Touring Hillsborough & Atherton Eichlers

While many people who live in Eichlers in Hillsborough and Atherton love the homes, economic forces are betting against their continued existence. Here, Bobby Thompson, Chelsea Woo, and daughter Frankie enjoy a musical interlude in their Hillsborough home. Photo by Sabrina Huang

Once there were 18 Eichler homes in two of the Bay Area’s wealthiest communities, Hillsborough and Atherton. Today there are 11.

Joe Eichler liked the towns so much he lived there himself, first in a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Hillsborough, and then in not one but two custom Eichler homes in Atherton and Hillsborough.

Are the Eichlers of Hillsborough and Atherton a threatened species, as the numbers might suggest. In ‘Slipping Away,’ our sneak preview of the new summer '17 issue of CA-Modern magazine, we consider that question – and offer a degree of hope.

Along with threats to Eichler homes posed by skyrocketing property values and the desire of some buyers to replace these relatively modest homes with giant ones, we find some people who continue to treasure and preserve their Eichlers in these two bucolic communities.

Eric Lane, a planning commissioner in Atherton who lives in a wonderful Eichler there, set out the threat when we spoke to him for the story:

Eric Lane, seen here with wife Rena, is a planning commissioner in Atherton and is worried about the future of mid-century modern homes there. Photo by Sabrina Huang

“When I see a mid-century modern or a ranch in Atherton, I know it has a short life,” he said. “Virtually every mid-century modern in Atherton that I’ve seen has been torn down and replaced.”

A count also suggests the dangers facing these homes.

The city of Atherton, population 6,995 in the 2010 census, median income $250,000, said to be the highest in the nation, had seven existing Eichlers, and five Eichlers that had been torn down or remodeled out of existence.

Hillsborough, which indeed is hillier than the generally flat Atherton, with 10,825 residents and a median income of $193,000, had four existing Eichlers, and two that had been torn down or remodeled away.

An attractive Eichler home remains in its original form on St. Francis Road in Hillsborough. Photo by Dave Weinstein

But there remain people in these communities, like Debbie and John Pinkston, who very much love their homes and plan to keep them intact. In the Pinkstons’ case, their offspring hope to keep the home going as well.

Monique Lombardelli, a realtor who focuses on Eichlers, argues that the homes can continue their existence even in such tony locales because they are so desirable. She notes that some owners seek out buyers who wish to preserve the homes, when it is time to sell.

Indeed, the Eichlers of Hillsborough and Atherton are very special among the work of Joe Eichler. Several are unique, and others are custom homes based in large part on his standard tract homes. Many are on hilly sites, and many are surrounded by mature oaks and other trees.

The two Eichler homes in which Joe Eichler and his family lived illustrate both the threats to these homes and their potential stability.

This is the site of an early, custom Eichler home that was torn down to make way for what you see here. The property is across the street from Joe Eichler's own home. Photo by Dave Weinstein

One of these is the home in which Joe lived from 1951, a very early Eichler home designed by Anshen and Allen and based in part on the plan of the Bazett house, the Wright-designed home where Eichler lived a few years earlier, and which inspired him to take up modern homebuilding.

This Eichler house, in Atherton, remains essentially intact today, under current owners Paul Feder and Ginny Anderson.

“The house is an etude in parallelograms,” Paul says. “Our shower is triangular. There’s not a square room in the house. The house has got repeating patterns over and over again, the way an artist uses different colors and repeats the colors. The house is a work of art.”

The other Eichler home in which Joe lived has met a very different fate. It has essentially been remodeled out of existence. That's a pity because it was one of the most unique custom Eichlers ever. The home, in Hillsborough, where Joe and his wife lived from 1972 to his death two years later, was designed by architect Claude Oakland to provide a large, octagonal atrium surrounded by bedrooms, and living, dining, and sitting rooms and a kitchen.

Eichler had planned an upscale subdivision of homes in Atherton dubbed 'Lindenwood,' where his own home was built. But only a few were actually built and even fewer remain today.

The Eichlers of Atherton and Hillsborough are unusual in another way. Except for one small cluster of five existing homes in Atherton, they are mostly standalones. The Feder-Anderson home sits across the street from the site where another lovely, early Eichler once stood. But it was torn down, and a replacement home was going up on the site on a recent visit.

There are a few other existing Eichler homes within a few blocks of the Feders. But on the whole, Hillsborough and Atherton do not have Eichler “neighborhoods.”

Read more about the Eichlers of Atherton and Hillsborough in our sneak preview of the summer '17 issue of CA-Modern – ‘Slipping Away.’

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