When Eichler Built Homes in Fairyland

A fairytale setting amidst hills, public open space, and trails inspired Joe Eichler's ad men to concoct a creative campaign. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Sometimes fairytales come true. Take a look at one of the best preserved and most livable countryside Eichler neighborhoods anywhere – Upper Lucas Valley in Marin County.

With hills looming above the neighborhood's winding streets, with trails for bikes, hikers and horses, with creeks and a community center and pool, and with homes that remain pristine, this is one tract that has retained its appeal since it was brand new.

The homes were built between 1963 and 1967 to designs by Jones & Emmons and Claude Oakland. Oakland himself owned a home there.

It’s clear that when Joe Eichler began building there he knew it would be a special place. That is shown both by the amenities he provided to the neighbors – and by the way he promoted the development in his advertising.

The 'wizard' of Lucas Valley seems to have been Joe Eichler himself. Ads courtesy of Jerry Grantz

Rather unusually, Eichler ran newspaper ads and published flyers that dealt with the new tract as though it were the setting of fairytales and fables. Lucas Valley even came with its resident wizard. And who was that wizard? One guess.

Eichler himself – though one ad made free and easy with details of biography, as fairytales often do.

The ad featuring the talking bicycle suggests a fable.

“The Magician of Lucas Valley,” one ad proclaimed.

“Once a magician lived by himself in the beautiful land of Lucas Valley. As the years went by he grew more lonesome and thought he should have other people near him. So he decided to build houses. He called them Eichler homes.”

We discovered these ads last year when interviewing the man who wrote them, Jerry Grantz. Jerry displayed several of the campaigns he had worked on, including this one about Lucas Valley.

Over the years Eichler Homes tried various creative advertising strategies – but none other quite like that for Lucas Valley.

“A fairytale. Lucas Valley,” Jerry said. “That’s what Lucas Valley was to be.”

But what is truly interesting about the ad campaign isn’t its fantastical element. It’s that the fairytales and fables are all based in truth – in the planning the Eichler organization did to ensure a good quality of life in what would become a 538-home neighborhood.

“The Magician of Lucas Valley” ad, for example, went on with a dire worry:

“What if every rooftop has a TV and FM aerial. The views of the hills and the trees would be shut out. The sky would be seen only through a maze of wires and poles. The aerials would ruin wonderful Lucas Valley.”

“[The wizard] made a decision. Using his great skill he caused a master antenna to appear on a distant hill. Now, there would be no need for individual aerials.”

Joe Eichler must have enjoyed this ad.

Today, the master antenna has long since been replaced by a satellite dish, and the cable system is run by the homeowners association.

And how about this ad, “The Bicycle Who Found a Friend?”

Here’s the bicycle speaking: “Beautiful oak trees, a quiet stream, a magnificent climate. I especially love the rolling hills. Nothing is more fun than riding up and over them.”

Talking trees served as spokespeople for Eichler Homes.

But the plot grows clouded as the bike learns Joe Eichler plans to build homes.

“What will happen to Lucas Valley,” the bike wonders.

What happened was, Eichler built trails and did not build homes in the hills.

Things got even better in 1973 when residents of the neighborhood banded together to fend off a proposal to build housing nearby by pushing for a bond issue to acquire 286 acres. The result was the creation of  the Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve, which is managed by the Marin Open Space District but owned by the homeowners association, and is open to the public.

In addition to a talking bicycle, Jerry Grantz came up with talking trees for the ad, “The Trees that Didn’t Become Power Poles.”

After Joe announced, “I’m going to build beautiful houses here,” the trees grew frightened.

“We’re going to be turned into ugly power poles with wires running through our branches,” they thought.

But, of course, the trees had nothing to worry about.

The ad men called upon a beach ball to represent residents who sought to have a swimming pool in their neighborhood.

Let Joe, "in a clear voice,” explain why: “The trees will remain! All utilities will be underground. There will not be one power pole or wire anywhere in Lucas Valley.”

And so it came to pass.

The fourth ad suggests how Joe worked with residents to ensure the good life in Lucas Valley. This time the hero is…a beach ball. A beach ball who “wished for one thing,” a swimming pool.

“So she and her friends formed a committee and wrote to Mr. Eichler about the pool. He thought about their request, then made a decision.”

“Lucas Valley will have a complete recreation center.”

And so it does. It is far from clear, however, whether this fairytale is true. Much more likely is that Eichler planned the pool and rec center from the start.

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