Flying in from San Jose Airport, Mary Lautner spotted a distinctive neighborhood below with residential streets laid out in concentric circles. "That's where I live!" she remembers exclaiming when she recognized Fairmeadow.
Joseph Eichler designed the circular streets in the early 1950s to reduce traffic in his tract of modern, affordable homes, but now they also serve as the neighborhood's icon.
The circular pattern is one of Fairmeadow's advantages, according to Paul Seaver, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1968. "There is very little through traffic," he said.
East Charleston Road, East Meadow Drive, Alma Street and Mitchell Park border the neighborhood of 300 Eichler homes. Residents enjoy close proximity to Mitchell Park, a community center and four schools, public and private.
Aside from the occasional errant driver and school-related traffic congestion in the mornings and late-afternoons, Fairmeadow is a quiet, peaceful neighborhood. "Knock on wood, nothing in my immediate surroundings has been stolen or broken into," Gunhild Patterson said, looking back on four decades of life in Fairmeadow. "It's very safe (and) relatively quiet," agreed Lautner, who often goes on long-distance walks.
In fact, Fairmeadow's walkability is one of its most popular attributes. Len Filppu said that walking to school with his children, aged 7 and 4, gives the little streets "a neighborhood feeling, and gives our kids a sense of neighborhood. Instead of seeing the world through moving glass windows in cars, they can kick a stone down the street on the way to class and wave to other kids doing the same."
Two years ago, resident Beth Olson was attracted to Fairmeadow for its schools. Since then, her family has come to appreciate other nearby amenities, including Mitchell Park. The friendly neighborhood environment has been a particularly pleasant surprise, she said.
"We were very pleased when we moved in to see how many people with kids live here. And my kids love it, too. They like to check outside and see if there are other kids playing ... and have spontaneous play dates," Olson said.
In true neighborhood fashion, Ramona Circle residents host annual block parties. Kids play basketball, skateboard and draw in chalk, said Filppu, who added that he enjoys the food and mingling at such events. Other blocks put on a "circle party" every year, host Halloween trick-or-treating events, and congregate for holiday caroling, Olson said.
"Once you live in an Eichler and you enjoy the visual intimacy of the outdoors, you go into a normal house that is all walls (and) in the normal house you feel a little claustrophobic and enclosed," Filppu said. Exposed beams, views of backyard gardens, and the unique, modern architecture are other reasons why occupants just don't want to leave.
When Beth Olson considers why her neighborhood is special, something in addition to the Eichlers comes to mind.
"I've lived in five different spots (in the Bay Area)," she said, "and when we moved here, this was the first time that a neighbor brought over a welcome basket. I was shocked. I was like, this is so old-fashioned neighborhood-y. I didn't know people did that anymore."
CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS (NEARBY): Besse Bolton Kid's Club, 500 E. Meadow Drive; Covenant Children's Center, 670 E. Meadow Drive; Ellen Thacher Children's Center, 505 E. Charleston Road; Hoover Kids' Club; 445 E. Charleston Road; Palo Alto Infant Toddler Center, 4111 Alma St.
FIRE STATION: No. 4, 3600 Middlefield Road
LIBRARY: Mitchell Park branch, 3700 Middlefield Road
NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION: Tom Vician, president, 650-565-9014
PARK: Mitchell Park, 600 E. Meadow Drive
POST OFFICE: Cambridge, 265 Cambridge Ave.
PRIVATE SCHOOL: Challenger School, 3880 Middlefield Road
PUBLIC CHOOLS: Fairmeadow and Hoover elementary schools, J.L. Stanford Middle School, Gunn High School
SHOPPING (NEARBY): Charleston Center
MEDIAN 2008 HOME PRICE: $1,220,000 ($950,000-$1,425,000)
HOMES SOLD: 6