The Eichlers of Orange: Fairhaven, Fairmeadow, Fairhills
Between 1949-1974, Joseph Eichler constructed over 10,000 residential units, with the majority in and around the San Francisco Bay area. With only about 575 units built in Southern California, the three tracts of Eichler Homes in Orange represent the merchant builder's only Orange County work. In recognition of the unique qualities and character inherent in Eichler tracts, the City of Orange designated the communities of Fairhaven, Fairmeadow and Fairhills as historic districts in 2018, and adopted procedures to ensure their long-term preservation.
As American troops returned home from the Second World War, many elected to settle in Southern California. The sudden growth in population resulted in both an economic boom and a housing shortage in the region. As freeways began to crisscross the area, newly developed residential suburbs afforded endless opportunities for middle-class consumers to begin realizing their dreams of homeownership.
In just four years between 1955 and 1959, the City of Orange processed over 28 housing tracts, with more than 2,400 homes being built. This trend continued to skyrocket. Between 1960 and 1964, the City approved over 250 tract developments, with over 5,000 homes being constructed during that period. It was during that time, that Joseph Eichler ventured to the far eastern fringes of the city, and began development of what would be the first of the three tracts he would construct in Orange between 1960 and 1964.
For some time, the residents of the Orange Eichler tracts had discussed establishing means toward protecting and preserving the unique qualities of their neighborhoods. Volunteer efforts to prepare nominations for their inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places stalled under the daunting task of addressing nearly 350 properties, distributed among three tracts. When Orange began preparing for its 2010 General Plan update, the City commissioned surveys of the Eichler tracts, to evaluate both their historic integrity and potential significance. At that time, it was determined that the neighborhoods were remarkably well preserved, and indeed possessed the requisites for historic designation.
In 2016, the City met with residents to discuss the designation process, and expressed support for the process if the neighborhoods wished to proceed with that effort. Again, community volunteers canvassed the neighborhoods to receive input from residents. That effort resulted in a petition of over 80 percent of the owners expressing the desire to move forward with designation. Upon receipt of that petition, the City Council directed funds to engage an historic preservation consultant to collaborate with both City staff and residents, to prepare design standards for the protection of the neighborhoods.
In November of 2018, the City Council approved designation of the three Eichler tracts as local historic districts, and adopted associated design standards. The designation of the tracts as bonafidehistoric districts plays a significant role in their preservation. For one thing, they become eligible for the “Mills Act,” a property tax rebate available to owners who maintain their homes in compliance with federal historic preservation standards.
In May of 2019, the Orange Eichler Design standards were granted awards of excellence by both the American Planning Association and Docomomo US.
From the Preserve Orange County Eichler Home Tour booklet, written by Robert Imboden, May 2019.