Art and Architecture in the Golden State
Alfred William Eichler was born on August 7, 1895, in Shadyside, Missouri. The following year, his parents, Dr. Alfred Eichler Sr. and Laura Eichler, moved the family to San Francisco, where Alfred and his siblings grew up. When Alfred was around thirteen, he contracted spinal meningitis, leaving him deaf but not sidelined in his ambitions.
These two early photographs of Alfred Eichler were scanned from the original tintypes taken between 1897 and 1899. On the left, a serious Alfred poses for the camera. On the right, a young Alfred sits between his parents, Laura and Dr. Alfred Eichler, in this San Francisco studio portrait.
Eichler attended St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco before studying at Columbia University and the Beaux Arts Institute of Design in New York. After a stint as a civilian architect for the U.S. Navy during World War I, he worked for private architectural firms in Washington D.C., New York, and San Francisco.
In 1925, Eichler married Virginia Parks, the same year he was hired as a Senior Architectural Designer for the Division of Architecture of California’s Department of Public Works. Promoted to Supervisory Architect in 1949, Eichler oversaw the Design Section of the Division until his retirement on November 8, 1963.
Presented here are several photographs of Eichler at various locales. In the bottom right image, Alfred and his wife, Virginia are seen enjoying summertime at the water's edge. The following pages feature selections of some of the public projects Eichler designed or supervised.
In 1852, the State purchased twenty acres at Quentin Point in Marin County to build its first permanent prison. Prisoners began constructing the first cell block later that year. During construction, which was completed in 1854, convicts worked during the day and slept on a prison ship at night. In these early years, the prison was known as the Corte Madera State Prison at Quentin Point. The original Mexican land grant on which it was built, Rancho Punta de Quentin, was named for Indian warrior, Quentin, of the Licatuit people.
Alfred Eichler drew this charcoal rendering for the new cell block and solitary confinement buildings at San Quentin State Prison in 1932, from a design by Department of Public Works Architect, H.S. Hazen. The drawing captures an ominous mood with the stark, monolithic buildings abutting a black and stormy sky.
Today, San Quentin State Prison encompasses 432 acres, with an inmate population of 3,745. The only execution chamber within California’s thirty-four state prisons is located at San Quentin, with the last execution conducted in 2006. With its long and tortured history of notorious escapes, infamous convicts like Black Bart, Charles Manson, “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez, and a number of serial killers waiting on the nation’s most populous death row, San Quentin is California’s best-known prison.
This 1934 pen and ink drawing of the new prison for segregation of San Quentin prisoners shows the new dormitory buildings and prison yard in relation to the existing prison.
Women were also incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison from 1852 to 1933, when the state opened a female only prison, the California Institute for Women at Tehachapi in southern California.
Eichler painted these two renderings of the Women's Prison at San Quentin in 1925. The Women's Prison was a segregated cell block completed in 1926.
Eichler completed this preliminary pen and ink drawing for a new, separate prison for women in 1930. Construction of the new California Institution for Women at Tehachapi was completed in 1932. In 1952, a massive earthquake forced closure of the prison, and the inmates were transferred to the new California Institution for Women in Corona. The old Tehachapi site was rebuilt and today operates as a branch of the California Institution for Men.
Authorities selected the location at Folsom for its unlimited amount of native granite stone, which was used to build the prison. Situated next to the American River, the prison’s inmates built the area’s first dam and canal, which led to the first hydroelectric power generation for the Sacramento region. It also made Folsom the first prison in the world to have electric power. Additionally, Folsom Prison inmates have manufactured the state’s vehicle license plates since the 1930s.
Pictured here is Eichler's preliminary drawing for the new cell block seen in the previous panel.
Displayed here is Eichler"s 1933 watercolor of the preliminary design for a segregated dormitory for "Chinese and Negroes" at Folsom Prison. Segregating prisoners by race or ethnicity was a common practice in California Prisons in an attempt to prevent gang violence. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state to end the discriminatory practice of using race as the sole determining factor for offender housing assignments, declaring it unconstitutional.
Throughout Folsom Prison’s violent history of escapes and riots, it is probably best known in popular culture for country singer Johnny Cash’s performances there. His most famous appearance was a live concert in 1968, when he recorded "At Folsom Prison," which included his hit, “Folsom Prison Blues.”
