When Faxon Dean Atherton, a wealthy businessman from Massachusetts first rode his horse through pre-Civil War West Atherton, he was attracted to the same natural landscape that exists today. Native live oaks, white oaks, bays, redwoods, cedars and pines still hold sway thanks to the town ordinance that protects heritage trees.
In 1860, Faxon Dean Atherton purchased more than 600 acres — essentially what is now West Atherton — and became one of the first residents of the area. He built what is described as a relatively modest home in the center of his plot. The home was approximately where the Menlo Circus Club, a private country club, site of polo games and charity events, is now located.
He raised his seven children there, and today their names appear on West Atherton street signs: Isabella, Alejandro and Elena.
Over the years, the city government has sought to preserve Atherton's rural atmosphere. Nearly all the town is zoned for one-acre lots, creating dramatic settings for the impressive estates.
Technically, there are no streets in Atherton — only lanes, roads, courts, avenues. The lack of sidewalks preserves the feeling of walking on country lanes. In a concession to practicality, the original stone street markers are now augmented with conventional signage.
Chris Kitch has lived on Fairview for 20 years and has fond memories of neighborhood Halloweens with her three children. "About 30 to 40 kids in the Fairview-Linda Vista loop gathered for pizza at four and then went trick-or-treating together," she recalls, describing the elaborate decorations.
Now that the kids are grown the neighborhood retains its friendliness, but has lost some of its cohesiveness, she says. However, in her status as a member of "one of the older families," she enjoys making gingerbread with the new, young family nearby.
One by one, the old ranch-style homes are disappearing. "We have four brand-new homes around us," she says. When asked if there were any neighborhood issues, she replies, "Our issues will go away when the construction is done."
"Our street is one that people walk on," says Kathy Ladra, a resident of Camino al Lago for the past 15 years. "When I'm out planting, people stop and ask gardening questions," she says.
Ladra's only complaint, and she stresses that it is minor, is that there is not sufficient street grading to allow for proper drainage. Otherwise, she cites "great neighbors" as well as the "park-like peacefulness and natural beauty of the area as reasons for why she feels so comfortable living in West Atherton.
CHILD CARE AND PRESCHOOLS: St. Joseph's Montessori Preschool and Kindergarten, 150 Valparaiso Ave., Atherton
FIRE STATION: 32 Almendral Ave., Atherton
PRIVATE SCHOOLS: St. Joseph's School, 50 Emilie Ave., Atherton; Menlo School, 50 Valparaiso Ave., Atherton; Sacred Heart Prep,150 Valparaiso Ave., Atherton; Menlo College, 1000 El Camino Real, Atherton
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: (Eligibility for school districts depends on resident's address)
Menlo Park City Elementary School District — Oak Knoll School, 1895 Oak Knoll Lane, Menlo Park; Encinal Elementary School, 195 Encinal Ave., Menlo Park; Hillview Middle School, 1100 Elder Ave., Menlo Park
Redwood City School District — Selby Lane School, 170 Selby Lane, Atherton; Kennedy Middle School, 2521 Goodwin Ave., Redwood City; plus magnet schools
Sequoia Union High School District — Menlo-Atherton High School, 555 Middlefield Road, Atherton
SHOPPING: Downtown Menlo Park; Stanford Shopping Center
MEDIAN 2008 HOME PRICE: $4,050,000 ($1,325,000-$11,250,000)
HOMES SOLD: 30