Fall Real Estate 2008

Publication Date: Friday, October 10, 2008

Top of the market
Multi-million-dollar properties give new meaning to 'real' estate

Although it sometimes seems that the entire Peninsula is "high-end real estate," there are always properties that re-define the category.

Unusual and pricy properties appeal to a totally different -- albeit smaller -- group of potential buyers.

But, according to Mary Gullixson of Alain Pinel, Menlo Park, although they might stay on the market longer, they are indeed selling.

"When properties of this caliber are sold it doesn't go into the statistics. And, you don't hear about the sales because most of them are confidential," she said.

Here's a quick sample of what's currently available:

The Squire House at 900 University Ave., Palo Alto, was built by John and Georgiana Squire in 1904. It is distinctive not only for its architecture, but also for the more than 20 Washingtonia palms that line the driveway. When the home was first constructed there was only one house nearby, built by the same architect, Thomas Patterson Ross.

John Adams Squire was the scion of a wealthy East Coast meatpacking family who eventually sold the business to Swift. John was Harvard-educated and came West to study classics at the then newly opened Leland Stanford Junior University.

The 6,374-square-foot house, set on about one acre (the basement adds another 2,249 square feet, and there is a detached guest cottage and double garage as well) reflects Squire's love of classicism. The Neo Classical Revival style is distinguished by its Roman columns, impressively detailed capitals, Palladian window and ornate exterior cornice.

The home is protected by the Mills Act. Thus, the owner, in return for extremely low property taxes (currently $7,250) must maintain and not alter the exterior. Also, the first floor, which contains the kitchen ("remodeled to look old" as described by one of the listing agents from Alain Pinel, Carol Carnevale), living room, sun room/possible office area, dining room and family room, must be open for a public function once a year.

The upstairs can be viewed via the open staircase, which zigzags to the third floor, and is a feature of the entry.

Although the four-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath home has been renovated over the years, the wavy glass windows, original light switches and steam radiators have been maintained.

The Palo Alto Times in May 1904 estimated that the cost of the home was "$10,000 or more." It is now on the market for $12.5 million.

"Le Soleil" at 320 Harcross Road in Woodside delivers on its billing as a French chateau.

The brochure description of the ballroom sets the tone: "Grand entertainment salon with gold leaf ceiling detail and gilded moldings on the walls and ceiling; six full height windows and three double French doors surround the room; oversized fireplace with solid carved marble mantelpiece and two crystal chandeliers."

The 10,010-square-foot, three-story home includes seven bedrooms, seven baths, two half baths, including three bedroom suites, one with its own kitchen.

The cul-de-sac property includes a tennis court, croquet lawn, extensive vineyards, manicured formal gardens, pool, spa and accommodation for nine cars. As Alain Pinel listing agent Mary Gullixon puts it, "You can do a lot with five flat acres."

The home was built in 1926 by Mr. and Mrs. Francis Crosby, and underwent a complete renovation in the 1990s. Crosby owned several independent California phone companies that were bought by AT&T. He was also one of the original investors in Caterpillar.

Originally set on 100 acres, it's easy to imagine the San Francisco Ballet performing in the backyard as it did when the Crosbys were in residence.

The property has been reduced from $21 million to $16.8 million.

It is a real "aha moment" when you arrive at The Knoll at Lauriston after traveling up a 1.9-mile twisty, winding, tree-lined roadway accessed by a private gate near the end of Alpine Road in Portola Valley.

The 7,800-square-foot Irish Georgian estate, built in 1994, was modeled after an Irish castle. The main house, plus the two-bedroom guesthouse, a four-car garage cum upstairs playroom, two stall stables and caretaker's quarters, are arranged around a central courtyard. The buildings are constructed of basalt stone and have slate roofs.

Surrounded by Windy Hill Preserve, the hourglass shaped 8.5-acre lot is next to the original stables and gate house of the historic Lauriston estate built by perfumer Herbert Law.

