An Eichler Story

A Tragedy?


We had only an hour to get there and see it. An open house of the Jones and Emmons designed Eichler that Joe Eichler built, in 1964, for his son Richard.

It sits on a large beautiful lot in Atherton, California and that is the basis of a possible tragedy ( November 28, 2000: It seems that the house was sold for 6 million to be torn down).

You see, the house is up for sale and the ground it sits on is “too valuable” for this “small” four bedroom (plus study) house. So, repeating a pattern all to common in the area, this historical work may well be purchased for several million dollars just to be torn down so that a Modern Look-at-Me Ugly can be erected.

I try to avoid wakes and this was surely one with all the usual clicks and pundits. The place was heavy with opinion. Even given the rumors and recent history, I cannot believe that this will be the fate of this house.

A piece of history dies and I doubt that what will replace it will have any history at all. No past means no future. Is “success” here in Silicon Valley becoming an out-of-control positive feedback loop? When does symptom become cause?

There are many houses of no particular character or value that can be replaced, There are many that can accept extensive remodeling. There is room for the new and a good neighborhood is one not dominated by any style or type and one that supports a range of house sizes and values... and historical periods. Why destroy this house? Its only crime is that the architect and builder did a particularly good job of selecting the property and placing the house on the site. It will never be repeated. The circumstances will not return. What will replace it most likely will be as common as this days cliché. Anyone with common sense or a sense of architecture would never participate in this act.

The lesson we have to learn as a species is that we should not do some things even if we have the means to do it - and the freedom to do it. I wonder to what extent that this scenario is just a reflection of what we are seeing in business everyday. “Build to Last” has become build to flip. Is this the “new” economy? What is new about it?

Let us say that an individual had several million dollars of rare and un-replaceable art. Let’s do a mind experiment: This individual decides to hold a party and burn the art on the front lawn. Why not? S/he owns the art. Just to make it more fun why not burn the several large Redwood trees that happen to be there. They can grow back in a few hundred years - maybe a thousand. After all, this is just property. How could this have anything to do with commonwealth? Or, the notion of Stewardship. Na. While we are at it lets through in some rare books. Everybody can come over and roast marshmallows! Art, I understand - along with some good redwoods - makes a great campfire. I suppose that no one would complain. Or wonder. I wonder.

Have you ever been a little bit curious about what was in the Library of Alexandria? I suppose not. What did they know? After all we are the modern ones and no doubt the epitome of civilization. I bet they could not even do a net present value calculation. Silly of me to wonder. It must have been a hell of a fire. Crowd pleasor I bet. Lucky for us that those people could not possibly have anything to teach us.

Why is Architecture the most vulnerable of the Arts?

Of course, as I look at the front, I have to admit it really does not look important. How could I have missed this today? Why, if I owned this would my neighbors know that I could have spent more? Would they appreciate that I was exercising constraint and good taste? Maybe not. Would they understand the serenity and gradual transition of the entry? Maybe not. I don’t want to get kicked out of the club, you know. I hope no one notices that that a whole house could be squeezed onto that “wasted” front yard.

Well, anyway... I took some pictures and Gail and I left. This is a very nice piece - a classic of its kind. I hope that it will find a deserving and loving steward. I doubt that it will. If it is not, something unique will be lost. Something that cannot be replicated even someone were to attempt to do so.

What follows are my thoughts regarding this work and the place it holds in Architecture.

This home is unique in that it was built not on speculation, as a tract house, as the many Eichler’s were - but as a custom home for the builder’s son. It is larger than a typical Eichler and therefor a less constrained design problem than what the builder and architects usually had to deal with. While these constraints were useful in driving the creation of the genera, it is just as benificial to see a fuller expression of these ideas.

The Arts and Architecture movement that flourished in California from the end of WWII into the early 60’s was a serious attempt to build architecture that expressed specific lifestyle values. While Joe Eichler was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses, his work belongs squarely in the Arts and Architecture movement. This house for his son is a classic example of this movement.


Matt Taylor
Palo Alto
April 9, 2000

Postscript December 2000. It is not always loses. See this example of an Eichler renewal.

SolutionBox voice of this document:

posted April 9, 2000

revised December 23, 2000
• • • 20001223.541898. mt •

(note: this document is about 60% finished)

Copyright© Matt Taylor 1999, 2000

update to Matt’s Notebook

Search For:
Match:  Any word All words Exact phrase
Sound-alike matching
From: ,
To: ,
Show:   results   summaries
Sort by: