Joseph Eichler, was not an architect, and according to his son Ned, “never held a hammer or saw, or wrench in his hand. Still, he became a master builder.” The legacy Joseph Eichler left behind is a testament to his vision to create quality, well-designed, affordable homes for the masses, exposing them to the high ideals and craftsmanship that the mid-century modernist movement offered to the higher levels of society.
His initial inspiration came during a time when he lived in a home rented in Hillsborough, Ca, The Bazett House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright’s use of flat or low sloping roofs, open floor plans and the attempt to marry an enclosed structure with the landscape surrounding it, prompted Eichler to seek like minded young architects who could achieve these same elements in mass produced housing developments, offered to the middle classes. Not only did he envision a high level of quality and design for the residents, he also sought to unite them, by providing greenbelts, public park spaces and community centers, which would set the standard for housing developments for years to come.
Joseph Eichler didn’t stop at brick and mortar building when he imagined these communities. He was dedicated to the view that each of his developments be all-inclusive, and was the first to offer his homes to multi-racial families. His challenging designs and non-discrimination policies were obstacles at the start, difficult for the typical traditional 1950’s families to overcome. He went so far as to build a home on his own lot for a leader of the NAACP. In 1958, Joseph Eichler actually resigned as chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, who refused to support his non-discrimination policy. “If, as you claim, this will destroy property values, you should be ashamed of yourselves for wasting your time and mine with such pettiness” said Eichler.
Many would say his passion, charm, sense of humor, and utmost integrity was ultimately the key to winning his audience over…and win them over he did! From 1949 to 1966, Joseph Eichler Homes built 10,000 homes in Northern California, and another 1,000 in Southern California. As coincidence would have it, his award for “Subdivision of the Year” was placed on the opposite page of A. Quincy Jones’ award for “Builder’s House of the Year”. This prompted Eichler to contact Jones and his partner Fredrick Emmons, this resulted in their partnership lasting until Eichler’s death in 1974. In addition, Eichler formed working partnerships with Raphael Soriano, Wright disciple Robert Anshen, and the Northern California firm of Claude Oakland and Associates.
As Eichler Homes grew, the unmistakable identity of “California Modern” grew along with it. Their homes were clean and airy, often with open entry atriums, glass walls which would invite the outdoors in, post and beam construction, flat or low sloping ceilings, sky lights, radiant heating, plank wood siding and decks, sliding glass doors both on the exterior and interior (used for closets and kitchen cabinets), and open floor plans…all inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies Van der Rohe, and executed, without scrimping, for thousands of California families. The demand and appreciation for these homes is currently seeing a resurgence among those who seek the best examples of affordable, but excellent, mid-century design.