Of all of the neighborhoods in the town of Atherton, which Forbes magazine recently ranked as the wealthiest ZIP code in the country for the third year in a row, West Atherton may be the toniest. Home to some of Silicon Valley's most elite executives and investors, the neighborhood is one of the most sought-after residential areas in the San Francisco Bay Area. Like all of Atherton, homes are located on lots of one or more acres and tend to be secluded behind private gates and large hedges. These homes typically sell for $10 million and above.
For such an opulent neighborhood, West Atherton had relatively humble beginnings. In 1860, Faxon Dean Atherton, a merchant from Massachusetts, purchased 640 acres for $10 an acre and built a modest family home in the middle of it. The town's founder raised his seven children in this home, and some of their names are commemorated on the street signs today: Elena, Isabella and Alejandro.
At the center of West Atherton social life is the renowned Menlo Circus Club, which resides on the location of Atherton's original home. This beautiful, private country club features state-of-the-art equestrian facilities, tennis courts, pools and a stunning clubhouse. The club, which traces its beginnings to 1920 when a few young girls on ponies decided to put on a circus for parents and neighbors, maintains its family atmosphere today with children's parties, family picnics, trail rides and other events throughout the year. It is also the scene of many social and philanthropic events, including its annual horse show and the contemporary version of the original circus, the Tally-Ho, a series of events that has raised millions of dollars for the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford.
Caren Taylor, who moved to West Atherton in 2011 with her husband and two sons, was drawn to the neighborhood by its wide streets, big lots and semi-rural feel.
"We have two rambunctious boys, so we wanted a nice big piece of land," Mrs. Taylor says.
The schools were also a big consideration for them.
"We are a big fan of public schools, and we wanted to be in the Las Lomitas school district," she says. "The boys love the school and they love the backyard. We've been lucky. All of our neighbors are nice and friendly, and we've been invited to neighborhood parties."
According to Mrs. Taylor, the only downside is that the large lots and distance between the houses can make trick-or-treating somewhat difficult.
Long-term residents, despite their love for the neighborhood, mention other issues that have come along with its growing popularity.
"It used to be so nice and quiet. It's not so much anymore since all the construction and all the new houses being built," says Lil Kavanaugh, a resident for over 30 years. "You don't really know the neighbors anymore -- they just stay to themselves."
Although she constantly gets letters in the mail from real-estate agents, Mrs. Kavanaugh doesn't plan on selling any time soon. Most of her friends are still here, and she enjoys her large lot, home and swimming pool, especially for family get-togethers.
"I have nine children, 33 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren, and most of them live close enough to come for barbecues in the summer," she says. "They really enjoy it here."
-- Kathy Cordova
CHILD CARE AND PRESCHOOLS: Sacred Heart Montessori Preschool, 150 Valparaiso Ave., Atherton
FIRE STATION: 32 Almendral Ave., Atherton
LOCATION: between Alameda de las Pulgas and El Camino Real, from Selby Lane and Stockbridge Avenue to Valparaiso Avenue
PRIVATE SCHOOLS: St. Joseph's School, 50 Emilie Ave., Atherton; Menlo School, 50 Valparaiso Ave., Atherton; Sacred Heart Preparatory, 150 Valparaiso Ave., Atherton; Menlo College, 1000 El Camino Real, Atherton
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: (Eligibility for school districts depends on resident's address)
Las Lomitas Elementary School District -- Las Lomitas School, 299 Alameda de las Pulgas, Atherton; La Entrada Middle School, 2200 Sharon Road, Menlo Park
Menlo Park City 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