Sunday, March 29, 2009

Eichler Houses - Part 2

Extracted from Paul Adamson's articles in the Eichler Network newsletter
[My comments in blue]

Born in New York to European Jewish parents, Joseph Eichler received a business degree from New York University and started a career on Wall Street. After marriage to his wife Lillian, he began working for his in-laws' family-run poultry concern. The Eichlers moved to the West Coast in 1940, where Joe assumed the position of treasurer for the family business.

In 1942, Eichler rented a Frank Lloyd Wright house, known as the Bazett House, in Hillsborough from an Air Force pilot who was stationed overseas. The experience Eichler had living in this house would change his life. Eichler, who had been an admirer of Wright, now gained a deeper appreciation for his architecture. He was intrigued by the Bazett house and delighted in its spatial complexities -- the overlapping of exterior and interior, and the way daylight filtered in from so many directions, changing the mood of each room throughout the day. Three years of living in the Bazett house may very well have loosened Joe Eichler's spirit enough to allow him to feel his own internal stirrings for creative self-expression. So, when a scandal involving the family business forced Eichler to seek a new career, his experience in this house was in large part what inspired him to launch a home-building concern.

When the war ended, Eichler began his new venture, building prefabricated houses on individual lots. Over the next two years, Joe developed the company to the point where he was building small tracts. Meanwhile, no doubt thinking of his family's enjoyment of the Wright house during the war, Eichler sought out an architect to design them a new family home with a Modernist design. He settled on Robert Anshen, a young architect who, like many of his generation, could not help but be influenced by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.

While Ashen was designing the Eichler family home [which was never built because Eichler's funds were insufficient for his architectural expectations], Anshen noted that Eichler was unsatisfied with the designs being used for his tract housing. Eichler's younger son, Ned, who would later join the business, recalls a conversation between Anshen and his father in which the architect criticized his work. "Joe," he asked, "how can someone like you, who loves real architecture, build this crap?"

Anshen proposed that Eichler hire him to design a subdivision. Eichler at first dismissed the idea with a scowl, claiming Anshen lacked the discipline to design within the strict budgets required in merchant building. [The scowl was Eichler's customary expression. He was described as a hard guy to work for -- a demanding, arrogant, tough-talking, cigar-smoking New Yorker.] Later in 1949, however, it was agreed that Anshen would develop three prototypical designs for a 50-unit subdivision in Sunnyvale. That subdivision sold out in two weeks, and the national press hailed their success as a bold, new kind of tract house.

Eichler Homes, Inc. went on to build nearly 11,000 single-family homes in California, mainly in Northern California, where they can be found in areas in and around Marin county, the East Bay, San Mateo county, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento. As regional architecture especially suited for the Bay Area's benign climate, the Eichler house designs befuddled the traditional masses -- emphasizing boldness, change, and optimism through indoor-outdoor living, walls of glass, atriums, and radiant-heat floors.


From a late 1950s Eichler Homes, Inc. brochure:

Some of the most respected names in American industry are represented in the components of an Eichler Home. Armstrong cork floors cover the living area. Window walls of Pittsburgh crystal glass include Arcadia sliding glass door, the finest made, while the fully screened and weather-stripped windows are by Rusco. Kitchen and snack bar counters are covered with genuine Formica, heat and scratch resistant and easy to clean.

[Wow, genuine Formica! You won't find any imitation Formica in an Eichler home.]