For Sale: Joe’s Own Home

CA-Modern Insider
Joe Eichler's 1951 family home (above from the early 1950s) was the first custom house Eichler ever built, and his first project working with architects Anshen and Allen, who would soon define what it means for a home to be an ‘Eichler.’ The home is coming on the market—but is demolition around the corner?

One of the most important homes in the history of Eichler Homes is coming onto the market in March 2024, and the question is: Will it survive?

A rambling structure of redwood and glass, the Joe and Lillian Eichler residence at 19 Irving Avenue in Atherton is key to Joe's career.

Built in 1951, it was the first custom house Eichler ever built, and his first project working with the architects who would soon define what it means for a home to be an 'Eichler.'

The Eichlers lived in the Anshen and Allen-designed home for 14 years (1951-'65), longer than they lived in any other home.

It's a beautiful home, with a spacious living-dining room that opens to a mature garden centered on a swimming pool, a long hallway with four bedrooms ending at a bonus room, and with remarkable detailing throughout.

CA-Modern Insider
Living room of the Feder/Eichler Atherton home from 2017. Photo: Sabrina Huang

Still, though the home is generously sized (3,700 square feet), it is on a large lot (nine-tenths of an acre) that could accommodate a much bigger home, in a wealthy community where homebuyers are not reluctant to tear down and replace.

Care to see an example? Sit in the backyard with Judson Feder, who owns 19 Irving with his two brothers, and look over the fence to a house across the street. Originally an Eichler, that home was replaced a few years ago by a seven-bedroom, 6,444-square-foot giant that just hit the market—for $14,950,000.

Does the Joe and Lillian home stand a chance? Judson, whose father and mother bought the house from Joe in 1965, says "yes."

"It would be terribly wasteful to demolish a house that's so beautiful," he says. "It's sort of a crime against culture to tear down such a house."

CA-Modern Insider
Architects Bob Anshen (left) and Stephen Allen, early 1950s. Photo courtesy John Anshen

That's why the brothers chose the Boyenga Team realtors to market the house. Eric and Janelle Boyenga are Eichler specialists, members of the Eichler Network service team, who appreciate the style.

"Given the architectural and historical significance of Joseph Eichler's custom-designed Anshen and Allen home, we're optimistic about finding a buyer who appreciates its historical value and is interested in preservation," Eric says.

"The economic considerations are multi-faceted," he says. "On one hand, the unique nature of the property adds value; but on the other, the costs associated with restoring this historic home can be significant. However, we feel the historical and architectural significance of this property will attract buyers who see beyond just the economic aspects."

"Representing Eichler's home is not just about a sale," Eric adds. "It's about stewarding a piece of architectural history into the hands of those who dream in design and live in art."

CA-Modern Insider
Ginny Anderson at the Atherton home's pool, 2017. Photo: Sabrina Huang

Paul Feder (Judson's father), who bought the house with his first wife, died two years ago. Paul's wife and Judson's stepmother, Ginny Anderson, has been living there with her daughter. Paul and Ginny made almost no changes to the home (except for a kitchen remodel) and enjoyed hosting visitors who had an interest in architecture and history.

The home illustrates Joe Eichler's evolution from a guy who didn't care much about architecture, to an acolyte of Frank Lloyd Wright, to the man who, more than any other developer in America, applied Wrightian inspiration to the building of tract homes.

Joe's origin story as a builder is well known. He fell in love with modern architecture when, in 1943, he and his family rented the Wright-designed Bazett house in Hillsborough.

In 1949, when it was time to design his own home, Eichler hired Anshen and Allen, who were influenced by Wright. Their design has a similar layout and mood—but in some ways improved on the Bazett house. The Eichler house is bigger, with a more expansive feeling.

CA-Modern Insider
Hallway of the Feder/Eichler Atherton home, with its rustic look and lovely parquet floors, from 2017. Photo: Sabrina Huang

Stemming from their work on Eichler's Atherton home, Anshen and Allen soon became the first team of architects to design his tract homes.

The home is well preserved and has wonderful touches not seen in Eichler tract homes, including thick, board-and-batten interior and exterior siding, for a rustic look, that is enhanced by the visible nail heads.

Spatially the house is a delight. The plan is a series of parallelograms, so angles and unexpected geometries and sightlines are everywhere. "There are barely any right angles in the whole house," Judson says.

Soffits that hide up-lighting and changing ceiling heights provide visual interest; and built-in cabinets, bookshelves, tables, and more advance the geometric theme.

The landscaping too is of architectural worth, with its hardscape and some plantings intact. It was designed by eminent Palo Alto landscape architect Kathryn Stedman.

CA-Modern Insider
The kitchen (here from 2017) was remodeled over the years, but is still filled with attractive wood. Photo: Sabrina Huang

Recently, Judson says, he has considered seeking historic designation for the home, something his father never considered. "He was passionate about the house, but he wasn't particularly nostalgic about what would happen to it after he moved out."

What would be done if they receive two offers for the house, one from someone planning to destroy it, and another from someone promising to save it? And if the latter offer was for significantly less money?

"I don't know," Judson replied. "My brothers and I would cry, and figure out what to do. I mean, I don't know."

The Feder/Eichler Atherton home will go on the market mid-March, with initial open houses slated for the March 16-17 weekend. Inquiries should be directed to Eric and Janelle Boyenga of the Boyenga Team.

Keep in touch with the Eichler Network. SUBSCRIBE to our free e-newsletter