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2008 Holiday House Tour: Eichlers!

The 2008 Holiday House Tour took us to new territory — Palo Alto's Greenmeadow, Green Gables and Edgewood neighborhoods! Two of the featured properties were honored with PAST Preservation Awards in May 2008 as well as being located in the two newest National Trust listings for Palo Alto. An essay on Eichler homes printed in the tour booklet is below.

2008 ticket

This was our first all–Eichler tour! We celebrated our National Register Eichler treasures by touring a house in Green Gables, two in the adjacent Edgewood neighborhood and four in Greenmeadow. A total of seven houses! The two Edgewood houses were especially interesting because one is exactly as built in 1956 and the other has just been remodeled.


Edgewood/Green Gables

Greenmeadow

749 Wildwood

749 Wildwood Lane — An award–winning Edgewood Eichler

520 El Capitan

520 El Capitan — An exciting Greenmeadow Eichler

761 Wildwood

761 Wildwood Lane — An orginal Edgewood Eichler with pretty bathrooms and original brass hardware

270 Parkside

270 Parkside Drive — Greenmeadow up-dated, but with a traditional feel.

774 Wildwood

774 Wildwood Lane — Stunning bathrooms in a remodeled Green Gables Eichler with a tree house that wasn't included on the tour.

291 Parkside

291 Parkside Drive — A Greenmeadow Eichler that is a modern version of the original.

Read more about Edgewood Plaza and Greenmeadow and their significance.

318 Parkside

318 Parkside Drive — A Greenmeadow Eichler with 21th century touches

The following is re–printed from the Holiday House Tour Booklet

EICHLER HOMES: MODERNISM AT MID-CENTURY

The PAST 21st Holiday House Tour will focus on the works not of a particular architect, but on a particular style: mid-Century Modern, and on the best known interpreter of this style, Joseph Eichler, a merchant builder. It may seem strange that a builder's name should become synonymous with a new aesthetic in home design, but that is exactly what happened in the 1950s and 1960s when Eichler had the vision to employ forward–thinking architects to design his developments during the building boom in post–World War II California. Joseph Eichler had no prior background in either building or architecture when he started, except for an influential brief stay in a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Burlingame. However, his association with modernist architect Robert Anshen resulted in a new type of middle class home: one that could be built relatively cheaply using standardized building materials and mass–production techniques, but would still benefit from architecturally–inspired site planning, building layout and design elements. It was Eichler Homes, the company that Joseph Eichler founded, that brought this idea to fruition in the suburbs of Northern California, and nowhere did Eichler Homes build these new suburban houses than right here in Palo Alto. Of his nearly 11 ,000 homes, Joseph and his architects built 2700 in our city, more than in any other locale. And although Eichler and his team built thousands of homes elsewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California, Eichler located his own offices in Palo Alto, first on El Camino Real, and later at Edgewood Plaza.

So what was all the excitement about? Buyers of Eichler's single–family homes probably had no idea that their houses were designed by architects, but they responded enthusiastically to the design ideas that they incorporated. In the process, the home buyers and their homes came to represent a distinctively new suburban lifestyle that became widely imitated and discussed both nationally and internationally. The modern design elements that so distinguished these houses were principally:

Beyond the innovative designs of the Eichler houses themselves, Eichler and his architects—particularly A. Quincy Jones, a pre–eminent architect from Southern California—also designed many of their tracts with the idea of building integral neighborhoods and communities. They knew that people did not live in houses alone, which is why so many of the Eichler tracts are built near schools, parks, libraries, and churches. And the Eichler team built their own community focal points: the Greenmeadow pool and community center, and later, the Eichler Swim and Tennis Club on Louis Road, are cases in point. In these, Eichler deliberately sacrificed land for housing in order to construct community recreational space where neighbors could gather and play together. The Edgewood Plaza Shopping Center is another case in which Eichler sacrificed buildable housing space in order to provide shops, offices, and a service station that were intentionally designed as an integral part of the neighborhood they served.

All of these ideas of the functional modern house situated near community serving public places were eagerly embraced by a group of forward-looking Californians—many new to the area—who shared an interest in the new and untraditional: modern art, jazz, and progressive education, among other things. Many of the scientists and engineers who were creating the aerospace and electronics industries that become known as Silicon Valley were the very people who bought Eichler's innovative houses. in the process, they forged a new lifestyle known as California Modern. With the uncluttered, streamlined, open-plan house that faced away from the street and incorporated a seamless flow between the main living spaces and the backyard, this California interpretation of the modern lifestyle focused on a private, rather sheltered domesticity, that was in stark contrast to the zealous manifecto-driven modernism of Europe earlier in the century, or the uncompromising rigidity of the international Style that predominated on the East Coast.

Although many in Palo Alto, where so much of our built space is mid-Century Modern, may now find the idea of this house style to be banal, this style in fact incorporated a revolutionary set of ideas for middle class suburban housing, and as such had a wide impact on suburban design both nationally and even internationally. By 1955, when Eichler Homes built over 900 houses in one year, these homes had been featured in nearly every local newspaper and magazine, as well as national publications such as Life, House and Garden, Architectural Forum, and other architectural journals throughout the world. With a resurgence of interest in mid-Century Modern in our own time, this coverage has been mirrored by feature articles on Eichlers in newspapers and journals world-wide including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Atlantic Monthly, Dwell and Atomic Ranch, as well as Axis (a Japanese design magazine) and Spaziocasa (an Italian design magazine). Today, you would be hard pressed to find a school of architecture anywhere in the world where the name Eichler is not known.

The idea that Eichler homes are special, both because of their innovative designs and use of materials and because of the mid–century California lifestyle they came to represent, resulted in the nomination of two of the earliest and more architecturally intact Eichler subdivisions—Green Gables (63 homes) and Greenmeadow (243 homes)—to the National Register of Historic Places. This designation, which was accorded to these Palo Alto neighborhoods in July of 2005 by the National Park Service, was precedent setting, as these were among the youngest buildings ever accorded this honor. But the honor should not have come as a surprise, given the acclaim and attention these buildings continue to receive from architecture aficionados and cultural historians. The Eichler homes of Palo Alto reflect an important, but still little recognized era in our history. In the words of architectural critic and historian, Alan Hess, "Although largely untold, America's move to the suburbs is the greatest urban story of the second half of the 20th century." And it was in Palo Alto, under the direction of Joseph Eichler and his team of architects that the idea of what a suburb could be, in the best sense of the term, was forged.

Kathryn Craven-Sarr

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