In a city known for Eichler communities, St. Claire Gardens proves to be an aberration. Rather than a tract of homes with low-sloping roofs, atriums, glass walls, concrete floors and other modernist features, the homes populating St. Claire Drive, St. Michaels Drive and St. Michaels Court follow a more conventional design.
"They're mostly three, four, five-bedroom houses — to accommodate large Catholic families," said Diana Sworakowski with a laugh. She and her husband, Michael, have lived in their home on St. Michaels Court for 30 years.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco developed St. Claire Gardens in the early 1950s, around the same time Joseph Eichler designed nearby Fairmeadow.
"When I came here originally, my children were small, and there were a lot of other small children, and they used to play together," Sworakowski said. "And then all of a sudden there weren't any young children around."
Sandy and Brock Hinzmann also mentioned the lack of small children as something that has changed over their 30 years living in the neighborhood.
"Obviously those of us who have been here for 30 years have gotten older, and our children have left, and we got grandchildren now, and that sort of thing," Sworakowski said. "But I would say over the [last 15 years or so, there has been a big influx of families."
In the morning, the horseshoe-shaped St. Michaels Drive, which unites with St. Claire Drive on each end, illustrates why the Hinzmann's describe the neighborhood as "children friendly" and "a nice quiet street."
St. Claire Gardens would be enclosed from the rest of Palo Alto if not for two outlets on St. Claire Drive, leading to Middlefield Road and Cowper Street, respectively. Because little traffic filters in, the streets remain quiet, a fact emphasized by the expansiveness of the streets, birds chirping in trees and basketball hoops sitting against sidewalks.
The evening brings the children out. The few roaming the street on this day say hello and goodbye to each other as they head home, the sun already set, the sky darkening. A boy zigzags his skateboard through the street; and two girls tuck basketballs under their arms as they walk away.
"When my children were younger, we used to have big Fourth of July parties out on the court here," Sworakowski said. "We don't do that now, but we do have block parties. It's a very, very tight-knit neighborhood."
Dave Spencer, who moved to St. Claire Gardens in 2007 with his wife and baby, described a block party he attended in September. "We took over the street. We set up an amazing number of tables. And everyone from a block away came. And we saw people that have been here 10, 20, 30 or more years, so it was very neat to see that."
"We're happy here," Spencer said. "The street's much quieter. We found people very friendly. It feels like a stable neighborhood."
Sandy Hinzmann said she thinks St. Claire Gardens is perfect. "It's close to shopping. It's close to libraries. It's close to everything."
"The neighborhood really watches out for each other," she said, "There's a family up the street that I think came from Connecticut and they put a sign out on the street:
"Drive slowly. Children at play."
CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS (NEARBY): Mini Infant Center of Palo Alto, 3149 Waverley St.
FIRE STATION: No. 4, 3600 Middlefield Road
LIBRARY: Mitchell Park branch, 3700 Middlefield Road
PARKS (NEARBY): Hoover Park, 2901 Cowper St.; Mitchell Park, 600 East Meadow Drive
POST OFFICE: Cambridge, 265 Cambridge Ave.; Main, 2085 E. Bayshore Road
PRIVATE SCHOOLS: International School of the Peninsula, 3233 Cowper St.; Keys School, 2890 Middlefield Road
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: El Carmelo or Fairmeadow elementary schools, J.L. Stanford Middle School, Gunn High School
SHOPPING: Midtown Shopping Center, Middlefield Road and Colorado Avenue; also Middlefield Road at Loma Verde Avenue
MEDIAN 2008 HOME PRICE: $1,478,750
HOMES SOLD: 1