How Balboa Highlands Began
The Beginning of the Balboa Highlands Dream
In the mid-1940s, Joseph Eichler became interested in the modernist design. In 1942, the Eichlers rented the Bazett house in Hillsborough, California, a house designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Eichler did not previous interest in the arts or architecture, but when he moved into the Wright house, he and his wife quickly developed into devotees of Modern living. After a few years the house was sold and the Eichlers had to move, but the house made lasting impression. They bought a plot of land and hired Robert Anshen, a student of Wright’s, to build a house. That house was never built due to high design expectations and lack of funds to bring them to fruition.
At age 44 Joe left his lifelong job and invested a few thousand dollars in a prefabricating small house company. He bought out his partners after he disagreed with their business practices. A year later he was approached by a real estate broker to build a tract in Sunnyvale, near San Francisco in Northern California. Those first homes in 1947 were conventional tract home designs and sold for around $10,000.
Joseph Eichler has a New Career and New Ideas
In the meantime, Robert Anshen was still trying to design an affordable, yet stylish home for Eichler. In 1948 while looking a tract under construction he encouraged Eichler to build more “architectural” tract homes. Thus, Eichler began to work on bringing Modern homes to the masses. By 1949 he was engrossed in a new career of building homes characterized by both affordability and high style. He did this with little or no knowledge of actual home building experience.
When Eichler moved on to home building, he was not only innovative in his design approach, but Eichler Homes were the first large tract builders to sell houses to Asians and Blacks. In fact this particular tract was one of THE first (PRE-Civil Rights) open tracks in the San Fernando Valley outside of Pacoima. At one point when some homeowners challenged his policy, he told them he would buy back any home where the owner was not happy with their neighbors… Nobody ever sold back. He once was known to have said that only color he cared about was “green,” as in money!
Case Study Quality
In 1961 Eichler participated in the Case Study program with architects Jones and Emmons. They designed a neighborhood in Northridge (a few miles west of the Balboa Highlands tract) before the development of Balboa Highlands. The track introduced new ideas about community planning and shared green space between single family homes. The unique and innovative zoning which is now common in newer developments was not approved by the city and the land was sold off. The fact that the ‘ahead-of-it’s time’ zoning was not approved was a contributing factor in moving Eichler out of the tract housing market.
The End of an Era
The Balboa Highlands tract was developed over a period of 3 years with the primary building done in 1963 and 1964. It was to be one of the last Eichler tracts because by the mid 1960s, several factors precipitated the end of the Eichler Era…
- Materials that were peculiar to them such as large pane glass, redwood, teak and mahogany were becoming more expensive and difficult to obtain
- Competent craftsmen were becoming more difficult to find.
- While building Balboa Highlands, Eichler was also at work in Orange County and Thousand Oaks. The Granada Hills parcel of land actually extended another 1/4 mile south and was to challenge the Bay area tracts in size, but the land was eventually sold to pay for other projects.
- Other builders got more sophisticated and made Eichler attributes commonplace. For example, there are several “Like-lers” on Darla Street right next to the Balboa Highlands tract.
- Finally, people who had previously been Eichler home buyers had become wealthier and wanted greater individualization.
Adaptations that might have neutralized these effects would have compromised Joe’s architectural principles, so he turned his attention to a new challenge: building central-city, high-rise apartments. When Joe finally turned his skills to this new challenge, he became financially overextended and eventually made a decision to retire and leave the business.
The Beginning of a New Dream
Now a whole new generation of homeowners are re-discovering the unique experience of owning an Eichler. In Northern California, an Eichler home in top original condition is considered to be quite collectible and the top prices of those homes reflect that. Several of the homeowners in these tracts are working towards historic recognition on a national level.
The Southern Californian tracts are experiencing a similar revival. Balboa Highlands is working on becoming an Historic Presrvation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) which will not only help improve the value of the homes, but will insure that the neighborhood retains its original architectural integrity. The Los Angeles Conservancy Modern Committee and National Trust for Historic Preservation both held public tours in 2000 in which literally hundreds of people got to experience the Balboa Highlands tract firsthand. And recently, an original condition slant roof design was snatched up by a buyer before the ‘For Sale’ sign even went up in front. In 2001, the Society of Architectural Historians held a tour of the three tracts in Orange County which was so well attended that they sold out of books before the day was half over. It truly is an exciting time to own and live in an Eicher home.