Joseph Eichler was not an architect, but he revolutionized the building of tract homes with unique, contemporary designs that were also affordable.
His subdivisions sprouted throughout Palo Alto as the housing boom of the 1950s brought in thousands of new Palo Altans. Of the 2,380 dwellings built in Palo Alto in 1952, most were Eichler homes selling at $11,000 to $14,000.
His homes featured flat or slightly pitched tar-and-gravel roofs, wood exteriors and entrances through atrium courtyards. Interiors had open kitchens, dining and living areas, vast expanses of glass that looked out on private gardens and patios, effectively opening up the inside of the houses to the outdoors. Interior walls opened up at the top to partition but not fully close off some rooms.
Eichler also was an urban planner ahead of his time. He fostered the idea that private residences should be in planned communities clustered with parks, community centers, and other amenities, such as the Eichler Club on Louis Road. The Greenmeadow neighborhood off Alma Street by Adobe Creek was said to have been one of his favorite tracts because of its central recreation complex and private park maintained by the residents.
Eichler also broke new ground in civil rights. He was the first local builder to welcome selling homes to people of any race, creed or color, and he attacked the notion that minority owners reduced property values. In 1958, the Associated Home Builders refused to support his position of selling to everyone, and so he quit the trade group.
Eichler died in 1974, but the imprint of his architectural designs lives on in about 3,000 homes in Palo Alto.
--Peter Gauvin This is the eighth in a series of profiles on the "Creators of the Legacy," 55 people who are being honored this year by the Palo Alto Centennial for their roles in creating Palo Alto in all its aspects.
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