Today, the tall building feels almost hidden, tucked away on a quiet street next to the much more imposing Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. It’s gray and stark, especially against the city’s frequently foggy sky, and most people wouldn’t guess it was commissioned by the famous developer.
Entering No. 305, which just hit the market for $1 million, the small condo is flooded with light. Floor-to-ceiling windows and glass sliding doors line almost every room, and an entire living room wall looks out onto a long balcony.
There’s another, smaller balcony off the dining room, which flows into the kitchen. Three bedrooms all include floor-to-ceiling windows, and the primary bedroom has its own bathroom and walk-in closet en suite.
Even if the emphasis on natural light feels like the only part of Eichler that made it into the building plans, when the units hit the market today, they’re often advertised as “Eichlers.” “When it came to [Eichler] high-rises, they were much more generic,” said Matthew Gordon Lasner, an associate professor of urban studies and planning at Hunter College. “With structural considerations, there is much less room to be creative. … They are well built and well designed … but I don’t think [66 Cleary Court] is a particularly interesting building. You don’t have what makes Eichler houses special.”
Still, listing agent Rebecca White said turnover in the building is rare, and when people buy an apartment, they tend to spend much of their lives there. Unit 305 was occupied for more than 20 years by the father of Aaron and Lisa Schulman, who are just now selling the property after renting it for more than five years after their father died. The siblings said their dad loved the layout of the corner unit and particularly appreciated how convenient the location was to so much of San Francisco.
The neighborhood name Cathedral Hill is the one most thrown about by real estate agents these days, but Eichler’s mission at the time was to create a denser, new “neighborhood” dubbed Laguna Heights. While one high-rise was built at 66 Cleary Court, he had plans for three in the surrounding blocks, envisioning the next phase in American housing. “Builders that were very savvy could see the eternal expansion of the suburb was going to wind down,” Lasner said. “It was part of this regionwide effort to push the envelope and test the models of density. … As part of this experiment, this particular building was an opportunity for Eichler to test out whether high-rises could work for families.”
Instead of an apartment building full of studios, one and two bedrooms, a building full of exclusively three bedrooms that were spacious was somewhat revolutionary, Lasner said.
There were also some unique amenities that are still present today. There’s radiant heating in the floors and the building has 24/7 security and a communal area with a playground, a basketball court, picnic tables and barbecue area.
While 66 Cleary was constructed in 1963, Eichler also took on other projects in the city, including townhouses in Diamond Heights, the Geneva Terraces and the Geneva Towers (which were imploded in May 1998) in Visitacion Valley and the Summit on Russian Hill. While none of these buildings were considered his most successful projects — some would even say they led Eichler Homes into bankruptcy — they were a re-examination of urban density and affordable housing that continues to be a point of discussion today.
“It’s a hugely important project, but it’s not on the radar on the story of American housing,” Lasner said. “It’s really a project that uniquely proves the viability of density decades before we were pouring back into cities. It’s a really interesting project historically. It was decades ahead of its time in some ways.”