East of Midtown

BWhomesmalltract
Smaller post-World War II tract homes, usually entry-level. Look here if you want solid neighborhoods with relatively affordable homes.

Boundaries: Oregon Expressway from Highway 101 to Ross, Ross to Loma Verde, Loma Verde to Middlefield, Middlefield to San Antonio, Highway 101 to San Antonio. 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: Real estate agents often blur the boundaries between this area and adjacent Midtown. Sometimes that’s justifiable, since the MLS area boundaries can be arbitrary. And even if this isn’t Midtown proper, many homes here are within easy walking or driving distance of Midtown shopping, and a few neighborhoods just outside the boundary resemble Midtown because the same builders built them concurrently. But things change as you move east from Midtown toward 101 or Loma Verde, from small but charming late-’40s ranchers to slightly larger contemporaries from the ’50s.

You don’t buy into this part of Palo Alto for its history, but history is here if you look hard—and quick. Rapidly disappearing, and almost buried under the acres of tract homes, are old farmhouses left over from the days when Santa Clara County was an agricultural powerhouse called “The Valley of Heart’s Delight”. Virtually all these relics are very small and humble, a telling sign that no one was getting rich at whatever they were doing before the developers bought them out. Another piece of this area’s history concerns the struggle against housing discrimination. Lawrence Lane was developed in the early 1950s to offer housing to all races, at a time when racial restrictions in neighborhood CC&Rs had only just been declared illegal in California, and when de facto segregation still kept minorities out of white areas. But this area’s best-known claim to fame is also, ironically, the bane of many buyers looking for a home here: the nationally-known, architect-designed contemporaries of Joe Eichler.

Contemporaries or “flattops”—Eichlers, Mackays, Brown & Kaufmans and a few others—are such a big part of the housing stock in this area that I’ll give you a little more detail on these homes as I mention them. They may all look alike to the unpracticed eye, but not every “Eichler” is an Eichler-built home. Why does that matter? Because even if you’re not actively looking for a contemporary, just knowing the differences between builders may help you make the right decision.

Housing stock: This is a large area with a variety of homes, and they change as you head south and east.

Starting in the north, just below Oregon, the neighborhoods between Ross, Louis and Colorado are mostly a continuation of Midtown’s small, pleasant late-’40s ranchers, originally two- and three-bedroom/one-bath homes but often expanded. Like most homes of this vintage, they have the charm of clean, unpretentious design, but there’s nothing here you can’t find elsewhere in Santa Clara County for hundreds of thousands of dollars less. More than any other tract area, here you pay for the land, the location and the bundle of benefits that comes with the city. It’s no coincidence that this is a popular neighborhood for new construction.

Just to the east of this conventional neighborhood, between Louis, Colorado and 101, you’ll find mostly early-’50s contemporaries built by Mackay, Eichler and Brown & Kaufman.

The Brown & Kaufman is the flattop most similar to conventional ranchers, with hardwood floors (but as with any house, always verify their existence and condition) and raised perimeter foundation. Perimeter foundation is often preferred to slab because it makes expansion easier, and most of these homes are about the size of the average townhouse (although a minority have already been expanded). This Brown & Kaufman tract has 55 homes built in 1954 with 3-bedroom/2-baths of 1120 sq.ft.

Mackays can be found in two adjacent developments built in 1954-5, Elmdale and Colonial Court. Of these 110 or so homes, most were offered as either a 3/2 of 1240 sq.ft. with radiant heat (just like Eichlers) or as a 1200 sq.ft. 3/2 with cheaper wall heaters. They’re built on slab and have hardwood floors. One way to spot them is their gated entry courtyard, which enhances the California “bring the indoors outside” lifestyle by providing more outside space for playing and entertaining.

The adjacent Eichler tracts are called Greer Park and Fairpark. Greer Park is typical early Eichler, 129 small three-bedroom/one-bath homes built in 1951, about evenly divided between between 1069, 1118 and 1368 sq.ft. floorplans. Fairpark is a much smaller development of 40 homes built in 1954 on Marshall and nearby Moreno and Louis. They’re still small, with the most common model only 1118 sq.ft., but by this time buyers were demanding a second bath and Fairpark has it. There’s also a third, unnamed Eichler tract here, built in 1958 on a series of cul-de-sacs along the 2400 to 2600 blocks of Greer. These reflect the rising prosperity of the mid 1950s, bigger at 1356 sq.ft. for the 3/2s and 1659 for the 4/2s. As you’ll see, Eichlers aren’t inevitably small and cheap. The first ones were small and affordable because that’s where the mass market was until about 1952, but later Eichlers kept up with expanding buyers’ expectations into the early ’70s.

