What If Your Grandmother Gave You This House…

…And you wrote a scathing article in the San Francisco Chronicle about how your life has been a living hell ever since you moved in?

That’s what Kathleen Hayley did after inheriting an Eichler home in Palo Alto. Granted, the place is falling apart, but this due almost entirely to the fact that Kathleen’s grandmother didn’t maintain the home. Yet, she directs her anger and frustration at the home developer, Joeph Eichler, and not to her grandmother. These homes were built 50 years ago and have become quite the obsession for a group of homeowners who rightly believe that these homes reflect a Californian post-WWII progressive streak — in addition to the obvious fact that they think these houses look pretty cool.

What makes these houses “progressive?” Well, I’m not schooled in the muntiae of home building, but I do know that Eichler used a method of radiant heating that emanates from the coils in the floor — which made the environment much quieter since there wasn’t a furnace with a fan kicking on every now and then to heat the house.

The materials used to construct the homes weren’t the best, but the design of the homes emphasized openness in the floor plans (mostly in the kitchen and living/family room area) by having very large windows facing the backyard. In keeping with our culture’s desire for privacy (and that our homes should be a refuge from “the world”), Eichler homes often have wooded “fronts–” as you can see from the picture at the top.

In an age where developers and homeowners often had “restrictive covenants” to bar African-Americans, Jews, and “others” from owning homes in white neighborhoods, Eichler sold homes to whoever could afford them (in the late 50s, you could buy an Eichler for under $20,000). These were homes designed for the swelling ranks of middle class folks who were looking for a decent starter home — but one that reflected a sense of a new “California culture” that was more than ranch homes. It all looks so great in its idealized form.

When I was a baby, my family rented an Eichler home in Walnut Creek (my uncle and his family currently live in the same subdivision we did all those year ago). The house, according to stories I’ve heard, was blazing hot in the summer, and kind of cold during the winter. The roof leaked when it rained. And one night a “drip, drip, drip” from the ceiling started right over my crib. In the morning, I was pretty thoroughly soaked, and thanks to that little midnight cold shower, I got pnuemonia and had to be hospitalized for a couple of weeks. For years, I would hear my mother and oldest brother complain about that Eichler home, but since I have no memory of that place, I have absolutely no sense of the discomfort they had to endure.

Now, for that incident, I would definately blame Eichler for that defect — since the house was only about 10 years old at the time. But for Hayley to point the finger at Eichler 50 years later for defects that her grandmother could have corrected with some contractors and a bit of money out of her pocket is just misplaced anger. Or to be blunt, she sounds like a whiny brat!


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