Should It be Shingles or Eichler Siding?

The homes at Meadowcreek have been shingled for so long it seems natural. But some people want to replace shingles with original-looking siding. Photo by David Toerge

It’s not often that an entire Eichler neighborhood has the opportunity to get a new look, all at once. But that’s the case now at the friendly enclave of Meadowcreek, 17 single-story condominiums in Palo Alto.

It’s also not often that an Eichler neighborhood has the opportunity to return to something of its historic look, a look that was altered in years past in two different phases.

But it’s far from certain that homeowners in Meadowcreek will opt for the original look – in large part because they like what they have – and because an earlier, different change means that returning to the 'original' look wouldn’t be completely original after all.

Meadowcreek was built in 1961 as low-slung apartments known as Greenmeadow Apartments. It is adjacent to the neighborhood of Greenmeadow, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The issue in Meadowcreek is all about the exterior siding of the homes. And, this being a friendly and well-organized neighborhood, it is being addressed in a friendly and well-organized way.

Should the siding be shingles, as it has been for some 20-plus years? Or should it be Eichler-style vertical grooved siding, as it was when the Jones and Emmons-designed homes opened as 'Greenmeadow Apartments'  in 1961?

The pool is the centerpiece at Meadowcreek, adding to the feeling of sociability that adds so much to the pleasure of living there. Photo by David Toerge

“Nobody, well, I wouldn’t say nobody, but I would most people are not so historical minded that it has to go back to the original,” says resident Jim Dougherty, who does go back to the original. He moved in as a renter in 1961, moved away, then returned.

Dougherty is more than just another resident. He is a former employee of Eichler Homes, having worked in sales and advertising.

For most of the folks at Meadowcreek, the siding decision hinges more on aesthetics than history. Which looks better, shingles or vertical siding? The cost, Jim says, would pretty much be the same for either, in the realm of $100,000.

“I don’t know what I think,” says resident Rania Bratberg. “Cedar shingles are nice, but they have a tendency to get dirty. And I think the Eichler siding looks very nice. I think people are pretty open to either.”

Marc, a relatively new member of the community, has argued in favor of returning to the original siding. He asked to be identified by his first name only, "just for my own personal privacy."

“The whole aesthetic [of the Eichlers] is about the clean lines, and I think shingles go against that,” Marc says. “They go against what the intent was. It seems out of place.”

He adds, “I’m sort of an Eichler purist.”

Marty Arbunich, the director of Eichler Network, worked more than a decade ago on the Historic Quest committee's successful effort to get two Palo Alto Eichler neighborhoods on the National Register, including Greenmeadow. "Looking into the future, Meadowcreek could be a possible candidate for the National Register on its own. But maintaining shingles, in lieu of Eichler siding, could work against their nomination successfully getting through the approval process," he told Marc.

Some of the concern about replacing the shingles with vertical siding is that it would be just too much vertical siding without any contrast. Photo by David Toerge

But Jim Dougherty points out that another twist in history means that, even if the community returns to the original siding, it will not be returning to the original look. That’s because the fencing is no longer original either – and no one is talking these days about replacing the fencing, which is in superb condition after being installed 15 or so years ago.

Originally, Jim says, the house siding was vertical groove and the fencing was grape stake. The siding was changed first, 20 or so years ago, because it had been painted, and not stained, and had deteriorated.

The architect recommended shingles. No one argued at the time that was a historical choice. “In those days there weren’t a real lot of Eichler enthusiasts to make it the way Joe would have done it. Those were not the kind of people who were living here,” Jim says.

Then, about 15 years ago, when the original grape stake fencing needed to be replaced, that same architect suggested doing it with – Eichler siding. Done.

The neighborhood is compact, with party walls, but adept use of fences maintains the privacy so essential for indoor-outdoor living. Photo by David Toerge

Which means, Jim continues, that bringing back Eichler siding for the homes would result in something Jones & Emmons had never planned – Eichler siding everywhere.

“If all you can see is Eichler siding, I think that is too much,” he says. “I like the contrast of having shingles and the Eichler siding.”

“Should we stick more to the original Eichler look? That’s more important to some neighbors here. To my husband and I, it’s not so important,” Rania says. “If it made it look a little more spare and modern, I could go for it.”

The way residents have approached the issue could serve as a model for other neighborhoods. There have been community meetings facilitated by the homeowners association and much e-mailing back and forth.

“The meetings have been just exploratory, and everyone has felt free to voice their own opinions,” Rania says

There was even a survey that asked people how much they favored each of three options. One option, for a sort of concrete shingle, was clearly rejected, leaving the choices between cedar shingles and vertical siding.

This end unit shows how the look of the homes blends two major separate elements, fence and house siding. Photo by Dave Weinstein

“I believe the results were that people kind of prefer the shingles by a small, small margin,” Rania says.

“The problem is, it’s hard to have an image of what it will look like [when installed],” she says of the siding, also noting that people have gotten used to the shingles

“People are sort of averse to change.”

“One thing we can do, we have one wall that is hard to see facing Alma Street. One suggestion is to take down the cedar shingles there and put up Eichler siding to see how it looks,” Rania says. “If you paint the siding a contrasting color, it might make a difference. We could do a mockup of it on one wall so everybody can take a look.”

The community is likely to make a decision within 60 days, Jim Dougherty says. Rania says, “We definitely will have a lot more discussion.”

Jim speaks for others when he says, “I don’t think it would be a disaster if we did either one.” What would be a disaster would be creating bad feelings. But that’s unlikely to happen. “Folks generally like each other and want a community spirit,” Marc says.

“Indeed, we do have some differences of opinion regarding what is on the outside of our homes: shingles or siding,” he writes. “But ultimately, over at Meadowcreek, more importantly we do have an open process where the community solicited information and homeowners discussed these options with civility and democratically in deciding what we should collectively do.”

“The community at Meadowcreek is acting like a community -- exactly as it should -- and it doesn't really get much better than that.”

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