Talk Will Survey Eichler’s Career, Legacy

Saratoga is a good place for an Eichler talk, as it possesses a 35-home tract that is well preserved and much appreciated. Photo by Dave Weinstein

It’s remarkable that Joe Eichler, who was born before the birth of commercial radio and became a businessman during the Roaring ‘20s, is still having an impact on people today – including young techies in Silicon Valley.

It’s notable too that his homebuilding career, which he started in his middle age, exactly coincides with the period that we today consider 'mid-century modern.' Eichler got the inspiration to build modern homes towards the end of World War II, when he was living in a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Eichler built his last home the year he died, in 1974, just as modern homes were passing from fashion.

Over the years, the author of this blog has written hundreds of articles about Eichler, Eichler Homes Inc., and the various architects, artists, designers, landscape architects, accountants, advertising people, and carpenters who worked for Eichler.

Joe Eichler
Joe Eichler at work with unidentified colleague.

This column, and many articles in CA-Modern magazine, have dealt with such specialized subjects as the birth of the atrium, the invention and development of sliding aluminum doors, Eichler’s use of mahogany paneling to give warmth to his homes, and the wonders and woes of radiant heat.

We have visited scores of Eichler neighborhoods, and neighborhoods by other modern developers, throughout the state (and even one in New York), and learned much about how people have treated or mistreated their homes over the years, and watched as a newfound interest in the style grew.

But how often does a hardworking journalist slogging out copy get a chance to step back and look at the bigger picture?

That’s what this journalist will be doing at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 11 at the Saratoga Library, thanks to the Saratoga Heritage Preservation Commission and the Library, which are sponsoring the talk.

Here is the blurb:

Eichler Homes Talk

“Editor Dave Weinstein will talk on "Eichler Homes: Birth, Death, Rebirth" at the Saratoga Library on May 11 at 1 PM in the Community Room. The talk is co-sponsored by the Saratoga Library and the Heritage Preservation Commission and part of celebrating May as National Preservation month.

“Weinstein will talk about the roots of Joe Eichler's progressive, perhaps quixotic essay in modern home building, and about the company's early days. He will focus on Eichler Homes when it was at its peak as a well-run, family firm, becoming the most successful developer of mid-century modern homes in the country.

A very early house built by Eichler in Sunnyvale looks nothing like his later homes, once he hired architects. Photo by Dave Weinstein

“He will suggest that the company's downfall may have been linked to the same traits that made it great. Weinstein will discuss the resurgence of interest in these homes that began in the 1990s, and efforts to preserve them that continue today.  The talk is free and open to the public.

“The Saratoga Library is located at 13650 Saratoga Avenue, Saratoga, CA.”

Not to give too much away, but the talk will begin with the early days of modern architecture in Europe and on the American Prairie, will focus on how Eichler Homes prospered as a family-run firm, and how it collapsed before having a strong, though at times shaky, rebirth.

The discussion will cover some of Eichler’s greatest successes as well as some signal failures. It will show images of some very familiar-looking Eichler homes – and some homes and other projects that may startle people.

The talk will go beyond the lifetime of Eichler to talk about how interest in the homes waned then waxed, and how it has grown exponentially just in the days that the author has been writing about the phenomenon.

This home in the Saratoga tract was added to the city's heritage resource inventory and deemed eligible for the National Register. Courtesy of the Historic Preservation Commission

Saratoga is an appropriate place for such a talk. Not only does the city possess one of the best preserved and most appreciated Eichler neighborhoods, but city officials have been pro-active in seeking to preserve and celebrate the homes and their heritage. The tract has 35 homes.

Most cities tend to ignore historical resources within their borders if those resources are tract homes. (The city of Orange, which also has Eichler tracts, stands out as an exception.) In Palo Alto and Sunnyvale, for example, where much attention has been devoted to preserving Eichler neighborhoods in recent years, those efforts were started by residents.

But in Saratoga, thanks to the Heritage Preservation Commission, the city has approached homeowners and placed one home so far on a historic inventory. Alexandra Nugent, a member of the commission, said more homes may win this honor.

A home by architects Anshen and Allen, not for Eichler but for another developer, has also attained landmark status in Saratoga. It is owned by a member of the commission.

Currently the commission is working to provide historic inventory status not just to Eichler homes but to important and attractive features of Eichler landscaping.

The city may provide historic status to the planters at the entry to the Eichler homes of Saratoga. Photo by Dave Weinstein

These are the entrance planters at the Saratoga Eichler tract, which Sandy L. Baily, a special projects manager, has been studying. “The esteemed landscape architectural firm, Royston, Hanamoto, Mayes & Beck of San Francisco, designed the entrance planters along with street tree planting for the Eichler Homes of Saratoga in 1963,” she reports.

“Landscape design created by a very highly regarded firm as part of a development was unusual at the time,” she adds.

Take some time during preservation month to visit Saratoga, with its charming downtown, its Eichler tract, and its planters.

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