On the Market: Midcentury Marvels
The post-WWII period was a heady time for residential architecture in the Bay Area. During the building boom, developer Joseph Eichler created a distinctive version of the California ranch home and brought modernism to the masses. Meanwhile, notable architects like Joseph Esherick built private homes that integrated modernism’s clean lines and open layouts with the organic sensibilities of Northern California, helping to define a uniquely regional style. Half a century later, a new audience has come to value these homes for their honesty and clarity.
“It’s really like living in a piece of art, not in a house,” says Monique Lombardelli, CEO of Modern Homes Realty in Palo Alto, which focuses exclusively on homes from this period. Among her current listings is a 1965 ridgetop retreat in Soquel designed by Aaron Green, a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright. The home features an intricate floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace, pool and Japanese gardens; the price has not yet been set. Representing the sleeker side of modernism is the 1961 Daphne House in Hillsborough, designed by L.A. architect Craig Ellwood. The crisp steel-and-glass house looks out onto the golf greens of the Burlingame Country Club; it is available for $5 million and is offered through Crosby Doe Associates of Beverly Hills.
In addition to these one-of-a-kind estates, thanks to Joseph Eichler, the Bay Area has whole subdivisions of midcentury-modern homes, which afford the special experience of living in a community with his aesthetic. There are 11,000 Eichlers from Marin down to San Jose, as well as homes built by Eichler competitors. San Francisco has a cluster of Eichlers in Diamond Heights and is home to the developer’s only foray into high-rises: the Summit in Russian Hill.
The low-key homes emphasize a connection to the outdoors, rather than asserting themselves on the street. The most-prized Eichlers are located in neighborhoods that have taken care to protect their architectural integrity through homeowners’ associations. Two prime examples are Greenmeadow in Palo Alto, which is on the National Register of Historic Places; and San Rafael’s Upper Lucas Valley, the last subdivision that Eichler designed. Homes in the latter neighborhood are larger than previous iterations and have better finishes; Eichler also designed the development without utility poles and streetlights so there would be nothing to clutter up the streetscape. “Joe and his design team brought all of the wisdom they had evolved from the time they started building,” says longtime Marin Realtor Shelley Munson, whose mother Catherine was a salesperson for Eichler Homes for many years.
Now collectors’ items, Eichlers often fetch more when they are in their original condition. Currently on the market for just under $1.3 million is a 1960 Eichler at 1633 Fairorchard Avenue in San Jose’s desirable Willow Glen neighborhood, represented by Eric and Janelle Boyenga at Intero Real Estate. While not in virgin condition, the original mahogany paneling and globe lighting help the home maintain its groovy state.
A version of this article appeared in the February/March 2016 issue of SFC&G (San Francisco Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Midcentury Moment.