Take Time for Educational Eichler Tours

Primewood in Sunnyvale is one of Joe Eichler's later tracts, which you can visit minutes after visiting some of his earliest on an educational tour of Sunnyvale. Photos by Dave Weinstein

Planning a trip to Paris this summer? Or something closer to home, like Yosemite? Why not do something even closer still, like Sunnyvale?

Inspired by Alex and Ann Robertson, who live on Vancouver Island and call themselves “Eichlerholics,” we have developed the first of several Eichler tours to reveal both the richness of Joe Eichler’s tract homes and their history.

And where else should we start but Sunnyvale, where Eichler himself got his start at the tail end of the 1940s?

During June, the Robertsons will tour California, as far south as Los Angeles, “to visit as many modern works of architecture as we can think of,” Alex wrote.

“My wife and I grew up in Vancouver, Canada and were strongly influenced by modern west coast architecture,” he wrote. “Following a visit to Taliesin West we have been on a bit of a Frank Lloyd Wright crusade, visiting as many of his buildings as possible.

“This study has led us to learn and appreciate a great deal about all the modernists and their connections to each other.  Joseph Eichler and the influence Frank Lloyd Wright had on his life is yet another example of these ties.”

This is a very early Eichler home, pre-architects and of course pre-atrium, in Sunnymount Gardens

He asked the author of this blog to provide tips for visiting Eichler neighborhoods. “We're interested not only in individual homes, but also in the communities that formed around them, and the green spaces protected within and around,” he wrote.

We supplied a few tips, and Alex responded, “We will take your suggestions and put them to the test.”

You can do the same.

Sunnyvale, a great sprawl of a town, today has between 16 and 20 Eichler subdivisions, depending on how you count them. It includes among his very earliest and his very latest, ranging from roughly 1949 to 1972.

Importantly it also has the first tract homes where he used architects. This is Sunnyvale Manor II, aka Sunnyvale Manor Addition.

But before visiting these early Anshen and Allen homes, it’s worth visiting even earlier subdivisions by Eichler that apparently used stock draftsman plans, albeit of a nice, modernist bent.

These include Sunnyvale Manor I (adjacent to but not to be confused with Sunnyvale Manor Addition), with homes clustered on such streets as North Bayview and Maude avenues, from 1949; and Sunnymount Gardens, also from 1949, with homes on Sunnymount Avenue, Dawn Drive, and nearby streets.

The first Anshen and Allen homes appeared in Sunnyvale Manor II, aka Sunnyvale Manor Addition. Rear walls are glass opening to the yard.

The homes in these tracts are so different than later Eichlers that the city of Sunnyvale does not apply its Eichler design guidelines to them and they are not shown on Sunnyvale’s map to Eichler tracts.

With Sunnyvale Manor II, though, an addition to the first Sunnyvale Manor, Eichler made his breakthrough. The tract has about 50 homes on East Maple, East Duane, Morse, and Arbor avenues.

The San Francisco Chronicle took notice, writing on February 26, 1950 about “James” Eichler (sic - yikes!) and his unusual idea to hire architects.

“A speculative builder becomes an architect’s client about as often as it snows in Samoa,” wrote reporter Vance Bourjaily, who not surprisingly won fame as a novelist, not as a journalist.

Homes were selling for $9,400, with three bedrooms and a compact living room and a wall of glass – but no aluminum sliders yet – opening to the rear.

About Anshen and Allen, Joe said, “They’ll be doing all my plans from now on.”

The San Francisco Chronicle took notice when Eichler first built a neighborhood based on architects' plans.

Sunnyvale’s Eichler design guidelines supply a useful map to the Eichler tracts, which are well maintained on the whole, with many original houses. Several sub-neighborhoods have been protected against two-story additions.

One tract that is particularly attractive and worth a visit is a late subdivision, Primewood. This tightly knit community of larger homes includes many steep double-gable models, and others with clipped gables suggesting Tudors. Homes were built from 1969 to 1972.

The 35 Eichler homes that make up Primewood can be found near the intersection of South Mary Avenue and West Fremont Avenue, along Allison Avenue, Lennox Way, and Beaverton, Blanchard, and Lennox courts.

The South Bay was a high-tech center back in the 1950s just as it is today, but it was Defense and electronics, not Internet and electronics that was the big player. Many Eichler owners worked in the Defense industry, including at the nearby Moffett Field, a Naval installation.

If you make your way to Sunnyvale, take time to visit the Moffett Field Historical Society Museum in the adjacent city of Mountain View. It is an amazing experience -- and right next door is something even more amazing, the former dirigible hangar known as Hangar One.

If you are a fan of structure you will rejoice because the cladding is gone and the hangar is nothing but structure. It's like the Eiffel Tower taking a nap.

Google has plans to re-clad it and move offices there.

You’ll have to sign in at the gate of the former military field, which today is run as the NASA Ames research center. But it’s worth it. It’s off Moffett Boulevard, from Highway 101.

Hangar One at the former Moffett Field can be examined if you visit the nearby Moffett Field Museum.

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