Eichler Documentary “People in Glass Houses” Review

Eichler Documentary DVD

I was once asked, “What is the #1 threat to modern homes in the future?” You may think it is changing building codes, McMansions, or the American obsession with “bigger is better” — but the reality is that all of these things are secondary. Awareness, or the lack thereof, is our enemy. And that’s why, projects like this are so important. People need to hear the story of why these homes are so special to their owners (and prospective owners too!) and why we need to preserve their unique design features. On that basis alone, this movie is worth your time — as a community we need to support these efforts with all of our might.

The movie opens with an architect explaining, in plain English, what makes an Eichler home so different from traditional homes. The format continues by introducing and jumping around to interview vignettes with a multitude of Eichler owners in the Bay Area. While I wish they would have included some Southern California owners, I understand both budget constraints and the fact that well over 90% of the Eichlers built were constructed in Northern California. In between the interviews there are historical photos and even archival film footage — much of which I had never seen —  interspersed to tell the story of not only how Eichler homes came to be, but what kind of man Joseph Eichler was and his vision for suburban living.

Perhaps one of the best attributes of this films is the diversity. The owners interviewed truly spanned the entire gamut.  Young to old. Preservationist to progressive. Some who view the homes as  blank canvases for personalization. Others who want to preserve as much of the 1950s and 1960s as possible. But the one thing common and universal is that everyone not only loves their homes, but loves lifestyle that unique features in Eichler homes promote. The film adeptly avoids the showdown between modification and originality by focusing on the ideals of Eichler living and the spirit of the designs, rather than the specifics. Eichler living distills down to much more than keeping the orignal kitchen cabinets or not.

Another focus of the film was the communities that continue to endure. In Southern California I have noticed something similar: Eichler neighborhoods are considerably more close-knit and social than traditional tract neighborhoods. The homes are a common bond that bring the owners together. Some neighborhoods have held annual block parties for well over 30 years. It’s an inspiring message, and something that I hope modern homeowners in communities will take away and employ.

The runtime is just over 3/4 of an hour — about as long 2 sitcoms minus the commercials. It’s the perfect length and a film I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who loves mid-century modern homes and even those who don’t — the Eichler Story is a fascinating one and here it’s artfully told. If you’re like me, you’ve probably be hearing of this documentary for a while. I’m ashamed to admit the DVD has been sitting on top of my DVD player for months. Don’t be like me. Fortunately, there is a free way to watch online. Just click the link below.


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