The Eichler homeowner – who are they now, and who have them been?
(Click on the map to enlarge the view)
Demography, among other things, can be a statistical study of all populations. Or, a social science that deals with a structure and distribution of a population. Or – other studies dealing with groups of people. While my thoughts and offerings here are far removed from those definitions, I do have some views, not studies, that are based on more than just casual opinions, and views that think may be of interest to the Eichler enthusiasts.
Let me provide the basis of those views in a chronological order. From 1958 to 1960, I watched with interest as the homes were being built in Sunnyvale and Palo Alto . I was in the Navy, stationed at Moffett Field, and between trips in my Air Transport Squadron VR-7, dropped in on open houses in the developments. They were beyond our budget at that time, even with Lt.JG income plus flight pay.
Several years later, in 1967, we returned to the bay area, and purchased our first Eichler in Sunnyvale . I was not professionally involved in real estate until much later, being gainfully employed in the health care industry, but I was still intrigued with the Eichler and its architecture heritage during our hiatus from the bay area, and certainly after our return. I watched, lived in, and lived near “the last of the Eichlers” during that period of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
Much later, in 1992, my career in real estate officially began, and I began my “retirement career” concentrating exclusively on the Eichler home. Longer term visitors to my original website, and now this one, know of my 17 plus years of intense involvement with these homes.
Now to demographics - Eichler owners are no more homogeneous than any other group of homeowners, but it has been interesting to see how the varying populations have changed over time. It is rather common for prospective home buyers, including Eichler home buyers, to select the home or homes for their potential purchase based on a budget and a location. A budget is rather obvious, and implicit in the location are things like school districts, neighborhood ambiance, distance of a commute to work, and so forth.
It was only during the period of the mid to late 1990’s – and beyond - that architectural style and mid-century design seemed to become more than a casual requirement of a homes purchase. As I worked with prospective home buyers I began to hear commentary employing phrases like “international style” or “Wrightian”, and the names of architect/designers such as Eames, Bertoia, Saarinen, Nelson and others. That wasn’t always the case.
In the 1950’s, “when it all began”, even though Joe Eichler wanted to bring ourstanding architectural design to the average home buyer, the “average Eichler home buyer” was attracted more by pricing and location, and in several cases by a “community approach”, than by architectural style. The term “mid-century modern” wasn’t in existence at that time, at least in my recollection. That was the mid-century! The open-architectural feel of the Eichler was a definite difference, and a positive one for those that were ready for more of a “ California modern” expression and style. While there were definitely those that “got it”, and appreciated the “contemporary “design homes of these talented architects, most did not understand that history in residential architecture was being made.
That lack of appreciation pretty much remained, and characterized the average Eichler homebuyer throughout the building years of the 60’s and 70’s, and as mentioned earlier, up until the 90’s. Indeed, when I began my real estate career in earnest, most (virtually all) real estate brokers and agents thought my concentration only on Eichlers was “nuts”, “a design for disaster in the business”, and ill-conceived in general for “1) no one likes them, 2) they’s cheaply constructed, 3) their roofs leak, 4) the radiant heat is no good, 5) some neighborhoods are looking lousy, “and more. No one, but no one, in the real estate community one seemed to know or appreciate their outstanding architecural heritage.
While I’d like to think my efforts had a bit to do with it, something happened in the 90’s that would have made Joe Eichler think it was all worthwhile. While a good many of the older Eichler homeowners, even original homeowners, were still enjoying their homes for the same reasons they bought them, a few began to understand what the new-found interest in their homes was all about. Their homes were physical specimens of the 1950’s culture, and many contained 50’s accoutrements. The architects that designed their homes had become internationally known and recognized by peers and publications. The designers and architects of that period – the 1950’s – Eames, Saarinen, Nelson, et al who had designed the timeless furniture and furnishing of the day had become icons, and commercial interests such as publications, (Dwell, et al), and furniture suppliers, (Design within Reach, et al) joined the party as well. The Baby Boomer generation, and even Gen-X had discovered what many of their parents had not. The product of the architects and designers of that “mid-century modern” period seemed to have stuck a welcome chord with those groups. And such was and is the case with many of today’s Eichler home buyers and afficiandos.
As I’ve often said, 9 digit zip codes, and all that designation means to a home buyer, may be the focus as well as “catch all” of a home search. But today, as opposed to earlier times, many home buyers have refined or “elevated” their search requirement to include theses historic homes – “the Eichler.” As long as the budget allowed, those home buyers fit right in to the demography that Joe Eichler envisioned. Now, given the variety of commercialized interest and attention now surrounding the Eichler, I think the full circle of Joe Eichler’s intent has closed, and his vision more completely understood.