How 'Eichlers' Brought Design to Suburbia

Jewish Builder Transformed American Ideal of Modern Homes

Passion for Design: Eichler homes are passionately appreciated by homeowners and by students of 20th-century American architecture.
david toerge
Passion for Design: Eichler homes are passionately appreciated by homeowners and by students of 20th-century American architecture.

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Published March 02, 2012, issue of March 09, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

In the spring of 2011, Adam and Justine Amdur were heartbroken over having to give up their home in Marin County’s Terra Linda, just north of San Francisco. The sale had nothing to do with the sustained economic downturn or the depressed housing market plaguing the nation. In fact, as spring house sales get under way again, local home prices have bounced back to levels higher than those of 2008. What pained the Amdurs as they prepared to move to Florida for health reasons was leaving their Eichler.

“Eichlers,” as they are referred to in Northern California, are midcentury modern tract homes developed by merchant builder Joseph Eichler between 1950 and his death in 1974. They account for a significant percentage of the housing in many communities circling the San Francisco Bay to the north, west and south. There are also several Eichler developments in Southern California and in Sacramento, as well as a very small one in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y.

getty images

Abraham Levitt and his sons, William and Alfred, may have been considered the fathers of modern American suburbia, but for his designs and principles, Eichler was — and still is — more passionately appreciated by homeowners and by students of 20th-century American architecture. On occasion, buyers of Eichlers may tear them down to make way for something larger and more updated. It is far more common, however, for home owners to preserve them for their enlightened design and durable construction while praising the aesthetically and politically progressive builder behind them.

Eichler brought affordable yet elegant contemporary architecture and design within reach of average young families settling down in the postwar suburbs. The first Eichler homes cost $9,400, an affordable sum for many Americans even at that time. Now, half a century later, Eichlers in Palo Alto, Calif., are selling at less accessible prices, ranging from $1.2 million to $2 million, according to real estate agent Leika Kejriwal.

“It wasn’t traditional construction. It really blew people’s minds back in the 1950s,” Adam Amdur said. “Eichlers are a piece of art.” Accordingly, Eichler Homes salespeople knew that the houses would appeal to only a small portion of the home-buying public. “Even back then, as today, Eichlers tend to attract people in the creative professions, engineers and people who appreciate modern art and design,” said Paul Adamson, a San Francisco-based architect, Eichler expert and co-author of “Eichler/Modernism Rebuilds the American Dream” (Gibbs Smith, 2002).


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.