When Eichler Provided the Family Photos

Mon and daughter
Margot Gordon (left) and her daughter, Pam, recently unearthed a trove of photos taken by Eichler's photographer Ernie Braun of their family in their home 50 years ago. It brought on reflections about their family's life in the home. Photo: Sabrina Huang.

Joe Eichler could be a persuasive man. Back in 1968 to publicize a new tract in Los Altos, he convinced Margot and Barry Gordon to let photographer Ernie Braun take photos of their family in their new home for Life magazine. Fifty years later, still in their home, Margot and her children reflect on the experience and its upshots in ‘Life on the Line’ in the new spring ‘20 issue of our CA-Modern magazine.

“He kind of seduced us with the idea that all of these [photos], or some of them, would be in Life magazine,” says Margot, who had family living back East, as did Barry. “And we bought into it because we thought that would be fun, because everyone across the country, including our relatives, would see them.”

“I was so excited about being in Life magazine,” she says. “And Joe knew it.”

Braun meticulously composed his images, which required Margot and Pam to pose for extended periods. Historic photos by Ernie Braun.

Margot, an energetic woman and fitness buff who keeps her home in pristine condition, has worked as a grief counselor with family members in hospital emergency rooms and intensive care units. A cancer survivor herself, today Margot provides fitness training to people recovering from cancer at the El Camino YMCA. She is also qualified to teach 'laughter yoga.'

She is the sort of straight-talking, strong woman that you could imagine holding her own with Joe Eichler.

Her daughter, Pam, a mother of two who has worked in the tech industry, today does consulting for both small businesses and individuals. Margot’s son, Dan Gordon, has won fame among culinary and brew fans as owner and co-founder of Gordon Biersch Brewing Co.

  Kitchen new
Margot and Pam recreate the scene originally staged by Braun. Not much has changed over the years, it seems. Photo: Sabrina Huang

Dan developed his skills as a chef starting at age 9, preparing the family meal every Wednesday -- Chinese stir fry, sushi back before most folks knew what it was, handmade pastas.

Barry, a dentist, world traveler, photographer, and devotee of many other activities, passed away six years ago. For a time Joe Eichler lived in the tract, and Barry and Joe would get together to smoke cigars.

Braun (1921-2010) may not have designed Eichler houses, but he did as much as anyone to define how people saw them through a series of remarkable photographs for ads, brochures and, yes, magazines.

Living room
Mother and daughter can be seen far in the background of this Ernie Braun shot, which looks through their living room into the backyard.

The experience of serving as unpaid models for an Eichler photo shoot proved to be a much more demanding process than Barry or Margot had ever imagined.

All told, the experience took close to a week, with Ernie working mostly during the days, but some nights as well. Joe Eichler stopped by, and Joe’s architect Claude Oakland, who’d designed the house, was there several times.

“I had two young children and a husband, and I tried to work my daily routine around this,” Margot says. “I’m not complaining, but it was far more time consuming than I had anticipated. It wasn’t like taking snapshots of the house.”

“Ernie was very painstaking, and it took days to set up different aspects of the shoot,” Margot says. Braun did not joke or engage in much small talk.

Living today
Here's the living room today. The Gordons have always loved the house and have seen no reason to change it. Photo: Sabrina Huang

One shot shows mother and daughter at work in their kitchen. Margot recalls:

“For her age, Pam was extremely patient. She still is. I think we were in the kitchen for a good four hours off and on, and it was at night. And you did say you were getting tired,” Margot says, addressing her daughter. “And I think he came back and staged it another day, because he was very painstaking about the angles and the lighting.”

A set of photos Braun shot of the Gordon family were left behind as a family scrapbook. Margot brought it out fairly recently after not seeing it for years. Looking at the photos provoked thoughts about the family’s past, about the house, about working with Ernie and Joe.

And of course about Life magazine. There’s more to be said about that. To find out what, read ‘Life on the Line,’ a sneak preview of the new spring '20 CA-Modern magazine.

Keep in touch with the Eichler Network. SUBSCRIBE to our free e-newsletter