Real Estate

Palo Alto Hills

A quiet neighborhood that's still part of city life

Ask a resident of Palo Alto Hills what drew him or her to the tucked-away enclave and the answers are not surprisingly similar:

"I just liked the vistas, the serenity. It's quiet and restful," said Vernon Altman, who with his wife Mary Lee built their home in the early 1990s.

For Marcia Chang, who moved with her husband Chi-chao Chang and their three children in 2010, it was the contrast with her daily life.

"I feel fortunate and blessed to be in this fast-paced work environment of Silicon Valley and at the end of day and on weekends we can enjoy Palo Alto at its best," she said.

Both the Altmans and the Changs had come from less bucolic environments. While the Changs came to California after grad school in New York, settling first in Santa Clara, Vern Altman had moved from Germany in 1978 to set up the West Coast office for Bain. They purchased the land in 1980, but didn't build their dream home until more than 10 years later after returning from a stay on the East Coast. By the time they moved in their youngest child was a senior at Gunn High School.

The Altmans' home sits on 2.5 acres overlooking the Arastradero Preserve; from one part of the lot Vern can see his office in San Francisco; from the end of his driveway he can spot his office in Palo Alto.

But most of the 78 homes in Palo Alto Hills were built in the 1960s on about 1-acre lots; many have been remodeled, updated or rebuilt.

"We're not far (from neighbors) at all," Chang said. "We can cross the street, chat with neighbors all the time.

"The lots are much larger than typical Palo Alto neighborhoods, but it's not a problem. We don't have to drive or walk miles. Cross the street and your neighbor is there," she said.

Neighbors tend to share backyard bounty as well. "It's the kind of neighborhood where you knock on a door and drop off something you've cooked," or borrow a cup of sugar, or deliver home-made wine, she added.

Much of the attraction to the hills is a very intimate connection to nature. The Changs appreciate sharing their land with animals, she said, mentioning a deer family, quail and jack rabbits seen often in their back yard.

"You've got to be a bit careful here because there are deadly animals," Altman added, noting that he's seen mountain lions, rattlesnakes, coyotes and bobcats. He's even seen migrating ducks stop by his swimming pool en route south.

And of course, they're all walking distance to the Arastradero Preserve.

Living here has "made us much more active. We are biking now much more. On weekends my husband and I go on bike rides or walk the Dish," Chang said. "We enjoy it much more now than we used to."

Neighborhood social activities for the Chang family tend to be focused around their children's schools, Nixon Elementary and Terman Middle schools.

An annual holiday party is held at the Palo Alto Hills Golf & Country Club, a focal point for neighborhood association events, sometimes with guest speakers from the fire department or someone from the community, she said. Although one doesn't have to be a member to come to the neighborhood events, many are, Altman said. He praised the club as a real asset to the neighborhood: "Every neighborhood should be so lucky to have them as neighbors."

While impossible to pick up a quart of milk at a nonexistent corner store, neither Altman nor Chang find it difficult to drive to the market in nearby Portola Valley.

"We're so close to everything yet so removed from everything. That's why people live here," Altman said.

Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be emailed at cblitzer@paweekly.com.

FACTS:

FIRE STATION: No. 8, Foothills Park, 3300 Page Mill Road (during summer); No. 5, 600 Arastradero Road

LIBRARY: Mitchell Park branch, 3700 Middlefield Road

LOCATION: off Page Mill Road: Alexis Drive, Country Club Court, Bandera Drive and Laurel Glen Drive

NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION: Mark Nadim, president, Palo Alto Hills Neighborhood Association, 650-949-5672; mark@pahna.org

PARK: Foothills Park, 3300 Page Mill Road

POST OFFICE: Cambridge, 265 Cambridge Ave.

PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Nixon Elementary School, Terman Middle School, Gunn High School

SHOPPING: Downtown Los Altos, Portola Valley, California Avenue

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