Living in a Wright house inspired Eichler to build his midcentury housing tracts, which brought modernist residential design to the masses
Joseph Eichler was working as an egg and butter wholesaler when his life took an unexpected turn. In 1943, he moved his family from a nondescript home in San Mateo, California, to the nearby San Francisco suburb of Hillsborough. Eichler’s business was being sold, and he needed a short-term rental while considering his next career move. The home he chose, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1940 for the Bazett family, was one of Wright’s Usonians, a term the architect coined to describe the modest-size homes designed to provide custom housing for the middle class.
Eichler’s family rented the home for two years, when it was sold to Louis and Betty Frank. Within six years, Eichler had left the egg and butter business for good and started a new career in home building, founding the Eichler Homes Co. in 1949. Coincidence? Definitely not. Eichler’s homes were strongly influenced by the lessons learned while living in the Bazett House. Over the next 20 years of his newfound career, Eichler’s company built about 11,000 homes, and to this day, they remain in high demand for their uncompromising midcentury design and the enduring quality of their construction.
While Wright’s Usonians were custom-designed for each individual client, Eichler built large subdivisions of houses on spec and found customers for his finished designs. This led to fascinating tweaks that Eichler brought to Wright’s design approach to make the homes both affordable and desirable to a large audience.
(Top photo Eichler Restoration by Beckner Contracting)