Remembering Joseph L. Eichler

It has been 37 years since builder Joseph L. Eichler passed away (July 25, 1974). As such, it seems fitting to talk more about him and his work.

In addition to being the owner and overseer of Eichler Homes, Inc., he was a progressive, intellectual humanitarian. His attention to detail set him apart from his colleagues. For an outstanding and in-depth look at his life and achievements, I highly recommend reading "Joe Eichler Profile" by Paul Adamson from the Eichler Network.

I'd also like to share Joseph L. Eichler's obituary that I found on the front page of the San Mateo Times dated Saturday, July 27, 1974:

Joseph L Eichler, 74, whose Peninsula homes won national recognition — many of them built in central San Mateo — died Thursday at Sequoia Hospital, Redwood City, of a heart ailment.

Hailed as the "sympathetic builder" by Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and known at one time as the butter-and-egg builder," Eichler built more than 15,000 homes and 15 major apartment complexes and even in his recent years of semi-retirement, continued Peninsula home building.

His glass and redwood homes, with, their advanced, open styling, won every major award for architectural excellence the firm ever competed for on an international scale.

His Geneva Towers in 1966 — a federally assisted, low-rent, high-rise housing project, was the largest of its kind in the country. Although the firm he founded in 1947, Eichler Homes, Inc., went bankrupt after he sold it to two Los Angeles investors in 1966, Eichler returned to the field subsequently and developed the J. L. Eichler Associates, Inc., which in 1972 merged with the Klingbell Company, a Santa Clara-based firm which operated thousands of rental units.

Eichler was born in New York City and attended New York University, where he received a degree in accounting. He moved to the Bay Area in 1924, and made a fortune in the wholesale dairy business.

He applied merchandising principles to home building, after founding his firm in 1947, and hired top designers and architects to build homes in the developing Peninsula market.

One of his most controversial experimental homes was the X-100. built in the mid- 1960's in the Eichler Highlands, west of San Mateo.

It contained garden areas with translucent walls, sliding doors instead of windows: glass dividing walls, sky domes (to enjoy the stars on clear nights and to cut electric bills), a concealed cooking surface in the dining table, and a plumbing "core" with two baths, laundry, utility and kitchen in one location, separating free activity and living areas.

A strong proponent of civil rights, Eichler quit the Associated Home Builders organization because it would not endorse civil rights legislation.

Active as a Democrat and conservationist, he was county co-chairman of the Adlai Stevenson presidential campaign, and was Northern California chairman of the presidential bid of Pierre Salinger. Active also in philanthropic endeavors, he was the 1958 recipient of City of Hope's "Man of the Year" award. It was pointed out at that time that Eichler had donated major scholarships to colleges and universities, made liberal contributions to various charitable institutions, and had a major interest in aiding building funds for colleges and the Family Service Association.

Survivors include his widow, Mrs. Lillian Eichler of Burlingame; two sons, Edward, and Richard, and four grandchildren. Funeral services will be conducted at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Roller and Hapgood Funeral Home, Palo Alto.

Free Screening of "The Greenest Building" Documentary at the Crest!

"The greenest building is... one that is already built."
- Carl Elefante, AIA, LEED AP

On Monday, July 25th, 2011, The Greenest Building,” a new hour-long documentary will be shown at the Crest Theatre, 1013 K Street, Sacramento. All ages are welcome, and there is no charge for admission. Doors open at 6:30 for the 7PM show. A panel discussion will follow at approximately 8PM, highlighting the ideas in the film in relation to recent and upcoming preservation projects in Sacramento.

Per the event flyer, "The Greenest Building provides a compelling argument for conservation, rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of our existing building stock as the single-most effective strategy for reducing, reusing, and recycling one of our most important consumer products -- our buildings."

Screening of the film is presented by the Sacramento Old City Association (SOCA) and the Crest Theatre. More details are available via a Facebook event page, which encourages: "If you are interested in buildings, community development, sustainable communities or just plain want to find out if existing buildings really are worth keeping, plan to attend this special event."

I started this post with a quote by Carl Elefante. He has some thought-provoking ideas about modernist buildings in his June 2008 essay, "Renewing Modernism" from Places (Forum of Design for the Public Realm):

As modernism becomes historic, the 'modern-era' building stock, as it is often termed, is moving into a period of refurbishment.... Numbers alone indicate the importance of preserving and transforming modern-era buildings. Structures from the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s represent more than 55 percent of all nonresidential buildings in the United States.... over the next generation, renovating modern-era buildings represents an even larger and more difficult endeavor than designing new buildings....

... working with modern buildings is redefining preservation thinking and technology. Modern architects and builders were famously forward-looking and quick to innovate, frequently incorporating materials and methods with little track record and no established methods for maintenance, repair and reconditioning.... The preservation of modern-era buildings will be driven by sustainability, and making modern-era buildings sustainable will be no small undertaking.....

