In the Beginning
The X-100 gets a front cover in 1957: innovative house, promotional bonanza.
In the early 1950s, Joe Eichler became interested in the possibilities of building all-steel residential structures. In architect A. Quincy Jones, Eichler found a willing partner to explore steel-framed housing and perhaps revolutionize residential construction in the process.
Jones had already built a steel houses in 1954 in Los Angeles for his own family, and was certainly familiar with the steel Case Study houses designed by Richard Neutra, Raphael Soriano, and Craig Ellwood that were perceived by many to be on the leading edge of progressive residential design. In 1956, the year the X-100 made its debut in Eichler’s new San Mateo Highlands development, Jones stated, “But there are men of long vision who confidently predict that a new age is at hand, that of metals and plastics.”
In 1955 Joe Eichler hired architect Raphael Soriano to design this steel house in Palo Alto.
The X-100 was the only steel-framed house Jones’s firm designed for Eichler Homes. The house followed by a year the All-Steel Builders Home, in Palo Alto, designed by Raphael Soriano. In contrast to the tight design constraints Eichler placed on Soriano, Jones was given a freer rein with the X-100 experimental prototype, and the resulting 2,310-square-foot house was dramatically different (and naturally cost far more, with estimates ranging up to $125,000).
While both architects employed steel H-section columns and I-section beams, Jones used a span length half the Soriano design, yet produced far grander interior spaces.
Breaking ground: (L-R) Jones, county supervisor Thomas Callan, Eichler.
Unlike the roofless, open-air atriums that Eichler Homes would soon become known for, the X-100’s two interior planting spaces allowed Jones to play with the idea of a garden for all climates that could be built anywhere in the country. Jones made the kitchen ‘the center of the house,’ acknowledging the more casual lifestyle of the late-‘50s.
Rather than isolating the kitchen using walls, it served as a connecting corridor between the two rear living areas. And he placed all the main living areas—the three bedrooms, two living rooms, and kitchen—around the perimeter of the house to take advantage of the light from extensive areas of floor-to-ceiling glass, sliding and fixed (the house had no windows in the conventional sense). Even the front entrance was a sliding glass door.
At the X-100 construction site: (L-R) Ned Eichler, A Quincy Jones, and Joe Eichler.
The X-100 was designed in 1955 and opened to the public in October 1956. Built on a then-remote street in the rolling hills of San Mateo, it was in part a promotional tool to attract buyers to a development in which Eichler Homes was experiencing marketing difficulties.
The innovative house turned out to be a promotional bonanza. Articles filled local newspapers; and pictorials, some in full color, appeared in national magazines like Sunset, Living for Young Homemakers, and Arts & Architecture. While it was open, the X-100 reportedly attracted over 150,000 visitors to the Highlands development, as signs along the roadway beckoned potential buyers to not only have a peek at the experimental home, but also the three conventional Eichler models alongside.
The X-100 takes advantage of the light beaming in from extensive floor-to-ceiling glass.
“This was a time when there was a lot of talk about technology making revolutionary changes in homebuilding,” stated Ned Eichler, Joe’s son and one of the Eichler Homes’ heads, while discussing the reasoning for moving forward with the experimental project. “I thought we could get all those manufacturers who were hanging around our business trying to get us to use their products, and talk to them about a place to try out their advanced prototypes that weren’t in production yet.”
The test house also sported innovative rooftop spotlights that shone into rooms through numerous skylights, eliminating the need for interior lamps; reversible kitchen cabinet doors (white on one side, yellow on the other) for color scheme changes; a luxurious sunken shower with three showerheads and a skylight overhead; and the pièce de résistance, an 8x4-foot Formica table in the kitchen that parted in the middle to reveal dual burners for keeping food warm during meals.
Among the X-100 innovations: 32-foot skylight, myriad of spotlights, swiveling fireplace.
Despite its cutting-edge image, the X-100 was to be the last steel house Eichler built, perhaps leading the builder to realize that the public, and the construction industry, was not ready for his vision of the future.
Placed on the National Register of Historic Places 2016 with a restoration completed during the two years that followed, the X-100 today is essentially in original condition, and is carefully maintained by its current owner, Marty Arbunich, of the Eichler Network.
Only minor changes have been made since Jesper Petersen bought the house from Eichler for $47,000, a grand sum in 1957, particularly when contrasted with the $18,000 model of conventional construction next door.