The other state reform school estblished in 1889 was the Whittier State Reformatory in Los Angeles County, for boys and girls aged seven to eighteen (later renamed the Fred C. Nelles School for Boys).
Pictured here is Eichler's 1933 painting of his design for a gymnasium at the Fred C. Nelles School for Boys.
Prior to the reform schools, juvenile offenders as young as thirteen were sent to San Quentin and Folsom Prisons. In 1913, the girls’ department of Whittier was separated to become the California School for Girls and renamed the Ventura School for Girls in 1925. All three reform schools have since closed, replaced by several Youth Correctional Facilities overseen by the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice.
Pictured here is Eichler's 1936 design for an entrance sign for the Ventura School for Girls.
Featured here is Eichler's 1940 sketch for a ward building for infirm female patients at Stockton State Hospital.
In 1972, at a time when the Department of Mental Health was moving away from long-term inpatient treatment of mental illness, the hospital received its first developmentally disabled patients. Soon after, the hospital was converted to a residential facility for the developmentally disabled under the control of the Department of Developmental Services. Renamed Stockton Developmental Center in 1986, the hospital eventually closed in 1996. Today, the former hospital site is home to University Park, a central Stockton development with historic and contemporary buildings housing both medical and educational facilities, including California State University Stanislaus--Stockton Center.
Pictured here is Eichler's 1932 pen and ink drawing of Camarillo State Hospital, as seen from above.
By the 1950s, Camarillo was the largest and most advanced mental institution in the world, housing over 7000 patients and 700 staff. In 1967, patients with developmental disabilities were admitted and housed in a separate complex.
Camarillo State Hospital was often featured in popular culture, most notably in the 1948 film, "The Snake Pit." The hospital closed in 1997, but its grounds and many of its buildings were redeveloped as California State University Channel Islands, which held its first classes in 2002. The bell tower, a centerpiece of the campus near the central mall, has been adopted as a symbol of CSU Channel Islands.
Pictured is Eichler's 1941 drawing for tubercular units at Napa State Hospital. The graphite drawing is from a design by architect H. S. Hazen.
Currently, Napa State Hospital admits only four types of patients: civilly committed patients who represent a danger to themselves or others; felony defendants who are found incompetent to stand trial; mentally disordered offenders who need treatment during the period of their parole; and those who were judged by a court to be not guilty by reason of insanity. During the years 1968 to 1987 and 1995 to 2001, the hospital also served developmentally disabled residents.
Following the stock market crash of 1929, the patient population at Mendocino grew rapidly, hitting a high in 1955 at over 3,000 patients and 700 employees. During a construction phase in the 1950s, many new structures were completed to replace old buildings and to provide facilities for new programs.
As part of a reorganization of mental health programs by Governor Reagan’s administration, the hospital was closed in 1972. Since 1974, the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a Buddhist monastery, has occupied the former state hospital site, re-purposing many of the historical hospital buildings.
Pictured is Eichler's 1939 design for a yard shelter and addition to the Custodial Building.
Alfred Eichler led the restoration efforts from 1956 to 1958. To restore the Greek Revival-style building as authentically as possible, Eichler and other architects consulted historical records, photographs, historical accounts from Benicia residents, and conducted a thorough examination of the building itself.
In March of 1958, Benicia celebrated the completed renovation with three days of festivities. Ceremonies included a parade, a Governor’s ball, and the dedication of the structure as a state historic monument. Additionally, the legislature held a one-day commemorative session at the restored capitol building for the first time since 1854. Today, the restored building welcomes visitors as Benicia Capitol State Historic Park.
Featured here is Eichler's 1956 pen and ink drawing of the Benicia State Capitol front elevation and first floor plan, which erroneously states that Benicia was the first state capitol.
Another historic preservation project led by Alfred Eichler was the 1954 restoration of the Wells Fargo Building at Columbia State Historic Park, which was originally built in 1858 for the Wells Fargo and Company Express.
Pictured on the left is a combined photograph and drawing showing the restoration work done to the building. Architect Paul Johnson made the drawing under the direction of Alfred Eichler. Pictured in the photograph is Alfred Eichler (far left) standing before the project site with two unidentified men.
