|Spring Real Estate 2007
Publication Date: Friday, April 27, 2007
Lost -- but not forgotten -- neighborhoods
by Carol Blitzer
Ask someone on the Peninsula where he or she lives, and the answer will probably begin with the city. Then might come the neighborhood, usually defined by those you live nearest to, where you shop, where the kids go to school. It's more a matter of practice, if not local history.
But many people live on the edge of a well-defined neighborhood, separated by geography -- perhaps a creek -- or cul-de-sacs. And sometimes, a "neighborhood" is simply a block or cluster of homes with years of traditional celebrations and long-standing friendships.
Each year the Palo Alto Weekly, Almanac and Mountain View Voice publish a booklet called "Our Neighborhoods." The following are a few of the areas that haven't quite fit, or are now emerging.
Between Louis and Greer roads, just south of Embarcadero, lies a circular street (and cul-de-sac nodule) that leads to nowhere. Sometimes people turn on Morton Street, trying to take a short-cut to avoid Big Game traffic on Embarcadero -- only to discover they end right back up on Embarcadero.
Rebecca Passarello bought her three-bedroom, one-bath home in 1987, and has since married, had three children and remodeled (and expanded) her house multiple times. She thinks the original tract home was built around 1958 for just over $6,000.
What drew her to Morton Street were the home's large windows, the larger-than-usual lot, quiet street and easy access to Highway 101. The only downside was hearing the freeway on a calm summer night.
But, what kept her there were the neighbors.
One reason the neighbors are so close is the annual block party, which draws in all the homes along Morton, as well as Embarcadero between Louis and Greer. Neighbors bring out their barbecues and kids their bikes, for the early fall potluck event. Even kids who have grown up and left return to reconnect.
There's very little turnover on the block, short of the usual growing up and leaving. Today there are close to 20 school-age kids. That's similar to what it was like when B.J. Coleman and her husband moved to the block in 1960, where they raised their four children. They lived on the side of the street with slightly larger lots and custom-built homes. Some even sport private wells, mostly used today for irrigation.
Today, about half the homes have an added second story. "When I moved in, my house was the biggest on the block. Now it looks like a hut," Coleman said.
"Though I lost my neighbor of 30 years, I got some great ones in exchange," she added.
Toss a ball over the back fence on Morton Street into a Bellview Drive back yard, and it'll take quite a while to retrieve it. That's because Bellview -- although part backs onto Morton Way or Street -- is a cul-de-sac accessible only from North California Avenue.
The 11 houses were mainly built by Carl Wilson in the late 1950s to early 1960s on 1/6-acre lots; today most are two stories, with a variety of finishes, from brick and stucco to wood siding and shingles. Tom Harley calls the architecture "generic American," and his wife Barbara adds, "nothing elegant. No marble fireplaces."
Generations have grown up on Bellview, and some are coming back. Barbara and Tom Harley's daughter Carolyn, along with her partner and 6-year-old daughter, occupy their added-on second story -- leaving four bedrooms downstairs. The Harleys arrived in 1975, drawn to the home large enough to raise their four children.
Further up the street, Suzanne Jaworowski and Shaun Gordon bought her family home from her father.
What originally drew Jim and Rosie Wong in 1962 was their desire to own a new house -- a scarce commodity in Palo Alto then, he said. But, what keeps the Wongs on Bellview is the sense of community.
After their two children grew up, they seriously considered paring down from their five-bedroom home, but concluded that what they had was far superior to what was on the market. Today they enjoy having an office and sewing room, as well as plenty of room for the visiting grandchildren, who visit every week.
The Wongs were instrumental in starting the annual Bellview Drive Labor Day International Block Party, once held on July 4, but long ago moved to Labor Day weekend. A longstanding volleyball game has given way to children's games, as once more there are 13 kids on the block, mostly under age 8. Shared gourmet food at the potluck reflects the homeowners' widely varying ethnic backgrounds -- with everything from English trifle to Japanese sushi, chopped liver and gefilte fish to Indian rice pilaf.
"We've always had an interesting ethnic mix," Tom Harley said, noting an African-American as well as a South American couple, Israelis and Japanese.
Almost everyone on the block has an advanced college degree, with three doctors, two lawyers and a handful of engineers.
No one can recall any conflicts. "We're nice to each other," Barbara Harley said, noting that they vie to take in each other's mail while on vacation.
