Rare Duplexes Show Eichler’s Range

A rare, and perhaps unique, neighborhood of Eichler-built duplex homes can be found in Redwood City -- where things are looking good. Photos by Dave Weinstein

After a decade and a half of visiting Eichler homes, one might think a roving reporter has seen it all. But a recent drive through the Eichler neighborhoods of Redwood City proves that isn’t so.

Who knew that Joe Eichler built duplex homes relatively early in his career? And not only that, but he built them as rentals, not as homes for sale.

And besides that, they are pretty nice-looking homes, as seen at least from the outside.

Roble Avenue, a cul-de-sac in Redwood City, would be hard to stumble upon, unless you went looking for it. It’s a few blocks off the Peninsula’s spine, El Camino Real. When Eichler built here in 1956, the surrounding area was composed of modest single-story homes built in the 1940s and ‘50s.

The low-gabled homes on Roble Avenue remain attractive and in good condition architecturally. The duplexes have paired carports in the center, and each unit has a front door and a utility closet door within the carport. There are ten dwelling units in five buildings, arrayed around a circular cul-de-sac.

Real estate brokers know these are Eichlers, and sell them as such.

Eichler later went on to build a wide variety of housing – although, unless some remain to be found, he never built duplexes again.

These homes also represent something else among Eichler homes – they are probably the first Joe built to be rentals. Ads the company ran in the San Mateo Times in 1956 make this clear.

'Deluxe Eichler Duplexes for lease,' the ads read. '2 bedrooms – 1 bath. For $146 a month.' Would-be tenants were asked to call Al Eichler, Joe’s brother, who worked as a salesman for Eichler Homes.

Greenmeadow Apartments in Palo Alto were another attempt by Eichler, a few years later, to produce compact units on compact plots of land.

These are compact homes of less than 1,000 square feet per unit. By 1956, Eichler’s single-family homes had, in general, grown larger than the basic AA-1 model that he first built with architects Anshen and Allen at the start of the 1950s. In that way the duplexes represent an effort to continue to serve the entry-level market.

The homes also seem designed to squeeze more units into a small parcel of land. Eichler’s architectural teams, particularly that of Jones & Emmons, were always interested in producing subdivision plans that preserved outdoor living space by clustering homes, or by arranging homes on their lots to avoid long driveways and wasted space.

And Eichler himself, faced with rising land prices, spoke to the builders press about the need to make efficient use of building sites.

In following years, Eichler would continue to produce homes aimed at entry-level buyers. But rather than duplexes, his focus would be on one- or two-story townhomes, row houses, and mid-rise and high-rise towers.

In the late 1950s Eichler built some communities of attached, common-wall townhomes, including Meadowcreek (originally Greenmeadow Apartments), 17 units built in 1961 in Palo Alto, and another apartment complex also in Palo Alto on Ferne Avenue, from 1963.

The Ferne Avenue Apartments are only slightly larger than the units on Roble Avenue, about 1,040 square feet.

Unlike most of Eichler's communities, the homes on Roble Avenue look identical from the street except for paint color and subsequent changes.

In an effort to reach diverse markets, Eichler Homes would go on to build townhouses in San Francisco’s Diamond Heights redevelopment area in 1962, which was aimed at the middle part of the housing market; the high-rise Geneva Towers and  low-rise townhouses called Geneva Terraces in the southern part of the city, which were aimed at the lower-end market; the high-rise Central Towers in the Tenderloin, which was also aimed at a lower-end market; and, in 1966, the luxury Summit high-rise on Russian Hill.

Some of these projects were condos or coops, and some were rentals, including a portion of the low-rise Laguna Heights homes in San Francisco, and Greenmeadow Apartments. Greenmeadow Apartments has since become a condo community.

Pomeroy West, intended to be a condo community, in Santa Clara, finally opened as rentals when sales faltered.

But managing rentals never played a large role in Eichler Homes’ business. It is not known when the company sold the duplexes on Roble Avenue.

Interestingly, one modern home builder that did build a large number of  'halfplexes,' as the builders called them, was a firm that had been deeply inspired by Eichler Homes – the Streng Brothers of the Sacramento area.

Jim and Bill Streng, who built modern tract homes in the Sacramento and Davis area from the 1959 into the 1970s, included these duplex homes in many of their communities. The halfplexes remain popular today and contribute to neighborhoods that offer homes that are affordable to a range of buyers.

The Streng Brothers built many more duplex homes than Eichler ever did, including this model in North Davis.

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