East Charleston

BWhomesmalltract

Smaller post-World War II tract homes, usually entry-level. Look here if you want some of South Palo Alto’s nicest neighborhoods and best locations…and you’re okay with Eichlers.

Boundaries: W. Meadow, Middlefield, San Antonio, Alma. Map boundaries are approximate due to my limitations as a map maker. Neighborhood boundaries may be subjective. Boundaries and other information on this Web site should be verified before being relied upon.
Overview: East Charleston comprises two distinct neighborhoods, Fairmeadow (“the circles”) and Greenmeadow. Both are typical South Palo Alto contemporary yet a little different from the norm.

Fairmeadow, north of Charleston, is a large Eichler tract laid out in circles, Joe’s first and last experiment with this design. Whatever his intent, the neighborhood is one large traffic calming device, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are drivers who’ve been circling these streets, lost, since 1954.

South of Charleston is located perhaps the most consistently attractive South Palo Alto tract, Greenmeadow. The streets are tree-lined, and the houses slightly newer than most and well-maintained. There’s a neighborhood swim club that’s also open to non-residents.

Both Fairmeadow and Greenmeadow have a great location convenient to shopping, schools, Mitchell Park and the Cubberley community center.

Housing stock: Fairmeadow is 100% Eichlers, 278 of them built in four phases from 1951 to 1953. Most are small three-bedroom/two-bath homes of 1100-1300 sq.ft. although there’s a handful of 3/1s, often in less desirable locations and apparently the project’s price leaders. Fairmeadow may be the first Eichler development that offered more than a handful of floorplans—I count eleven, and there’s probably more. By far the most common is a 3/2 of 1318 sq.ft., but homes range from a 3/1 of 1016 sq.ft. to a 3/2 of 1488 sq.ft. At the top is a 4/2 of 1496 sq.ft., and it appears that Fairmeadow was one of the first affordable Eichler tracts to offer four-bedroom homes. This, plus the variety of floorplans, almost all of them with two baths, confirms Ned Eichler’s assertion that homebuyers were much more demanding in the early ’50s than just a few years before. The economy was booming and prosperity was reaching further down the economic ladder. Now buyers expected (and could pay for) a little more space and a few more bells and whistles. Two bathrooms, previously a luxury reserved for top-end homes, was now a necessity. One of the Fairmeadow two-bath floorplans shows Eichler tweaking his product, this time with a tweak that turned out to be a dead end: some of his two-bath homes have two hall baths, not the usual master bath and hall bath arrangement.

Greenmeadow is more of the same, yet different. Eichlers abound (more than 300) but they date from the builder’s “mature phase”, designed for a decidedly more upscale market. In one sense, Greenmeadow is a continuation of Fairmeadow, started a year after the latter was finished. The later Greenmeadow Units 1 and 2 were completed the next year, in 1955, with a later in-fill development of 27 homes, Greenmeadow 3, built in 1962. There’s also a Greendell tract of 48 Eichlers just off San Antonio, dating from 1956. Like Fairmeadow, Greenmeadow offers plenty of floorplans, at least 11 and possibly more. But Greenmeadow homes are a step (or two) up. Like Fairmeadow, all have at least three bedrooms and two baths, but Greenmeadow Eichlers often come with separate family room, and four-bedroom homes are common. And they’re very big homes for the mid-’50s. Although a handful are in the 1200-1300 sq.ft. range typical of Fairmeadow and other early Eichler developments, the vast majority of Greenmeadow Eichlers range from about 1600 to 2000. By far the most popular floorplan was a 3/2 of 1674 sq.ft. with family room; a 4/2 of 1690 sq.ft., also with family room, was the second choice. And while most Greenmeadow Eichlers have just three bedrooms, these are often big three-bedrooms—one plan is 1848 sq.ft. Greendell is entirely four-bedroom homes between 1611 and 1765 sq.ft.

Also in this area, along Charleston and Ely, are about 70 very convincing Eichler knock-offs, even to the radiant heating, called Burke & Wyatts. Even the tract name, The Meadows, borrows from the Eichler vocabulary. Built in 1953 and 1954, these 3/2s were supposedly designed by well-known Southern California architect Carlton Fish. Most Burke & Wyatts are around 1265 sq.ft., quite a bit smaller than the typical Greenmeadow Eichler. According to Ned Eichler, Joe’s son, Burke & Wyatt lost money on this development because the small number of homes kept them from achieving the economies of scale necessary to profitably build the unconventional Eichler-style post-and-beam design. Oddly enough, there’s what appears to be a genuine Eichler in the middle of this tract, although it wasn’t unusual in those days for a builder (perhaps with a cash-flow problem) to sell lots to a competitor.

