Don't Deserve This Home: Joseph Eichler's Mass Market Conceit
there's nothing cooler than the slope of a 1957
Chevrolet's tail fin, that same car
is a smog-spewing, gas-guzzling metal coffin with functional flaws
aplenty. Similarly, don't let the clean, distinctive lines and mass-market
appeal of an Eichler fool you — it's the '57 Chevy of homes.
Eichler's post-and-beam design followed the anti-ornamental ethic
of Bauhaus and Craftsman and created an iconic California backdrop
for the middle-class of the 1950s and '60s. Framed glass walls
produce the illusion of bringing the outdoors in, where ambient
the hand jive with interior space. The home invited you to pull
up your Eames side chair, sip a pink martini and spin Les Baxter
Eichler was no architect. He was an ex-poultry business manager
whose epiphany came after renting a house designed by
Wright. That prompted him to join a pair of California's architectural
young lions (Anshen & Allen in San Francisco in 1949 and
Jones & Emmons
in Los Angeles in 1953) to form Eichler Homes Inc.
partnership went right to his chicken-rancher's head. "Beauty
is achieved by the architect's skill in designing details,
his blend of materials and proper proportions, and above all,
good taste," Eichler said. "In short, we produce
a work of art that has gained an international reputation."
short — depending on your perspective — Eichler
homes are either pristine or sterile, sleek or monotonous,
cool or snobbish sub-urbanity. Once, when a prospective
buyer inquired about cracks caused by natural aging in the
beams of an Eichler
living room, Joseph Eichler exploded like a temperamental
can get out of my house right now!" he ranted. "Just
get out! You don't deserve to have one of my houses!"
who did deserve an Eichler home often wished they could
get out. Like a finned Chevy, Eichlers could be unworkable
flat or slightly pitched roofs were prone to leak and
sag. The plumbing, located beneath a concrete slab floor that
offered no access for normal maintenance or repairs. Nothing
in an Eichler was standard size, so upkeep was pricey.
windows, Eichlers were hot in the summer and cold in the
Eichler Homes Inc. went the way of the Chevy fin. By 1967, the
enterprise was bankrupt. Today,
can see Eichlers
native habitat bordered by Hewes, Fairhaven, Prospect
and La Veta in Orange, California. Some have canary-yellow
daisy whirly gigs. Others are Frankensteins of Provincial
and Modern styles,
with the occasional pickup parked on the lawn out front.
A fair number are show-quality — and unfortunately,
an Eichler in primo condition can still seduce, just
like that 1957 Chevy. You may be tempted to
buy an Eichler, fill it with Heywood-Wakefield furniture,
sunburst clocks and Melinamade fabrics; put Thievery
Corporation on the CD
player and Pollack on the walls; and watch Rebel Without
a Cause until your style-o-meter hits the red zone.
You could cruise to these words
from an article on Eichler homes in the July 12, 2002,
Orange County Register: "The sleek lines and flowing
open space of the home… speaks of a time before
the American soul — and its living
quarters — were crushed by consumerism."
a minute. You're overheating. Your Chevy's in the
shop, and your Eichler is a piece of high-maintenance
lines speaking to a retro-future in which style masked
— Nathan Callahan,
August 29, 2002