East Bay town of Albany, developer Charles MacGregor is remembered with a plaque outside of his picturesque former office building. MacGregor built wonderful storybook and period revival homes.

Palo Alto Stanford Heritage (PAST) also weighed in. The group got involved with saving the center and office in 2002.

“Edgewood Plaza's importance to our local and national architectural history cannot be overstated,” PAST wrote. “It was designed by A. Quincy Jones, a renowned California architect of the modern era, and was built by J. Eichler from 1955 to 1958 to complement and serve its Eichler neighborhood. Mr. Eichler built many homes in many communities, but Edgewood is his only shopping center. Its design and purpose are quintessentially mid-century American.”

“If nothing else, Eichler Homes' original offices,  currently operating as The Maharishi Vedic Center, should  definitely be preserved. It might need to be protected via qualifying as a California State landmark,” wrote Adriene Biondo, a Southern California preservationist who had worked with the Historic Quest committee to put both Green Gables and Greenmeadow, another Eichler tract in Palo Alto, onto the National Register.

What happened instead was a remodeling of the center, and removal of one retail building, that has retained some of the feeling of the original – but not its historic look.

The preservation battle did result in saving several of the buildings, which had been slated for demolition. Also preserved was the original freestanding shopping center sign.

The best preserved of the buildings – at least from the exterior – is the Eichler Homes office. Landscape architect J.C. Miller did an extraordinary job of restoring and in part recreating the original landscaping plan by Robert Royston.

But the office, alas, never did receive any state, federal, or local designation.

Nor does it have so much as a historic plaque to mark the spot where Joe Eichler met with his architects and building supervisors to plot out and construct so many thousands of his homes.

Ben Crockett, partner with Peery Partners, the firm that redeveloped the office building, says, "We don't own the building any longer but I don't think the building will get a placard because it isn't technically historic (per the designation). Sure love that building!"

Joe Eichler. Who’s that?

The Eichler Homes office building remains -- but does anyone recognize it?

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