Joseph Eichler - He Made the West Coast Modern

Real Estate Developer and Home Designer

Mid-century modern architecture, suburban CA development of real estate man Joseph Eichler
Post WWII Mid-Century modern architecture by real estate developer Joseph Eichler in tract home development in Sunnyvale, California. Photo by Nancy Nehring/Moment Mobile Collection/Getty Images

Real estate developer Joseph L. Eichler was not an architect, but he revolutionized residential architecture. In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, many suburban tract homes in the United States were modeled after Eichler Houses built by Joseph Eichler's firm. You don't have to be an architecture to have an impact on architecture!

Background:

Born: June 25, 1901 to European Jewish parents in New York City

Died: July 25, 1974

Education: Business degree from New York University

Early Career:

As a young man, Joseph Eichler worked for a San Francisco-based poultry business owned by his wife's family. Eichler became treasurer for the company and moved to California in 1940.

Influences:

For three years, Eichler and his family rented Frank Lloyd Wright's 1941 Usonian style Bazett House in Hillsborough, California. The family business was facing a scandal, so Eichler launched a new career in real estate.

At first Eichler constructed conventional homes. Then Eichler hired several architects to apply Frank Lloyd Wright's ideas to suburban tract homes for middle class families. A business partner, Jim San Jule, helped craft shrewd publicity. An expert photographer, Ernie Braun, created the images that promoted Eichler Homes as carefree and sophisticated.

About Eichler Homes:

Between the 1949 and 1974, Joseph Eichler's company, Eichler Homes, constructed about 11,000 houses in California and three houses in New York state.

Most of the West Coast homes were in the San Francisco area, but three tracts, including Balboa Highlands, were developed near Los Angeles and remain popular to this day. Eichler was not an architect, but he sought out some of the best designers of the day. For example, the celebrated A. Quincy Jones was one of Eichler's architects.

Today, Eichler neighborhoods like the one at Granada Hills in San Fernando Valley have been designated historic districts.

The Significance of Eichler:

Eichler's company developed what became known as the "California modern" style, but he also was instrumental in the growing Civil Rights movement. Eichler became known for advocating fair housing during an era when builders and realtors often refused to sell homes to minorities. In 1958, Eichler resigned from the National Association of Home Builders to protest the organization's policies of racial discrimination.

In the end, Joseph Eichler's social and artistic ideals cut into business profits. The value of Eichler Homes declined. Eichler sold his company in 1967, but continued to build houses until he died in 1974.

Learn More:

  • More About Eichler Homes >
  • Eichler Homes: Design for Living by Jerry Ditto, 1995
  • Eichler: Modernism Rebuilds the American Dream by Paul Adamson, 2002
  • People in Glass Houses: The Legacy of Joseph Eichler (DVD)

References:

Additional Source: Pacific Coast Architecture Database at https://digital.lib.washington.edu/architect/architects/528/ [accessed November 19, 2014]

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Craven, Jackie. "Joseph Eichler - He Made the West Coast Modern." ThoughtCo, Dec. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/joseph-eichler-made-west-coast-modern-175973. Craven, Jackie. (2017, December 3). Joseph Eichler - He Made the West Coast Modern. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/joseph-eichler-made-west-coast-modern-175973 Craven, Jackie. "Joseph Eichler - He Made the West Coast Modern." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/joseph-eichler-made-west-coast-modern-175973 (accessed January 17, 2018).