Building the 'Burbs: Constructing the Suburban Hayward Area

From Thursday, May 14th, 2009 until Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

Building the 'Burbs: Constructing the Suburban Hayward Area
The suburban building boom of the 1940s and 1950s transformed the Hayward area and set the stage for the shape of today’s community.

More than sixty years ago tomato fields and fruit tree orchards started to give way to ranch-style homes, winding streets, homeowners associations, community centers, and patio living. The suburban building boom of the 1940s and 1950s transformed the Hayward area and set the stage for the shape of today’s community. This story of the area’s suburban development is explored in this summer’s exhibition Building the ’Burbs: Constructing the Suburban Hayward Area.

Throughout its early history, the Hayward area was mainly known as a small community of farms and orchards. The population was around 5,500 people by the 1930s. But World War II and the years following brought dramatic changes to the area. These years saw a surge of people moving to the vicinity attracted by its proximity to San Francisco and Oakland, easy access to transportation, a good climate and a thriving economy. But houses were in short supply. Local governments changed zoning regulations to allow for residential developments and the federal government began providing home loans to returning war veterans. Then, builders like David D. Bohannon stepped in to fill the housing shortage with developments like San Lorenzo Village, first begun in 1944. Soon acres of tomatoes, peaches, and cherries disappeared and row upon row of houses appeared in their place.

Developers streamlined production and built homes that were affordable for middle class people. They purchased large tracts of land and divided them into individual lots. Then a team of architects designed simple single-family homes laid out on pleasing street plans that provided a sense of community privacy. Developers anticipated and built spaces the community would need, such as churches, community centers, fire stations, schools, parks and shopping centers.

New modern home designs allowed for new efficiencies in construction, which reduced costs but also reshaped people’s lifestyle. Innovative builders, like Joseph Eichler, emphasized livability and flexibility for a new middle class market they helped to define in advertising campaigns. Eichler built around 200 homes in Castro Valley that are strongly associated with Modernist architecture, which follows a simple and functional aesthetic. Patios were often built adjacent to kitchens and living rooms making the outdoors an extension of the living space, taking advantage of the beautiful Bay Area climate.

Modern living became the national trend, and businesses saw the opportunity to profit from the building boom that was happening here, across California and the nation. Advertisers encouraged housewives to modernize their homes by purchasing all the latest gadgets and appliances, promising to make chores around the house easier and the home more stylish. Pop culture, from television shows to magazines, defined, illustrated and promoted modern living as the new lifestyle and sold it to the middle class.

Artifacts from the Historical Society’s collection illustrate Building the ’Burbs and bring the visitor back to one of the key periods in the area’s history. The exhibit runs from May 14 through August 22, 2009.

Changing Gallery