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January 28, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, January 28, 2005

West Atherton West Atherton (January 28, 2005)

Large estates amid heritage trees

by Susan Golovin

W hen 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 current residents enjoy. Native live oaks, white oaks, bays, redwoods, cedars and pines still hold sway thanks to the town ordinance that protects heritage trees.

In 1860, 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 of the town is zoned for one-acre lots, creating dramatic settings for the impressive estates. It is only in recent years that street signs have replaced stone markers.

Technically, there are no streets in Atherton -- only lanes, roads, courts, avenues. And those "non-streets" are made to feel more like country lanes because there are no sidewalks.

"My family moved to Atherton in 1942, when it was still considered the country. It was all orchards," Joe Greenbach said. He and his wife Nancy now live on Camino Al Lago, on two acres Joe purchased in a three-acre estate sale in 1985.

Changes in their neighborhood in recent years have mainly involved "tearing down the old homes and building new, larger homes," he said. Consequently, their narrow street is lined with construction vehicles during the day. Yet, said Nancy, "It is still the most beautiful spot to live. People maintain their yards and take pride in their homes."

The Greenbachs appreciate living in a town small enough to be on a first name basis with the police chief and members of the City Council. There is no doubt, however, that getting to know your neighbors is more of a challenge in a community with such large lots. Nancy Greenbach made reaching out to her neighbors a top priority when she was president of the Atherton Dames, a local volunteer service organization.

Congresswoman Anna Eshoo moved to her Isabella Avenue home in l974. "The home was built in the early 1930s, and the woman who built it was an interpreter for General Pershing in World War I," she said. "She wanted to sell it to me because she knew that I would love it, and I have."

Eshoo moved to West Atherton to be close to her children's school, Sacred Heart. Along with several other schools and the Circus Club, Sacred Heart is among the few non-residential buildings in town.

She credits the younger couples on Isabella with planning activities to get the old timers together with newer arrivals.

And when election time rolls around, the congresswoman loves going to Atherton City Hall to cast her votes. "It reminds me of a Norman Rockwell painting."
@12subhead:West Atherton facts @facthead:Child care and preschools: @fact:St. Joseph's Montessori Preschool and Kindergarten, 150 Valparaiso Ave., Atherton @facthead:Fire station: @fact:32 Almendral Ave., Atherton @facthead:Private schools: @fact: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 @facthead:Public schools: @fact:(Eligibility for school districts depends on resident's address) Menlo Park City Elementary School District -- Oak Knoll School, 1895 Oak Knoll Lane, 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 @facthead:Shopping: @fact:Downtown Menlo Park; Stanford Shopping Center; El Camino Real shopping strip

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