Saturday, March 28, 2009

Eichler Houses - Part 1

In the mid-1950s, Denver developer H.B. Wolff & Co. transplanted a piece of California into southeast Denver. Wolff faithfully copied the modernist architecture elements pioneered by Joseph Eichler for tract housing in California: the low-pitched roofs, the open floor plans, the single car carports, and the walls of glass doors that led out to backyard living space. I snapped these representative photographs today as I walked through one of Wolff's subdivisions, Krisana Park.

While these Eichler look-alike houses captured the fancy of academics and artists in 1950s Denver, the houses were ill-suited to the Colorado climate. The low roofs allowed little space for insulation and the 1950s single-pane glass let the heat leak out during the winter. But the trendy Denverites of that era probably didn't care. It was worth a few extra bucks on the heating bill to live like an up-to-date Californian.

A week ago, I chatted with a man living in the Krisana Park area, which boasts 175 Eichler copies. Given his eagerness to share information about his house with a complete stranger, he obviously took great pride in owning a piece of architectural history. The man's house had three bedrooms and two full bathrooms, one at each end of the hall. Having two full bathrooms was quite remarkable in the 1950s, he told me. I had no opinion myself about 1950s bathrooms, but some reply seemed to be called for. I smiled and said, "Oh."

The man asserted that his house was equivalent to an authentic California house by Joseph Eichler down to the last detail and directed my attention to the house's roofline and windows. Unfortunately, I couldn't give the man the enthusiastic affirmation he obviously sought, owing to my total ignorance of Joseph Eichler and his architectural designs. I asked the man to spell "Eichler" for me, and I returned home to investigate the Eichler story. My findings will be summarized in Part 2.