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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Joseph Eichler

Joe Eichler
Joseph Eichler (1900-1974) was a California developer known for making modern architecture available to the middle class homeowner. He was born in New York City and grew up in a culturally diverse neighborhood. He received a business degree from New York University and started his career on Wall Street. In 1940, Eichler relocated his family to the West Coast, where he became treasurer of his in-law's family-run wholesale food business.

In 1942 Eichler rented the Usonian Frank Lloyd Wright Bazett House and was so fascinated by the architecture that he was inspired to become a home builder. At the end of World War II, Eichler began building prefabricated homes on individual lots. Two years later, he was making enough money to develop small tracts and decided it was time to look for someone who could design a new home for his family. He chose Robert Anshen, a young architect educated in Pennsylvania, who was just starting his own firm of Anshen & Allen. Anshen shared Eichler's deep admiration of Frank Lloyd Wright, so their business relationship was forged.

Until 1946 Eichler continued to build fairly conservative tract homes, but Anshen had different ideas. According to Eichler's son Ned, who eventually joined the firm, Anshen asked Eichler, "Joe, how can someone like you, who loves real architecture, build this crap?" Anshen convinced Eichler to let him create three designs for a 50-unit subdivision in Sunnyvale. That subdivision sold out in two weeks, and a new kind of tract house was born.

Joseph Eichler was a visionary who believed that his homebuilding could contribute to social betterment. One of his goals was to move good design from the realm of custom homes and large corporate buildings to the average homeowner. He strove to build inclusive and diverse planned communities featuring parks and community centers. Unlike most post-war builders, he established a non-discrimination policy and offered his homes to all races and religions. In 1958 he resigned from the National Association of Home Builders when they refused to endorse a non-discrimination policy.

It was Eichler's headstrong and tough personality that finally led to his reversal of fortune with Eichler Homes. The company went public in 1961, and Eichler could never accustom himself to relinquishing complete control. He became increasingly dissatisfied, even though he continued to push his progressive ideas. In 1967 he sold the company.

Although he continued to build homes till his death in 1974, none of his project matched the period of 1950-1967. Nevertheless, those years left a legacy of innovative design and business integrity that has never been matched in the history of American building.


Eichler (l.) at a construction site
Eichler (r.) at the groundbreaking for the X-100 Experimental Research House
with A. Quincy Jones (l.) and Thomas Callan
Eichler (r.) looking at plans with architect Claude Oakland
Eichler (l.) at an awards dinner for Eichler Homes

For the next two days, posts will continue to focus on Eichler Homes...the design, the foresight and the legacy.


  1. Replies
    1. I admire Eichler for having the wisdom to hire architects with vision...and to listen to them, even when he wasn't sure they were on the right track.

      I also have tremendous respect for his outspoken advocacy of non-discriminatory housing policies. Resigning from the National Association of Home Builders was a bold statement for that day and age.