Just to the south near 101, between Colorado, Ross and Loma Verde is Sterling Gardens, very small (either 1000 or 1100 sq.ft.) and inexpensively-built conventional 3-bedroom/1-bath homes with pitched roof, slab foundation and wall furnace.

Parallel to Sterling Gardens but further from 101 are three more contemporary sub-divisions. At Loma Verde and Louis are 171 Mackays built in 1955-56 on Elbridge, Stelling and David. Like Mackay’s Elmdale and Colonial Court, these were all 3/2s on slab. Radiant heat shows up again in the most common model of 1280 sq.ft., but there were also floorplans of 1306, 1389 and 1412 sq.ft. with forced-air heat. Since the next two contemporary tracts are west of Ross, they belong more properly to Midtown, but I’ll include them here for convenience. Stern & Price built many small 1-bath homes in Midtown west of Middlefield during the very early ’50s, but this 1954 development on Price and Stern is a bit more deluxe, consisting of 26 3/2s of 1170 sq.ft. on slab with forced-air heat. With their front courtyard, these could easily be mistaken for nearby Mackays but the board-and-batten siding gives them away. Similar in many ways to earlier S & Ps, but these use as an accent wall the darker mahogany-veneered plywood more commonly associated with Eichlers. While most of the builders mentioned here moved on to build homes (usually conventional ranchers) in the South Bay, this small development may have been Stern & Price’s last. One block south is a small Eichler tract of 18 homes called Midfair (“fair” is often found in Joe’s tract names, and “mid” is an obvious nod to Midtown). Dating from 1953-54, these show Eichler in transition from the mostly small, economy-class homes of 1949-52 to homes that, while still small, at least had a second bath. The most popular model is a 3/2 of only 1056 sq.ft., about the same size as his earlier homes, but there’s a handful of larger floorplans.

Let’s take a break from contemporaries to look at what’s unfortunately a real anomaly for South Palo Alto, three modern and fairly upscale townhouse developments located on Loma Verde near Middlefield. (This is also Midtown, strictly speaking, but really belongs here.) Built in the ’80s on the former site of a moving company and a photo development lab, these affordable yet attractive townhomes are what South Palo Alto needs more of and is unlikely to get anytime soon.

South of Loma Verde and east of Louis is Royal Manor, a huge (208 homes) tract of what I call “mature Eichlers”, built as Joe followed the mass market from entry-level to midrange housing. Royal Manor was built in 1957-58, one of the last of his many large-scale Palo Alto projects; after this, Eichler would focus on the wide open spaces of Sunnyvale. 3/2s are comparatively rare here, a sign that Royal Manor was intended for a fairly upscale market, with the most common floorplans of 1360 and 1437 sq.ft. 4/2s can be found as an entry-level 1494 sq.ft. model, but larger floorplans of 1659, 1674, 1698 and 1713 sq.ft. were more popular. That doesn’t include the 25 or so atrium-style 4/2s of 1716 sq.ft., an Eichler signature that first appeared here and became the prototype for subsequent projects in other cities. Also something of a signature is the nearby Eichler Swim & Tennis Club.

Royal Manor can be a little close to 101 but somewhat similar Eichlers are found a few blocks west in three clusters: Faircourt on Richardson Court; Los Arboles along Ames between Middlefield and Ross; and an unnamed development stretching from Ross east along Talisman to Louis. Faircourt, built just before Royal Manor in 1956, is small at 28 homes evenly divided between 3/2s of 1584 sq.ft. and 4/2s of 1789 sq.ft., both big for their time. (The old house at the corner of Richardson and Ross is one of only two sizeable farmhouses in the area. The Richardsons lived there for years after they sold out, and I remember the old man slowly driving a mint-condition early-’50s Packard he probably bought with some of Eichler’s money.)