The Border/Quarantine Stations featured here illustrate how Alfred Eichler and the Division of Architecture designed buildings to fit the needs of the agency as well as the surrounding landscape. While all were planned to serve the same function, each one was uniquely designed for the environments in which they were constructed. The border station at Dorris in Siskiyou County (featured here) inspected vehicles entering California from Oregon along U.S. Highway 97. The station, constructed in 1936, was built in a log cabin style, to fit in with the sagebrush-dominated grassland landscape of the surrounding area.
Built in the desert along the California-Arizona border is the Fort Yuma Quarantine Inspection Station, designed and drawn by Alfred Eichler in 1930. Located in Imperial County, the station first opened in 1922 to inspect vehicles entering along U.S. Highway 8. Shown here is the distinctive Pueblo-style tower designed by Eichler, which included the use of earthen colors, thick walls to mimic adobe construction, and flat, or slightly pitched roof lines.
People flocked to the State Fair to view improved breeds of livestock, agricultural abundance, new mechanical contraptions, and domestic and artistic competitions. Alfred Eichler’s design for the State Fair Grandstand, featured here, binds this showcasing of California’s talents and bounty to monumental architecture. Eichler began his designs for a new grandstand in 1925. Both preliminary and final designs for the Grandstand featured Spanish Revival architectural characteristics. Eichler also wanted the structure, which would replace the old wooden grandstand, to be “fireproof and modern in every aspect.”
Governor Friend Richardson, with state dignitaries in attendance, laid the cornerstone for the Grandstand (final design seen here) on July 14, 1926. More than 65,000 people attended the State Fair that year, filling the Grandstand to marvel at train wrecks, wild west shows, and chariot races.
The post-World War II population boom necessitated a more spacious location for the State Fair. The Fair purchased 900 acres near the American River, just north of the city, but construction was not funded until 1963. Finally, in 1968, Governor Ronald Reagan opened the State Fair at the new Cal Expo site, current home of the California State Fair.
For many Californians, the State Fair’s move to Cal Expo represented the end of an era. Most of the buildings at the Stockton Boulevard fairgrounds, including Eichler’s Grandstand, were demolished soon thereafter.
First operated by The Veterans' Home Association, the original buildings on the Yountville site were completed in 1883, shortly before the home opened to its first thirteen residents in 1884. By 1900, when the State of California took over operations, the home had grown to 800 residents.
For nearly thirty years beginning in 1926, the Veterans Home underwent a revitalization led by Commandant Nelson M. Holderman, which included the construction of new buildings to improve the lives of the residents.
Pictured is an aerial view of the Yountville Veterans Home, rendered in pen and ink by Eichler in 1930.
Pictured is Eichler's rendering of the Industrial Vocational Training Center, built in 1948 to a modified design.
The Veterans Home at Yountville remains an active facility today, providing services to 1,200 WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, War in Afghanistan, and Operation Enduring/Iraqi Freedom veterans.
In keeping with the bridge’s importance as the gateway to the capital city, Eichler was tasked with creating a grand and modern design. He designed the vertical lift bridge in the Streamline Moderne architectural style, sheathing the trussed lift span towers and cross-bracings in quarter-inch plated steel to further the streamline effect. The concrete pylons also echoed the soaring vertical lines of the towers. Shortly after its completion, it was designated the nation’s “most beautiful lift bridge.”
Seen here is Eichler's 1934 preliminary design study, rendered in pen and ink.
The bridge opened with great fanfare in December 1935. Governor Frank Merriam dedicated the bridge, releasing 1,000 homing pigeons to spread the news throughout the state. Contemporaneous reports declared that it represented “all that is modern in engineering skill.” Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, the Tower Bridge remains a treasured landmark in the greater Sacramento area as a symbol of architectural strength and optimism in a bygone era.
Pictured are three sketches of Tower Bridge lamp standards, drawn by Eichler in 1934.
Originally established as a joint facility, the California Institution of the Deaf and Dumb, and the Blind was constructed at Berkeley in 1867. The two schools were separated in 1921 and renamed California School for the Blind (CSB) and California School for the Deaf (CSD). In 1929, Alfred Eichler began a building program for the newly separated School for the Deaf as the chief architect and planner.
One of Eichler’s favorite projects, the planned ten-year construction program was interrupted first by the Great Depression and later by World War II and the Korean War, resulting in construction lasting into the 1950s. In 1979, both the CSB and CSD left their Berkeley campus for new and separate facilities in Fremont.