The challenge lies in three areas. First, the fractured urbanism and far-flung suburbanization of modern-era cities presents tough problems.... Second, improving the exterior envelopes of modern-era buildings will be difficult and may favor replacement over enhancement. Third, modern-era buildings were designed in an era of cheap energy, and nearly all depend on fossil-fuel-consuming systems to be
habitable, even on the most basic level....
These implications and challenges are not what lovers of mid-century modern architecture necessarily want to hear, but they are indeed food for thought. In another essay Elefante highlights the important role of historic preservation: "To fully capture the value of the existing building stock requires merging two disciplines: historic preservation and green building. It requires an understanding of how to respect and renew what is already here and a vision for where and how to transform the legacy of the past into the promise of tomorrow."

Further links and ideas regarding green building and historic preservation:
- CA State Parks Green Preservation in the News
- Sustainable Historic Preservation
- Smart Growth and Sustainable Preservation of Existing and Historic Buildings
- Calculators for embodied energy
- the Original Green

I'm looking forward to seeing The Greenest Building and hearing what the panel has to say. Hope to see you there.!

With great delight and admiration I'd like to announce a website my friend and colleague, Justin Wood, has been preparing: an "informal archive" of works designed by Sacramento's beloved architect Carter Sparks. Please visit for a look at Sparks' works and additional detailed information.

Per Justin's welcome section from "This project originally started as a private repository for notes and research related to the Sacramento, California area architect, Carter Sparks. Sparks practiced a contemporary style of design from roughly the mid-1950's until the early 1990's. He was best known for his design work on behalf of the Streng Brothers designing 'modern' tract homes."

I "met" Justin on Flickr a couple of years ago and was thrilled to discover someone else in town with similar interests. Since then we have been freely discussing and sharing our research findings about mid-century modern architecture in the Sacramento region.  I've posted about Carter Sparks many times in my blog (look under "posts by topic" in the left margin) and am so happy to see Justin's diligent and thorough research developed into a resource now available to all of you!

Please contact Justin if you have any additional information regarding any home in the archive -- or any home you believe should be in the archive. As Justin states: "There are more works out there, and some that are gone forever. One of the intentions of this archive is to catalog and bring awareness to Sparks' works so that they may be appreciated and saved when they are threatened."

One of my favorite features of the archive is the Visual Index of All Custom Homes. It allows you to see the evolution in Sparks' designs over time.

While you're at it, check out Justin's cool art work and his other MCM-related site, Modern Valley, which features "post and beam mid-century style architecture in the Sacramento Valley..."

California State Fair -- Something for Everyone!

It's that time of year again - only five more days until the California State Fair, where "Big Fun" has been happening since 1854. The first CA State Fair was in San Francisco and showcased things such as a three foot long, ten lb. carrot (Bugs Bunny would be jealous!); 72 lb. beets; and two inch long peanuts.

Sacramento has been home to the Fair since 1859. In 1909, the fair was moved to a new site at Broadway and Stockton Boulevard (as seen in the postcard above) where it continued for the next 58 years. In this post I'm sharing a sampling of images from the Stockton Boulevard site.

It just wouldn't be a Fair without entertainment, right? Check out what they did for kicks in 1913: crash two locomotive engines together!

Even though this scene below is from over 50 years ago, anyone who has been to the Fair should recognize this familiar parking situation!

This postcard states: "The California State Fair is housed in its own seven-and-a-half-million-dollar plant in the capital city. It is the largest state fair in the United States, featuring a two-million-dollar livestock parade, harness and running races, a nightly horse show and a brilliant nightly stage review."

The postcard above says: "Flowers in riotous profusion border the lagoon in front of the Agricultural Building at the State Fair."

California State Fairgrounds at the Broadway & Stockton Boulevard site - from my personal postcard collection

Here is an example of the entertainment in 1964: check out Rocket Man!

Per the article: ".... Using a rocket belt developed by the Bell Aerosystems Company, the Rocket Man, by means of jet propulsion, shoots up to heights in excess of 60 feet and travels at 60 miles per hour. The belt is the only known means of propelling a man above the ground in controlled free flight.... Literally free as a bird, the Rocket Man puts on a fantastic Buck Rogers demonstration which would only have been considered science fiction a few short years ago." That's entertainment!

1967 was the last year the Fair was held at the Broadway and Stockton Boulevard site. Since then, most of the buildings have been lost to fire or destroyed by the wrecking ball. In 1968, the Fair was opened at Cal Expo, where it remains today. I look forward to sharing some cool information about the "modernistic" buildings at Cal Expo designed by Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons in another post.

In the meantime, put on your favorite comfortable shoes, wear sunscreen, and bring your sunglasses and a hat. It's time for some Big Fun!