Just south of Richardson Court, along Ames and Rorke, are 75 small Stone & Shulte 3/2 contemporaries in a tract called Palo Vista. These homes, built in 1955, are on slab, have forced-air heat and were originally 1195 sq.ft. I’ve seen several with parquet wood flooring, so perhaps they all do (but always verify).

The unnamed Eichler tract I just mentioned, 50 homes between Barron Creek, Ross, Arbutus and Louis, is similar to Faircourt and was built at the same time, although the price leader here is a 4/2 of 1636 sq.ft. and the most common floorplan a 4/2 of 1771 sq.ft., with some expanded to 2000 sq.ft. or more. Just south of this is a small Mackay tract of 3/2 contemporaries of 1302, 1389 and 1412 sq.ft. Built in 1956, they’re all on perimeter foundation and have hardwood floors and forced-air heat. I’ve seen the sales brochure for this development, and it locates the Mackay sales office in downtown Menlo Park on Chestnut, about where a Christian Science Reading Room is now.

Los Arboles, 80-plus homes built from 1959-61, is definitely a notch upscale, with floorplans of 2000 sq.ft. or more not uncommon. In fact, of the 80-plus homes in this development, only two are 3-bedrooms, quite a change from just a few years before. Most common is a 4/2 of 1880 sq.ft., but 4/2s of 1733, 1825 and 1859 sq.ft. can also be found. Some are atrium models.

The southeast corner of Loma Verde and Middlefield has Palo Alto’s last Eichler tract, Los Arboles Addition on Torreya Place, built in 1974 on the former site of a Baptist church. These 22 homes are mostly typical of Joe’s last work, luxurious and big at 2000 sq.ft. or more. However, 7 of these homes are rare Eichler-built two-stories, and they give us an interesting and all-too-rare insight into what a two-story Eichler can look like when done by someone who knows what they’re doing. Just across Middlefield on Toyon Place is a slightly older (1972) Eichler development of 10 homes, the sort of small-scale infill development he was doing in his other major market, Sunnyvale, at this time. Like his last Sunnyvale efforts, these homes are surprisingly upscale and big, with five floorplans hovering around 2000 sq.ft.

Two streets in this area, Christine and parts of Arbutus, are worthy of note for their very un-South Palo Alto large traditionals of well over 2000 sq.ft., built primarily in the early ’60s. Here you’ll also find large homes from the ’80s built on three former school sites: Talisman Court (formerly Ross Road Elementary); Ortega Court (formerly Ortega); and Bautista (?). Also scattered throughout this area are a handful of smaller, older traditional ranchers, typical of the ’40s and ’50s and unremarkable anywhere except here in this sea of contemporaries.

Heading south, East Meadow has a few of the oldest homes in this area, dating from the 1910s, across from Ortega Park; both were on the market recently, and one is about to be torn down. According to a map of 1876, Meadow follows what was then the southern boundary of the Clarke Ranch. Other old farmhouses can be seen on nearby Ross Road. This area was marshland until the 1920s, and until developed in the early ‘50s was mostly small berry and vegetable farms as well as dairy, rabbit and chicken operations.

Just to the south lies one of the first neighborhoods developed in South Palo Alto, Mayview Homesites, bounded by East Meadow, Ross, Mayview and Middlefield. Its cluster of small farmhouses dating from just before World War II makes this neighborhood is a real anomaly for a part of Palo Alto that basically didn’t exist until the mid-’50s. Add them to the other farmhouses scattered along nearby Ross and Meadow and it looks like this was thriving if isolated outpost well before the developers came. (At the corner of Ross and Meadow there was until recently a Tudor that would have looked right at home in Old Palo Alto.) You don’t find these pre-’50s homes to the east or south, confirming that until recently this was as far as you could go before you hit bay wetlands. Lots were huge when Mayview Homesites was first sub-divided, further suggesting that this was a small agricultural enclave (perhaps of flower growers?) but they were carved up into flag lots during the ’50s and ’60s. This area sells at a premium, probably because it’s an oasis of conventional home design in a sea of flattops, and because of its proximity to Mitchell Park.

