Fairmeadows, Palo Alto

Eichler Homes' loopiest neighborhood

Looking at an aerial photo or street map of Palo Alto, the eye is immediately drawn to a curious group of curvilinear streets in the south end of town. This is "Fairmeadows," one of two Eichler Homes neighborhoods built in the 1950's in Palo Alto, and one of many in the area. But this is the only one with the funky, memorable street layout. This in itself probably makes it one of be Eichler's most photographed works.

On the ground the street layout loses its impact somewhat. It's not to say that it's impreceivable, but more that it turns out not to be as big a deal as one might have expected. The streets do indeed go round and round in a sort of dizzying and disorienting way, but if one hadn't seen the street map beforehand, it's unclear whether the concept would be apprarent. This may be why the fad for cocentric street layouts, seen elsewhere in the 50's in 60's in places like Sun City, Arizona, was short-lived. But no matter -- here, it gives an extra touch to what is already a distinctively surreal 1950's high-design suburban development model.

About Eichler Homes

For those who aren't familiar with Eichler Homes, "Eichlers" (as they're known locally) are mod-style tract houses built in the 1950's and 60's by developer Joseph Eichler. Inspired by his tenancy in a rented Frank Lloyd Wright house in Hillsborough, Joseph Eichler set out on a mission of bringing high-design contemporary architecture to the masses. Eichler Homes, Inc. built nearly 11,000 single-family homes in California, as well as a few odd examples in other states.

Beginning in 1949, when it was still uncommon to find merchant builders engaged with architects, Eichler became engrossed with building communities of homes characterized by both flair and affordability. Aligning himself with a stable of progressive, empathic architects - first the San Francisco firm of Anshen & Allen, then Jones & Emmons, later Claude Oakland - Eichler realized his dream, styled with imagination. As regional architecture designed for the Bay Area's benign climate, their house designs befuddled the traditional masses - emphasizing boldness, change, and optimism through indoor-outdoor living, walls of glass, atriums, and radiant-heat floors.

A strong proponent of fair housing and deeply opposed to racial discrimination, the liberal Eichler was the first large tract builder to sell to minorities, and even built a home on his own lot for an NAACP leader. Joe resigned from the National Association of Home Builders in 1958 in protest of racial discrimination policies and, according to reports from long-time Eichler owners, offered to buy back homes from those who had trouble accepting their neighbors.

Eichler Homes now have a cult following. Some cities such as Palo Alto even have special design guidelines for Eichler neighborhoods to ensure that improvement projects do not diminish the architectural character. The Eichler Network web site is a great place to learn more about Eichlers.

Incedentally, the Greenmeadows tract across East Charleston Road to the south was reported to be Joseph Eichler's favorite among his dozens of area tracts. There is a central recreation and childcare facility, and the architecture represents a pinnacle in the translation of Bay Region and ranch house styles into a mass produced yet varied spec house design. Together, the two subdivisions are two of his best known.

Visting Fairmeadows

Take Highway 101 to the San Antonio Road (west) exit. Proceed to East Charleston Avenue and turn right. Continue on East Charleston, past Middlefield Road, to Wright Place. Fairmeadows will be to the right. The Greenmeadows subdivision is to the left.

DRIVING DIRECTIONS

Click here to get driving directions from where you're at to the intersection of East Charleston Road and Wright Place, which is a good place to start. Just type in your starting location and Mapquest will give you directions.

BY TRANSIT

Caltrain's San Antonio station in Mountain View is approximately one mile (15 minute walk) from Fairmeadows. The most direct route from the station is along the Central Expressway/Alma Street.

BY CARSHARE

If you're a member of City Carshare, you can take Caltrain to the downtown Mountain View (Castro Street) station, which has a Carshare pod nearby. From the Mountain View pod, go east across the rail tracks to Central Expressway, then north (Central Expressway will turn into Alma Street) to East Charleston.