The Berkeley campus was transferred to the University of California and renamed the Clark Kerr Campus in 1983. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the former school is currently a residential complex that still utilizes Eichler’s Spanish Colonial Revival buildings. The 1931 painting featured here shows decorative details for the interior of the girl’s dormitory, built in 1932.
San Jose State University is California’s oldest public university and the founding campus of the California State University system. Established in 1857 as Minns’ Evening Normal School, it began to train teachers, first at a San Francisco location and then at its permanent home in San Jose, where it moved in 1871. In 1921, it was renamed State Teachers College at San Jose, and in 1935 was renamed yet again as San Jose State College.
San Jose State obtained university status in 1972 and was renamed San Jose State University two years later.
Featured here is Eichler’s 1962 rendering of Science Building No. 2, a modified Midcentury Modern design: clean lines, flat roof, and asymmetrical profile, but softened with classical arches spanning the long entrance arcade.
Today’s San Diego State University began in 1897 as the San Diego Normal School, a training facility for elementary school teachers. In 1931, having outgrown its seventeen-acre Park Boulevard location, the campus moved to the city’s eastern border, where it remains today.
Renamed San Diego State College in 1935, the facility expanded its degree programs beyond teacher training. After gaining university status in 1972, it was renamed San Diego State University.
Presented here is Eichler’s 1932 graphite rendering of one of the buildings for the new campus, the women’s gymnasium. Designed by H.S. Hazen of the Division of Architecture, the gymnasium is in the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style, as were most of the campus buildings designed in that day.
Today’s University of California at Santa Barbara began as the Anna S. C. Blake Manual Training School in 1891, offering courses in home economics and industrial arts. In 1909, with a $10,000 appropriation from the State Legislature, the school was renamed the Santa Barbara State Normal School of Manual Art and Home Economics. Like many of the state normal schools, the aim was to provide training for public school teachers.
Renamed the Santa Barbara State College in 1921, the school added a liberal arts program and thereafter saw such rapid growth that additional land was purchased in 1932.
Pictured is Eichler’s 1926 study of the library, lobby, and auditorium interiors of the original campus buildings, which feature Spanish Colonial Revival architectural characteristics, such as arched windows and doorways, tile floors, and white stucco walls.
The four paintings featured here were designed and drawn by Alfred Eichler in 1932 for the Santa Barbara campus. These proposed designs for a variety of student facilities were never built, possibly due to funding shortages during the Great Depression.
In 1944, the school was moved to the research-oriented University of California system and renamed the Santa Barbara College of the University of California, making it the third campus in the UC system, after Berkeley and UCLA. In 1954, the university moved to its new location on a former U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Goleta. The name was changed for a final time in 1958 to University of California, Santa Barbara, as it is known today.
Founded in 1899 as the San Francisco State Normal School for training school teachers, the school was renamed San Francisco State Teachers College in 1921. It was renamed again as San Francisco State College in 1935 and moved to its new location near Lake Merced in the southwest part of the city.
Gaining university status in 1972, today’s San Francisco State University has matured into a liberal arts university with a student body that is one of the most diverse in the nation.
Pictured is Eichler's 1935 watercolor rendering for a Science addition for the San Francisco campus.
The classroom building presented here was designed in 1962 for the new San Francisco State College campus. Designed in a Midcentury Modern architectural style that saw a construction boom after WWII, the plan features clean, spare lines, large glass windows to let in natural light, a flat roof, and an open-concept floor plan.
This photograph of Alfred Eichler was taken in October 1963, shortly before he retired from state service with the Architecture Division of the Department of Public Works.
Upon retiring, Eichler had expressed his desire to travel abroad with his wife, but these plans were never realized, as, tragically, Virginia died the very next day. Eichler devoted much of his remaining years to his art, specifically sketching and painting scenes of historic California structures. He died in Sacramento on November 27, 1977.
All images from records of the California State Archives.
Curation of physical exhibit by Lisa C. Prince, with assistance from Juan Ramos, Nicholas Jackson, Beth Behnam, Jeff Crawford, Chris Garmire, Melissa Tyler, and Tamara Martin (2018)
Digital adaptation by Lisa C. Prince (2018)
Imaging by Thaddeus McCurry and Brian Guido (2017-2018)
Editing by Jessica Herrick and Kira Dres
California State Archives
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