"One and a half acres, across from a golf course, view of the San Francisco Bay, seven oak trees — it was like a wish list!" Chuck Colby said, describing the lot he bought in Palo Alto Hills in 1976.
The neighborhood, which began as a ranch before transforming into a development along a golf course, has much to offer its 77 households, but many Palo Alto residents may not even know it exists. Nestled above Highway 280 and abutting Foothills Park and the Pearson-Arastradero Open Space Preserve, the area is secluded by acres of nature. Deer wander into back yards and residents circulate supply lists about who has what in case of disaster.
It was the semi-wild environment that convinced Connie West and her husband Jim to move in 1985.
"It was like going away for the weekend when you came home," she said. "I had lived on Stanford Avenue earlier, and I just wanted to be in the hills. It's so peaceful."
However, life amongst the deer, coyotes and bobcats is anything but solitary, West said. "All the neighbors wave. We have get-togethers. One party was scheduled to end at 8 p.m. but it went until after midnight because everybody just enjoyed being together."
She also credited yearly get-togethers organized by the Palo Alto Hills Neighborhood Association (PAHNA), and held at the Palo Alto Hills Country Club, with maintaining a spirit of togetherness.
Jan Terry, who has organized the annual event multiple times, said that neighbors in the small community tend to get to know each other.
Cranes and hard hats on lots are part of a larger trend. Although the neighborhood is unable to expand into surrounding preserves, the winds of change nonetheless sneak over its dry hillsides in the form of renovation, or more commonly, rebuilding. Tearing down houses constructed in the 1960s and 1970s, newer residents are creating spacious digs with sprawling decks, vineyards and guest wings. Labeled "monster houses" by some Palo Altans, the mansions don't bother Palo Alto Hills newcomer John Riester.
"They're all a little different, but beautiful. Some are made to blend into the landscape," he said.
In fact, the changes feel paradoxically traditional. "The whole culture of Silicon Valley is to balance tradition and change."
Riester moved into a 1960s-era house that has a "retro, very California feel" with his wife and children in 2000. Like West, the family was attracted by the scenic, open surroundings. "We don't feel boxed in. We have redwoods on all sides."
He and his wife Gioia Allegretti also thought it would be a good place for children. "Our kids have space to run around and good schools," although the separation from greater Palo Alto makes coordinating play-dates difficult.
The deer also pose a problem to his garden: "Even those deer-resistant plants don't work. The critters eat them, then think, 'Oh, this tastes bitter,' and then keep eating."
And Terry said that residents are occasionally troubled by crimes of opportunity, such as when roadside-accessible mailboxes are burglarized. Overall, however, residents cherish their vistas, oaks and open air — all within a short drive to California Avenue.
"I get the open space I love, and the city," said West. "It's just where I want to be."
FIRE STATION: No. 8, Foothills Park, 3300 Page Mill Road (during summer); No. 5, 600 Arastradero Road
LIBRARY: Mitchell Park branch, 3700 Middlefield Road
NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION: Mark Nadim, president, 650-949-5672
PARK: Foothills Park, 3300 Page Mill Road
POST OFFICE: Main Post Office, 2085 E Bayshore Road
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Nixon Elementary School, Terman Middle School, Gunn High School
SHOPPING: El Camino Real, Downtown Los Altos, California Avenue
MEDIAN 2008 HOME PRICE: $2,900,000
HOMES SOLD: 1