"It's a nice place to be, to have very young children as well as adult activities. All our children know what coming home means," she added.
Overlooking vast acres of rolling hills with views of the San Francisco Bay is Portola Valley's newest neighborhood. Two hundred of its 270 acres are devoted to open space, with 32 homes slated to be built on 34 2-acre lots.
In 2003 Jim and Guila Pollock, who got 10 friends together to reserve lots, were among the first to build in the planned unit development, which includes a recreation center with a pool and dressing room, as well as a community room in the historic Freeman House.
Today, just over half the homes are completed, with another 20 percent in the design phase. Close to 500 CC&Rs (covenants, conditions and restrictions) control everything from the maximum size of the home (6,000 square feet) to the amount of grass (1,000 square feet) or non-native plants (1,000 square feet). Even external design comes under close scrutiny, with requirements for natural materials, muted colors and non-reflective roofs, said Jim Pollock, who heads the homeowners' association.
"We wanted a smaller home with more privacy," Pollock said, of his 4,500-square-foot home, with additional basement space for a playroom and a gym. They had come from Portola Valley Ranch, which he said has eight times the density.
"My wife and I have 10 grandchildren and we have them up here all the time," he added. The new neighborhood already has a wide range of ages, from the late-30s through the 70s, he said.
Although the CC&Rs restrict where any new home may be built -- no blocking a neighbor's view -- there's a variety of architecture represented at Blue Oaks, Pollock said, pointing to the tile, composite and shingle rooflines. It is unusual to have a personal pool, because that cuts back on the allowable home square footage.
"All the people here like the outdoors, the country-type setting," Pollock said. And it's hard to beat that view. From the Pollocks' driveway, one can see rolling hills, a forest of blue oaks and a neighbor's play house and slide.
A sense of community is slowly building. "Last Christmas two or three homeowners had parties for the neighbors. ... I suspect more of that will happen in the summer as we gather around the pool," he added.
In addition to the 32 homes, the Town of Portola Valley retains ownership of land that has been set aside for eight below-market-rate units. But, so far no one has come forward with a concrete proposal to build them, according to Leslie Lambert, Portola Valley planning manager.
Some call it Stierlin Estates, but others insist the real name is Sterling. Few of the original 178 homeowners still reside in the Mountain View tract located between Terra Bella Avenue, North Shoreline Boulevard, West Middlefield Road, Moffett Boulevard and Highway 85, which was built in 1963.
Mary Jo and Jim Williams were attracted to the brand-new one-story, double-garaged houses back in 1963, eager to escape the foggy weather of their San Mateo neighborhood where their kids seemed to have constant colds.
With the aid of the GI Bill, they moved in for $19,450. "It was very dismal," Mary Jo recalled as she planted colorful spring blooms near her front walkway, because they didn't even include front lawns. Although they knew a freeway would be nearby, they didn't know it would be elevated -- or that cars might someday come flying off the ramp to land next to their play structure. Today the soundwall from Highway 85 abuts their back yard. A representative of Caltrans recently dropped by to inspect the weeds and see what could be done to tidy up the wall.
Another original owner, Stan Salisbury, said the area used to be an orchard. After coming out to work at Lockheed Research Lab, he looked for about a year before coming across the new homes where he raised his four children. He founded a homeowners association in 1986, but it's no longer active.
Over time, most of the homes in Stierlin (or Sterling) Estates turned over and new families moved in. Today, there's a mix of older folks, with tell-tale basketball hoops indicating a renewed impact of younger families.
Oon Ong has lived on San Rafael Avenue for 25 years, raising her two children and caring for others in a family day-care home. Originally from Burma, she was living in San Francisco when she found her Mountain View house. "It's so convenient. That's why I never moved," she said, adding that the city of Mountain View is very safe and the neighbors are no trouble.
"It's kind of multipurpose around here," she said, pointing to her eclectic mix of neighbors -- African-American, Puerto Rican, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese and Chinese. "You name them. You get to meet everybody."
"When we moved here everyone had children, everyone went to the same schools," Jim Williams said. "New parents are moving in, old ones are passing on," noted Ong. But, she added, it's a community where children are not left unattended. "Everyone watches out for each other," she said.
The only "conflict" appears to be over the name.
--Did we miss your neighborhood? E-mail your comments to Assistant Editor Carol Blitzer at firstname.lastname@example.org.