The Free-Sprited Eichlers of Fairhaven - Orange - Page 2

These free-spirited Southern California Eichlers are in the midst of a renaissance tied to pride and camaraderie

Fairhaven has become home to creative people like musicians, architects, journalists, landscape architects and graphic designers. Several designers from the architecture firm LPA lives in the neighborhood. John Peterson is an internationally known oboe restorer, with a clientele from as far away as Europe and Asia.

Wolfe believes that a lot of the socializing comes about because people are proud of their homes. "A lot of it is people buying in here, they have enough money to redo their houses, and they want to show them off when it's all done." Besides fostering neighborliness, the parties have spurred community organizing. It's no coincidence that the group spearheading an effort to turn the neighborhood into a historic district is called, by some, the 'party committee.'

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Several years ago Stephanie Raffel, a realtor who specializes in the Eichlers of Orange, hoped to place the neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places. "Somebody's got to understand that we've got a real treasure here," she says. "That treasure can be destroyed if we don't protect it."

Raffel was part of the successful effort up north by the Eichler 'Historic Quest' committee that got two Eichler neighborhoods in Palo Alto named to the register. She found little support for the idea in Fairhaven, however, in part because the neighborhood doesn't feel threatened by teardowns or unsympathetic additions. Many neighbors also worried that with recognition would come restrictions for their homes. Raffel argued that historic designation would increase property values.

She understood there would be resistance. "These people have chosen an Eichler because they're free spirits," she says. "They haven't bought into Fairhaven because they want people to tell them what to do." But at least some neighbors are warming to the idea, more as a way to celebrate their neighborhood than to preserve it.

Brian Jacobs may be the neighborhood's strongest proponent of historic designation. Like many residents, he sees Fairhaven as a gem—unknown to Eichler fans in Northern California, where most Eichler homes can be found; and little enough known in Orange county as well.

Yet the neighborhood is remarkably well preserved and landscaped. Houses, which range from 1,760 to about 2,100 square feet, are flat-roofed, or with shed roofs, or low-gabled, with the gables seeming to float above a peculiar horizontal beam that dominates the front façade. Some houses have shingled facades, unusual for an Eichler home but original. All the homes have large atriums.

The neighborhood has at least two second-story additions but remains essentially intact, Jacobs says. "These Eichlers are so close to original it's just awesome," he says. "I think this neighborhood represents the epitome of Eichler homes, absolutely—the peak. The people up north would just freak if they saw how great these houses are."

Over the years, some houses have lost some of their Eichler character, McDonald says. But buyers today are returning to the original siding and windows. "People who can afford these houses have the money to return them to original," he says. "People buy in here because they are Eichlers."

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Both McDonald and his partner, Peterson, support historic designation. "In general people are doing right by these houses," Peterson says, "but you never know when somebody is going to come by and put on that second-story addition."

From the start, when it attracted aerospace engineers who worked at nearby aviation plants and professors who taught at Chapman College and Cal State Fullerton, Fairhaven has attracted individualists, John Wolfe says. He remembers when Fairhaven was at the outskirts of town, and the neighborhood still dotted with orange and avocado groves.

Wolfe recalls neighborhood children waving to the railcars that rumbled by hauling avocados, and kids who set off crossing signal bells at one in the morning. (Today, the old rail track is the center of controversy. A developer has proposed building housing that would be close to some Eichler backyards.)

Wolfe remembers the ethnic mix that made up the neighborhood from its earliest days—Asians, Hispanics, an African American doctor named Dr. White. And he recalls the neighborhood parties, German dinners with beer, wine-tastings.

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Scott Trafford, a newcomer with a wife and infant daughter, is restoring and updating his new home. He loves the way his neighbors show off their individuality. "House by house you can see where they put their own stamp on it to make it unique," he says.