"I believe the house is approximately where the riding ring of the original estate used to be," said Pat Looney, the agent at Campi Properties who is listing the property at $8,395,000.

The main house, consisting of four bedrooms and four-plus bathrooms, features a dramatic, skylight-lit, two-story, stone-floor entry, which runs the length of the house and culminates in an enclosed glass Garden Room.

"They were going to put the swimming pool where the central fountain is," Looney said. "I'm glad they didn't because this is where everyone thinks it should be," she added, pointing out a site behind the house that has a scenic view of the mountains.

One is reminded of the White House upon first seeing stately 60 Parkwood Drive in the Lindenwood section of Atherton. It was thus an appropriate setting for a reception for President Bill Clinton in 1999.

Listed at $23,500,000 by Mary Gullixon, it is a four-bedroom, six-and-a-half-bath 17,000-square-foot home on 2.25 acres. The property is one of the "Three Sisters" E.W. Hopkins commissioned for each of his three daughters -- in this case, for Georgiana upon her marriage to Frederick McNear.

The Beaux Arts-style home -- with columns, balustrades, pilasters, panels of bas-relief, garlands, cartouches, dentil moldings, intricately decorated ceilings -- was designed by Bliss and Faville, whose work includes the St. Francis Hotel and the Palace of Fine Arts.

It was built in 1909 and has been extensively updated and restored by Orlando Diaz Azcuy Design Associates and Ryan Associates.

All of the rooms except for a generous, wood-paneled office/den are on the first floor, allowing for approximately 15-foot ceilings on the first floor. An attached apartment provides two bedrooms, one bath and a full kitchen. There is also an eight-car subterranean garage plus a full basement.

The McNears built one of the first swimming pools in Atherton in 1923 as a birthday present for their 18-year-old son who was returning from boarding school in the East. The setting of the new pool, in the same location, is dramatically enhanced by the 16 columns supporting the rear loggia.

The 18 acres at 28030 Natoma Road is the second largest parcel in all of Los Altos Hills. "It's pretty much the same as it was 200 years ago," agent Gary Nobile of Ventura Barnett Properties said.

The property does include two relatively modest dwellings, but the features are the views of rolling hills and the seclusion. Privacy is assured not only by the acreage, but also by the fact that it's a key lot.

Owned by the Stirling family for the past 50 years, the three granddaughters of the original owner have fond memories of family retreats on site and would love to see it purchased by a single buyer. Nobile, of course, is doing his best to find one.

However, he's a realist and he's done the research.

"I'm marketing this through a multi-pronged approach, based on the people with the highest probability of buying," he said. The land can be subdivided into one-acre-minimum lots.

Nobile said his best prospects are people who already live in the area on four- to five-acre parcels, the upper echelon of Silicon Valley or their friends, private foundations that would want to preserve the land, small custom builders unique to Los Altos Hills and larger developers. He is also making a pitch to the Los Altos Historical Society.

Nobile has listed the property for about a month, at $26,999,999. Prior, it was on the market for nine months at $35 million.

Across the street from the Squire House is another venerated Palo Alto home. The Colonial Revival, with Victorian and Classic Revival influences, at 860 University Ave., was built in 1906 for Elbert Peck, but sold to Dr. Carl Wilson, a Stanford surgeon active in local politics, two years later. The Wilsons lived in the home until 1975.

Architectural detailing that landed the home on the National Register of Historical Places ranges from the clapboard facade and deep porches with classical columns and spindled balustrades to the front-facing gable.

The 4,527-square-foot, five-bedroom house (not counting the attic and basement) sits on a half acre, which also includes the original carriage house, barn, four-car garage and a pool.

Highlights of the house, which is offered by Nancy Manning, Coldwell Banker, Palo Alto, for $8,650,000, include the largest Tiffany stained-glass window in California, operable gas sconces, rich wood details and wood shingle roof with 31 ridges with galvanized claw feet.