Discover more from Mid-Century Mondays
Five Eichler Facts for Your Monday
Eichlers for Sale + Fresh listings from Beaverton, OR to New Canaan, CT
It’s pretty hard to overstate the impact Joseph Eichler made on California Architecture, but his path to modernist legend was unconventional to say the least. Today we’re sharing five fun facts about Eichler and his 17-year career in homebuilding.
Eichler was never trained as an architect:
Joseph Leopold Eichler was born in New York City on June 25, 1900. He grew up in Sutton Place, Manhattan, where his parents operated a small toy store, and also spent time in The Bronx. Raised in a traditional Jewish household, Eichler pursued higher education at New York University (NYU) and graduated with a degree in business, not architecture or design.
He wasn’t particularly successful before becoming a real estate developer:
In 1925, the Eichler family relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area to work for Nye and Nisson, Inc., a wholesale butter and egg business owned by the Moncharsh family. The venture was far from successful, however, and the company faced legal issues related to selling outdated and improperly graded products. Between 1943 and 1946, Eichler operated his own retail store called Joe's Peninsula Farmyard in Burlingame, California, specializing in poultry and eggs.
Eichler’s dramatic career shift was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright:
In 1943, Eichler leased the Sidney Bazett House in Hillsborough, California, which was a Usonian-style home designed by the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Living in this unique home sparked Eichler's interest in Modernism and real-estate development.
Over 11,000 Eichler homes were built across California, with the first homes being sold for just $10,000:
At the time, Modernism was still mostly limited to elite custom homes and corporate buildings, but with Eichler’s help, that would soon change. Eichler homes would take a more pragmatic and accessible approach to modernism, using simple, open-floor plans and readily accessible materials.
Eichler was one of the first American home developers to implement a non-discrimination policy:
During the post-war housing boom of 1950s, every young family was trying to buy a home. However, not everyone had equal access to the burgeoning housing supply as discrimination against minority homebuyers was commonplace. After witnessing this injustice in the industry, Joseph developed a strong belief that new homes should be available to anyone, regardless of race.
Over the years, Eichler would go on to consult with members of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Federal Housing Administration, Housing and Home Finance Agency, and Housing and Urban Development about how to craft and promote anti-discrimination laws for fair housing.
Darren Bradley shared the following story: In 1955, when the developer sold a home to a Black family in San Rafael’s Terra Linda development, some of the neighbors protested. Eichler responded angrily to their reaction and "went door-to-door personally to confront them and even offered to buy back their homes." However, no one took Eichler up on his offer, and after the new family moved in, no one sold their homes.