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June 25: The Modern Home

Lawrence Bush
June 24, 2016
Joseph Eichler, one of the most influential modern home builders of the mid-20th century, was born in New York on this date in 1900. From 1949 to 1966, Eichler's company built over 11,000 homes in California, mostly in planned suburban communities that included parks and community centers and none of the "ticky-tacky" standardization that Malvina Reynolds complained about in her song, "Little Boxes." "Eichlers," as his houses were called, featured glass walls, skylights, A-framed roofs, patios, post-and-beam construction, and open floorplans in a style influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe. The style has come to be known as "California Modern." Eichler also offered a "non-discrimination" policy aimed at assuring neighborhood acceptance of different races of people; buyers who faced discrimination could sell him back their house. "The architecture really does inform the way you live," says Adriene Biondo of her Eichler in Balboa Highlands. "You can tell the time of day by the light outside. Suddenly you look in the living room and it's engulfed in a pinkish-orange glow and you realize: I've been working all day and it's sunset." "Eichler broke ground in his mission to allow people of moderate means access to good modern design -- a Frank Lloyd Wright tract home for the everyman -- not just those able to hire stellar architects. Son Edward “Ned” Eichler was out of the army for two years when he assumed title of marketing manager and reminisces about one neighbor’s initial outrage at an African-American couple moving next door as fair housing practices were both encouraged and rewarded by team Eichler (a lesser known fact). Or, as one of the first African-American homeowners named Yvonne, who still resides in her well-appointed Eichler, tells us, 'He took a stand and shifted the paradigm with his non-discrimination crusade.'” —Luanne Bradley, Dwell

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.