To the south of this area is a huge tract of about 200 Brown & Kaufmann 3/2 contemporaries called Meadowpark, built in five phases from 1955-56. Just to give you an idea of how young some of these builders were back in the day, Brown & Kaufmann’s Vern Kaufmann was only 78 when he died in 2002. Most of these homes are 1421 sq.ft., although there’s plenty of smaller 1204 and 1247 sq.ft. models.

Also part of the Meadowpark sub-division, but closer to Charleston on Gailen and Louis, is a sprinkling of 1957-vintage Eichlers. Most are 4/2s of 1717 sq.ft but there’s also a variety of 3/2s between 1156 and 1508 sq.ft. Along nearby Grove are more Eichlers, these an upscale development dating from 1958 with homes that are invariably close to 2000 sq.ft. if not more. Even if you’re a diehard Eichler-hater, if you’ve stayed with me this far you’re probably beginning to realize that Joe’s homes weren’t always small and barebones; in fact, they’re some of the consistently largest and most comfortable homes in this area.

Crossing Charleston you’ll find 78 more Eichlers in a development called Charleston Gardens. Built in 1954, when neighboring Greenmeadow was also started, Charleston Gardens isn’t quite as deluxe. The homes are almost all small 3/2s of 1144 sq.ft., not much bigger than Joe’s first houses in 1949. This neighborhood also has some attractive pitched-roof ranchers similar to the Sterlings mentioned above but with a little more character. Like the Sterling, these homes are small (1097 sq.ft.) 3/1s, built on slab and heated by wall furnace.

Anyone into Eichlers but on a strict budget might be interested in a pleasant 35-unit condominium complex at the corner of Middlefield and Charleston called Las Casitas. These 1- and 2-bedroom units, built in 1961 and converted to condos in 1973, sure look like Eichler designs, but the central heating and perimeter foundation say no.

Almost all of this area is in a flood zone. This may necessitate flood insurance and make remodeling and expansion more difficult. Contact the Palo Alto Building Department at (650) 329-2496 for more information.

Be aware of single-story overlay districts: At this writing a small part of this area, roughly Gailen to Grove to Charleston to Louis, 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: Good for Palo Alto, fair for the mid-Peninsula. Homes tend to be older and somewhat humble, lots only average in size. Also keeping prices down in many neighborhoods are the 100-year flood zone and 101 traffic noise.

Generally speaking there are three tiers of affordability in this area, with some overlap particularly between the top two tiers.

The first tier is the small Sterling home. Next up the ladder are the contemporaries. At the top are the conventional pitched-roof homes (excluding Sterlings), usually with perimeter foundation. These can range from very small homes built in the late ‘40s, usually found north of Loma Verde, to substantial ‘60s ranchers to brand-new construction.

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: Palo Alto Family YMCA, 3412 Ross Rd. (650-858-0661): group exercise studio, childwatch, fitness testing lab, gym, indoor instructional pool, indoor lap pool, locker room, sauna, spa, volleyball court, wellness center. Greer Park, 1098 Amarillo (22.3 acres): Tot lot, play apparatus, picnic tables, basketball court, softball diamonds, soccer fields, jogging track, fenced dog exercise area, rest rooms. Seale Park, 3100 Stockton Place (3.2 acres): Tot lot, picnic tables with braziers, multi-purpose bowl, shaded benches, turfed area. Ramos Park, 800 E. Meadow (3.6 acres): Open space area, tot lot, picnic tables and benches with braziers, multi-purpose slab. 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. Eichler Swim & Tennis Club (private), 3539 Louis Rd. (650) 494-6521: four tennis courts, pool.

Shopping: The northern end of this area is convenient to Midtown shopping. Further south the nearest shopping is Charleston Center at Charleston and Middlefield.

Neighborhoods with similar ambience: Most of Santa Clara County, anywhere affordable tract housing was built in large numbers after World War II. This includes large parts of Mountain View and Sunnyvale west of El Camino, as well as most of Campbell, Santa Clara, West San Jose and Cupertino.

See an overview of neighborhoods with Eichlers or other contemporary homes in other cities.

Interested in buying in Palo Alto east of Midtown or in a similar area? Please contact me at jfyten@cbnorcal.com.

copyright © John Fyten 2004-14

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