Then there’s Greenmeadow’s well-kept secret: here, in a sea of Eichlers, are 70-plus small conventional ranchers. Built in 1953-54 by John Mackay, better known in Palo Alto for his flattops, these appealing 3/2s came in 1298 or 1324 sq.ft. floorplans. The smaller design is a unique and interesting dead-end in the evolution of the ranch-style home: the master suite is behind the living room and next to the kitchen, making it more suited as a family room—it even has a fireplace—than a bedroom. I’ve never seen this arrangement anywhere else, even though Mackay later built thousands more homes in the South Bay.

Some of the last parts of South Palo Alto to be built are two enclaves of early-’60s housing in this area, one along Ely near Alma, the other along Briarwood near San Antonio. These homes should appeal to Eichler-haters: they’re conventional 4-bedroom/2-bath ranchers of close to 2000 sq.ft., very unusual for South Palo Alto but extremely common to the newer cities further south.

And finally, in case this isn’t enough Eichler for you, Joe left two multi-family projects here. The first, Meadowcreek, 17 units built in 1959 at Greenmeadow and Alma, was converted to condos in 1972. The second, a 15-unit development called Ferne Avenue Condos, dates from 1963 but was apparently converted to condos in 1970. Both have the full complement of Eichler signature touches, and are ideal for the enthusiast on a budget (or for anyone looking for an inexpensive single-story ground-level condo).

History corner: The only existing pre-1950 house in this entire area, which extends from East Meadow to San Antonio, is a house dating from 1945 on what was formerly Maybeck and is now Dixon. Apparently only cattle resided here until 1953.

Be aware of single-story overlay districts: At this writing most of Greenmeadow is a single-story overlay district. That’s a neighborhood in which the majority of homeowners have successfully petitioned the city to prohibit second story additions. There may be more overlay districts in the future. Be sure to verify the existence and exact boundaries of any single-story overlay districts with the city Planning Department.

Affordability: Fairmeadow is quite affordable by Palo Alto standards because it’s in the early post-war affordable housing mode, with mostly small and somewhat humble contemporaries. Many have a carport instead of garage.

Greenmeadow is pricier, often much pricier. It’s still mostly Eichlers but they’re slightly newer and larger, reflecting the steadily rising standard of living of the 1950s. The affordability factor is 6.3 to 8.4, with the bulk of sales toward the top end of that range.

Schools: Palo Alto Unified School District, 25 Churchill Ave., Palo Alto CA 94306. Main number (650) 329-3700.

Finding your neighborhood school                      PAUSD school evaluations

School attendance boundaries are subject to change and schools are subject to availability. Verify enrollment with the Palo Alto Unified School District.

Amenities: Greenmeadow Swim & Tennis Club, 303 Parkside Dr. (650) 494-3157. Cubberley Community Center, 4000 Middlefield Rd. (650) 329-3157: fields, running track, tennis courts, theatre, auditorium, weight room. Mitchell Park, E. Meadow and Middlefield (22 acres): Picnic areas, seven lighted tennis courts, two paddle tennis courts, four handball courts, multi-purpose bowl, shuffleboard, bocce ball and croquet courts, checkerboard tables, jogging trail, play apparatus, rest rooms, recreation center. Mitchell Park Community Center, 3800 Middlefield Rd. (650) 329-2487. Mitchell Park Field House, 600 E. Meadow Dr. (650) 329-2697. Mitchell Park Library, 3700 Middlefield Rd. (650) 329-2586.

Shopping: Fairmeadow is convenient to Alma Plaza. Greenmeadow is adjacent to Charleston Shopping Center at Charleston and Middlefield. Both are within easy driving distance of Mountain View’s San Antonio Shopping Center (now getting a much-needed modernization) bounded by San Antonio, El Camino, Showers and California.

Neighborhoods with similar ambience: The preponderance of Eichlers limits the number of similar neighborhoods. Fairmeadow’s circular streets are unique but its small early homes give it a look similar to Eichler’s first efforts in Green Gables along Wildwood, and in Barron Park and Charleston Meadows. Further afield, all four of Eichler’s Redwood City’s projects were also built small and affordable, as were his earliest efforts in Mountain View, Sunnyvale and San Jose’s Sherman Oaks.

Greenmeadow isn’t just Eichlers but they’re certainly the dominant motif. For the more prosperous look of Greenmeadow’s “mature” Eichlers check his last efforts in Sunnyvale, today some of that city’s most attractive neighborhoods—and that’s not faint praise. You’ll also find the look east of Midtown in the tracts south of Loma Verde along Ross, and in Green Gables on Edgewood, near Duveneck and along Elsinore. There’s a flavor of “it” in San Mateo’s Highlands, a huge tract near 280 and 92 that also has its own recreation center, but the neighborhood quality is a bit more variable. Also check out west San Jose’s Willow Glen Eichlers, one of the most attractive of Joe’s developments. The non-Eichler Greenmeadow neighborhoods are distinctive by South Palo Alto standards but quite similar to the relatively upscale sections of nearby Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Cupertino.

Interested in buying in East Charleston or in a similar area? Please contact me at jfyten@cbnorcal.com.

copyright © John Fyten 2004-14

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