Eichler Created Homes Equally for All
The man credited with integrating housing in California suburbs did some of his best and most difficult work in the San Fernando Valley.
Joseph Eichler, a Palo Alto builder who left his family’s butter-and-egg business in 1947 to become a developer, quietly pioneered the concept of open housing beginning in the 1950s.
Houses in his Balboa Hills development in Granada Hills were the first Valley homes outside Pacoima open to African American buyers. The neighborhood that developed there was a vibrant mix of white and black professionals. Religious groups, including Jews, Catholics, Mormons and others who were typically excluded under then-legal racial covenants, also bought homes there.
The Eichler homes, designed by such well-known architects as A. Quincy Jones and Frederick E. Emmons, were modern and air-conditioned. Many featured wall-to-ceiling windows. And they weren’t cheap. In 1963, a home in Balboa Hills cost about $37,000.
Eichler, who was born in 1900, died in 1974, leaving behind a legacy of homes in integrated neighborhoods across California. His greatest successes were in the northern part of the state, where the great windows did not mean extra sun to bake the occupants of the houses.
The developer was quiet about his determination to sell to whoever could afford his houses, believing that a low profile would afford the most success at a time when some whites were violently opposed to racial and religious minorities in their neighborhoods.
For years, he refused awards from fair housing organizations, saying that the notoriety would make it more difficult to continue the work of integrating the neighborhoods.
“His position was, ‘It’s the right thing to do,’ ” his son, Edward “Ned” Eichler said of his father’s refusal to discriminate.