Rare, Early Eichler Home is Threatened

One of Joe Eichler’s most historically important homes faces possible demolition – unless devotees of mid-century modern architecture can convince the new owners that modern has value. Some folks are trying to do that – and believe they may succeed.

This endangered Atherton Eichler is seen as a "missing link" in Eichler development. Photo by Suzanne Dunn

The 1951 home, at 16 Irving Avenue in Atherton, is surprisingly large for an Eichler at that time, with five bedrooms and three baths, and is on an almost acre-sized lot with mature oak trees. It is also architecturally intact, with original wooden walls, built-in shelving, cork floors and more – though in need of repairs.

It’s one of four homes Eichler built at the time in Atherton’s leafy Lindenwood neighborhood. One of those four, right across from number 16, was Eichler’s own home. All four of the homes were designed by Anshen and Allen, the first architects Eichler hired to design his new tract homes.

The threat was brought to the attention of the Eichler Network by Suzanne Dunn, a blogger who lives in an Eichler in Concord.

The home appears to be architecturally intact, though in need of some care. Photo by Suzanne Dunn

“Architecturally speaking, 16 Irving Avenue is important,” she wrote. “Not only is it a shrine, a church, a temple to early Eichler homes, but it is a window into Eichler's early thinking, his early development as a builder. This home is a missing link between Eichler's early influence, his inspiration, Frank Lloyd Wright and what most of us consider the common, for-the-people Eichler which many of us know and love.

“I firmly believe this is a very important Eichler,” Dunn says.

The new owner of 16 Irving did not respond to inquiries. But according to real estate agent Monique Lombardelli, who is seeking to preserve the home and says she has talked to the estate manager representing the Hong Kong-based owners, the goal is to develop a large house for sale.

Lombardelli says she hopes to convince the buyer to preserve the house instead. She is working with Curt Cline, a local architect who focuses on modern design and has renovated Eichlers, in the hope that it can be restored and expanded in modern style.

"I have spoken with them, and had their estate manager translate my idea to expand the current home, and I also wrote a written proposal along with Curt Cline, who I referred them to," Lombardelli says. She says the owners did not want to talk to the press or have their identities revealed.

“All the indications so far are she has sort of decided to keep [the home],” Cline says of the owner, noting that discussions, which are continuing after the sale of the home, are in an initial stage. “We’re just going to rehab what’s there and add something to it so [the home] remains,” Cline says of his and Lombardelli’s proposal, adding “I won’t do a second-story addition on an Eichler home, no. I don’t do those jobs.”

Even the kitchen is largley original, complete with stove top and oven. Photo by Suzanne Dunn

“People don’t get that there is a huge market for these [mid-century modern] homes,” Lombardelli says.

“To save them,” she says of mid-century homes, “you have to show the [monetary] value of them. It’s not enough to say, ‘it’s historic.’”

“I just want the home to stay there,” says Lombardelli, who’s won fans in the Eichler world for producing the documentary 'People in Glass Houses.' “I think it’s really one of the greatest homes I have seen.”

She notes that the home was marketed largely as a teardown.

“A fantastic opportunity awaits to build the home of your dreams in Atherton’s sought-after Lindenwood neighborhood,” the marketing copy read. “… The property currently features a 1951 original Eichler home with 5 bedrooms and 3 baths, plus a rectangular in-ground pool. Possibilities abound!”

Covered passageway to front door. Photo by Suzanne Dunn

Lombardelli found a buyer who wanted to save the home, she says, but was outbid by more than $500,000. “If it’s important to you at all,” Lombardelli told the seller, “my client wants to keep the house.” The house, which was listed at $3,495,000, sold for $4,500,000.

Also hoping to have some sway are the neighbors across the street, Paul Feder and Ginny Anderson, who’ve been living since 1965 in the old Joe Eichler place.

Their own house is also intact – and does not need repairs. Other than a major kitchen remodel years ago by architect Bill Patrick, a Frank Lloyd Wright acolyte, their home looks much as it did when Joe and his wife Lillian lived there, from 1950 to 1965.

Paul says that of the four original Eichlers in Lindenwood, one was torn down to make way for a mansion in the past few years, and another underwent a major expansion. That leaves their own home and 16 Irving Avenue as the sole survivors, in a neighborhood that started life filled with low-slung ranches and today is home to many McMansions.

Ginny recently encountered what she assumed was the woman of the house at 16 Irving. “She said she didn’t know if they would refurbish the house or rebuild a house there,” Ginny says.

Stepped outdoor planters and artfully designed concrete work show integration of house with its landscaping. Photo by Suzanne Dunn

“I said, if you’re really looking to redo the house and keep and improve it, come and see what is possible. I welcomed her to come to our house,” Ginny says. So far, though, their new neighbors have not visited.

“The problem is, more big money,” Ginny says. “[The neighborhood] is drawing in Google money. It doesn’t seem the people are drawn to the beauty of the houses. They have no appreciation for the quality of the wood and the way life flows through a place like this.”

An immense live oak is the home's most prominent feature facing the street. Photo by Dave Weinstein.

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