Space-Age Living

I’ve never driven Balboa all the way to the top. I’ve always just assumed it ends at the flat end of the earth. If you’re not careful, you and your car will scale the edge of civilization as we know it, and you’ll find yourself in a majorly strange universe -- a lilly-white terrain of rednecks and rifle racks. Where people believe Weapons of Mass Destruction really exist. Where Six Flags Magic Mountain is the 92 percent of the GNP. Where Bud-drinking teens think mullets are the shit and have bleached circle marks on their ass pockets from endless canisters of chaw. I’m told this scary little Stepford world is called Santa Clarita. Very different valley. Not recommended, unless you’re passing through to get to somewhere better.

Of course, it could be argued that our great Valley -- you know, the one that was made for you and me -- is no different than that bleak tract-home-and-fast-food wasteland to the north (with apologies to the almighty Cal Arts, a holyland unto itself). Back in the day, I’m sure my ‘hood was dissed as Suburb 101 by snooty west- and eastsiders, mocked as a vanilla landscape with block upon block of cookie-cutter ranch homes, but no real soul.

To those who still believe that, I scoff my head off. (Especially at y’all who plunk down nearly a million bucks for Pico-Robertson shoeboxes with bars on all the windows.) Ranch-style homes built in the pre-fab 50s are now antiques, and are quickly creeping toward kitsch, which means the pretentious hipsters who are priced out of Los Feliz can’t be far behind. Just stay off my block, okay?

To me, the ranch home is Godhead, a sanctuary of suburban bliss. But I recently stumbled upon something even better, actually located way north up Balboa in the general direction of the Santa Clarita hell hole.

I have seen the future… and the past… and the future again … and his name is Joseph Eichler. A real estate developer by trade, he was a visionary, a magician, a suburban Wizard of Oz. The homes he created 40 years ago transformed the rugged north valley into Space Age Pads of Wonder. Pull out the Esquivel, put on your jet pack and check it out. The juxtaposition of the rough and tumble Granada Hills jutting toward the sprawling O’Melveny Park (second largest in L.A. County, yo) and ultra modern design equals the most rico suave blocks in all of San Fe.

These homes are just so conceptually bitchin: High-beamed ceilings; floor to ceiling pane glass walls that reveal serious views; open-air atriums between the front door and living quarters; redwood, teak and mahogany doors; and a “hanging coffin” in the kitchen to store your dishes. It is literally a Fun House.

Eichler and his posse (A. Quincy Jones, Frederick Emmons, Claude Oakland) built only a hundred of these beauties on Lisette, Nanette, Jimeno and Darla streets. The neighbors are petitioning for historic status from the City of Los Angeles and it’s easy to see why. The homes are quirky gems of modern architecture. Yet they were designed in the early ‘60s for affordability… and racial harmony. It was one of the Valley’s first open tracts, available to folks of all stripes, a radical concept in pre-Civil Rights days.

Alas, while you can look, but you’re not gonna be able to touch ‘em. At least not for a while. There’s a long waiting list of potential buyers, and only one has gone on the market in the past two years.

Dave Tennan, a realtor for Remax in Calabasas, says the Echlers were long one of the Valley’s best-kept secrets, but retro lounge lust has pushed these cool, cool cats out of the bag. “In the last five years it became a hot ticket,” he says.

“They’re not great construction,” says Tennan. ”They’re really cheap. But they have that history. You’re living in a collectible. The new buyers who want an Eichler are collectors, who appreciate it like buying an old car. They’ll spend a lot of money to make it look original. “

Lee and Andre, who’ve lived on Darla Street for three years, say they’ve found their dream home. Though there’s still plenty of restoration work yet to be done, they’ve chugged from the Eichler Kool-Aid and they are long past the point of no return. “It’s a great neighborhood,” says Lee. “There are great schools. You can see the moon and stars from your living room. We couldn’t ever go back to an ordinary home after living in an Eichler. We’d feel so boxed in.”

Who knew utopia could be so close to the end of the earth? Get me on that waiting list, post haste!