San Rafael is a city in California located in the North Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area. The city used to be the site of several Coast Miwok villages, including Awani-wi, Ewu, and Shotomko-cha. It was named after Mission San Rafael Arcangel, a hospital founded in the early 19th century to treat sick Native Americans.
Today, San Rafael is the oldest and most culturally diverse city in Marin County, boasting a thriving music, culinary, and shopping scene. It also features a strong creative industry, largely thanks to George Lucas choosing to film the movie THX 1138 in the city in 1970. Lucas ended up loving the location, establishing his company, Industrial Light & Magic, in the city in 1975 to create special effects for his films and others, and in 1977 he purchased ~1,200 acres in nearby Nicasio, which became Skywalker Ranch.
Lucas’ focus on San Rafael caught the eye of other creatives, including many video game developers who established major businesses in the city, contributing to its economy and cultural emphasis on the arts. The city’s creative culture has resulted in many famous musicians, artists, and writers calling it home, including musician Carlos Santana, author Isabel Allende, and painter Elizabeth Charleston.
In addition to a thriving creative scene, San Rafael is known for its historic architecture. It features abundant examples of authentic Victorian architecture, including the impeccably restored Queen Anne-style Falkirk Cultural Center, which was built in 1888.
Falkirk Cultural Center; Source: owenkahn.com
San Rafael Eichler Homes
But perhaps the architecture San Rafael is best known for is its high concentration of Eichler homes in the neighborhood known as Lucas Valley (named after rancher John Lucas, no relation to the aforementioned George Lucas). Joseph Eichler developed the then 538-home neighborhood in the 1960s next to a dairy farm. Eichler took care to ensure that his characteristic one-story homes with flat, low rooflines didn’t obstruct views of the hillside while blending in with the surrounding landscape.
Further integrating the neighborhood with the landscape, Eichler banned utility poles and streetlights, ensuring Lucas Valley residents enjoy upward views that consist only of treetops and stars. In fact, it’s one of the few urban neighborhoods in the Bay Area that offers stargazing opportunities.
The styles of these homes differ slightly without sacrificing cohesion, resulting in a visually compelling and harmonious environment that remains well-preserved today, largely due to the Lucas Valley Homeowners Association’s Architectural Review Committee. In 1998, Marin County made Lucas Valley a special zoning district, requiring any changes made to the outward appearance of homes to be reviewed by the committee. Chairperson of the committee, Terry Bremer, has said that “it’s important to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood. We don’t want it to vary too much from the way it was built.”
Monique Lombardelli, who created the film, People in Glass Houses: The Legacy of Joseph Eichler, says Eichler would definitely approve of the residents’ efforts to keep the ‘hood in its original form: “He used to cruise through his developments and check up on things. One day he noticed that a man was painting his house, and Eichler didn’t like it. He got out of his car and started arguing with the homeowner… Eichler reportedly screamed at him, ‘it is not your house, and it never was. It’s my house!” Legend has it, Eichler won the argument and the house was restored to his liking.
San Rafael Eichlers for Sale
If you’re interested in living in an original Eichler in this historic neighborhood, check out all the Eichler homes currently on the market in San Rafael.
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