Death of an Eichler: Early Menlo Park Home Suddenly Razed

A sad message came into the Eichler Network’s world headquarters this week: On Monday, a backhoe rolled up to 1798 Oakdell Drive, in Menlo Park’s Stanford Gardens neighborhood, and unceremoniously knocked it down.

Reader Stefan Heller, who lives in an Eichler around the corner, sent this photograph of the equipment in place, which he took as he rode his bike to work:

By the evening, only a pile of rubble stood in the corner lot:

It happened so suddenly, nobody had a chance to document the house before the teardown. But it’s still visible in this April 2011 photo from Google’s Street View:

The house on Oakdell dated back to the early 50s, and is among the earliest of Eichler’s developments. Public records show it sold in May 2012 for $1,420,800. I have the owners’ names, but since I haven’t been able to contact them, I’ll leave that information out for now.

Stanford Gardens, where 1798 Oakdell sat, was completed in January 1950. It was the fifth modern development Eichler ever built, clustered mostly around Evergreen Street (which runs along the block behind our recent casualty). A designer named “Castor” worked with Eichler on it, but we don’t know his first name. Stanford Gardens' dozen homes represented the last development before Eichler started working with Anshen and Allen. Houses in Stanford Gardens had two and a half baths, offered Eichler's first radiant heat systems, and originally went for $19,500.

Another 14-home Eichler tract from the same era, Oakdell Park, sits two blocks to the north around the intersection of Oakdell Drive and Olive Street. Designed by Anshen and Allen and Jones & Emmons, the homes there sat on a quarter-acre each and sold for $25,000 to $29,500 – a pretty penny in the early '50s! A vintage brochure includes this interior shot:

The house on the corner of Oakdell Drive and Lemon Street isn’t the first Eichler to be torn down recently in the Stanford Gardens neighborhood. Last June a Craigslist ad appeared, offering a home on an Evergreen Street lot for free to anyone who would truck it away. The owners, Ron and Ellis Bigelow, wanted to build a new, green-construction house, LEED platinum compliant and up to modern codes, and they couldn’t make that work with the Eichler that sat on the property, Ron Bigelow told me.

“We tried to figure out a way to deconstruct the house or give it to somebody and let them take it away, but that’s a complicated thing and it never worked out.” One of their architects salvaged some of the lumber for her own mid-century modern house in Berkeley, but sadly, most of the fixtures were lost. “We would have given that away to anybody to come take it, but nobody lined up,” Bigelow said. “Two people wanted to take the entire house, several people wanted to come and take pieces, but that just never came to fruition.” He said the new house they have planned would fit with the mid-century modern aesthetic of the neighborhood.

“The Bigelows did a good job. They went to the neighborhood and gave everybody their plans. They talked to everybody; they introduced themselves. And while they tore down an Eichler, they’re replacing it with something that preserves the modern character of the neighborhood,” Heller said.

Part of that is thanks to city regulations. "All of our Eichlers in our subdivisions, except for the corners, are on what’s called substandard lots," Heller said. They’re long and narrow, and close together. "The City requires lots of communication with the neighbors if you want to do something like add a second story. So we have a lot of leverage. But the corner lots are fair game. If a developer gets ahold of those, the neighbors never know."

And so it was that the neighborhood woke up on Monday to find itself one Eichler home poorer.

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