Most mid-century builders shunned butterfly roofs. Even Eichler Homes and the Streng Brothers, the two leading Northern California developers of modern tract homes, never made room for them.
However, some very early Eichler homes, including those in the small Sunnymount Gardens tract of Sunnyvale, built in 1949, have dramatic, single-sloped shed roofs, which suggest half butterflies. And at least one butterfly roof exists in later Eichler neighborhoods—other customs may be hidden away, too—including a very attractive model in Menlo Park.
The Streng Brothers, who developed modern tracts in the Sacramento Valley, did not build any butterfly roofs, company co-founder Jim Streng recalls. “Probably the reason is Carter [Sparks, their architect] never designed one,” Streng says. “If he had, we would have built it.”
“They’re very space-agey and modern. They have a great look,” says Janet Weisman Goff, who lives with her family in that most unusual of species, an Eichler butterfly.
Goff’s home in Menlo Park has a dramatic, low butterfly roofline that cannot be appreciated from the street because of landscaping and fencing. The view from the rear has been compromised to a degree by a shed-roofed addition done in Eichler style. But the butterfly roof still has its distinctive shape.
The house, she says, was beautifully designed to let the sun inside when needed, and to block it at the hottest times of the day and year.
But, while Goff appreciates the butterfly profile at its zenith, she does not enjoy it at its nadir. “This is the low point of the butterfly,” she says, standing in her home beneath the point where the two wings meet, “and it does sort of give you a claustrophobic feel. It really does. We don’t love it.”
It’s surprising, perhaps, that Eichler was not attracted by the butterflies, since some of the architects he worked with did appreciate the form. Anshen and Allen, Eichler’s earliest architects, used a butterfly roof in 1957 for the visitor center at Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument.
And A. Quincy Jones and his firm, Jones & Emmons, reveled in the form. Jones designed butterfly roofs in the late 1940s as part of the Mutual Homes Association neighborhood in the Brentwood Hills, and for Tiny Naylor’s coffee shop in Los Angeles in the mid-1950s.
Jones & Emmons also designed butterfly roofs for tracts by developers other than Eichler, including a lively collection for the Navy’s Capehart Housing complex near Sacramento, today a lovingly landscaped rental neighborhood called the Arbors at Antelope.
“The best I can tell you is my father didn’t like them,” says Ned Eichler, Joe’s son, who did marketing for the family firm.
• In Los Angeles: Butterfly roofs designed by Palmer & Krisel dot the Northridge ‘Living-Conditioned’ Homes neighborhood, at the northeastern corner of Reseda Boulevard and Devonshire Street. Homes can be found on Reseda and Devonshire, and on Minehaha, Hiawatha, Blackhawk, and San Jose streets and Canby Avenue.
• In Palm Springs: Some of the best butterfly hunting for Palmer & Krisel designs can be found at Twin Palms, south of Twin Palms Drive and including Apache and La Jolla Road and nearby streets; and at Vista Las Palmas, east of Via Vespero and including Via Vadera, Abrigo Road, and nearby streets.
• Near Sacramento: The Arbors at Antelope, a gated rental community that was built as military housing, has many butterfly homes designed by Jones & Emmons. 3700 Navaho Drive, Antelope