Surprisingly, the old-money town of Atherton has its share of contemporaries, including efforts by Eichler and even Frank Lloyd Wright, but the ones I’m aware of are confined to an area east of Middlefield that might loosely be called “affordable Atherton”, primarily Lindenwood.
It’s ironic that contemporaries would have a significant presence in Lindenwood, because this beautiful neighborhood is built on what used to be the Flood Estate, once dominated by an imposing Victorian mansion so ornate, even by the florid standards of that era, that the locals called it “the wedding cake”. Enter through the imposing gate on Linden (carefully—it’s just large enough for one car) to experience one of the many present-day reminders of that grand estate. But the wedding cake was indirectly responsible for the relaxed atmosphere that often seems to have encouraged the building of contemporaries. Earliest construction started here only after the mansion was demolished in the mid-1930s, making Lindenwood a new neighborhood by Atherton standards. And even though Lindenwood has its share of traditional architecture, there’s a casual, unexpectedly unassuming ambience here that probably could have happened only during the optimistic, adventurous days immediately following World War II. (It sure isn’t happening now, as the traditional and grandiose new homes make plain.)
Contemporaries just seem to fit in along Lindenwood’s winding, sidewalk-less streets, and the big lots, usually close to an acre, give them plenty of room to look their best. These aren’t your average circa-1950 flattops, but spacious and luxurious homes for their time, and a few have a presence that may (or may not) fend off the bulldozer. Besides the Frank Lloyd Wright I mentioned, dating from 1950, Joe Eichler built his own home here in 1951, designed by the same Anshen + Allen who penned his first tract houses. In fact, Joe put up four houses here in 1953 with the idea of building a tract.
How long contemporaries will be a significant part of Lindenwood is open to question, since flattops of any provenance on big lots are fair game for the builders, especially in upscale neighborhoods. You may have read about the “custom Eichler” that sold here for “six million dollars” only to be torn down for a grand new house. Actually, the purchase price was “only” $5.5M and, given the timing (April 2000) and the background of the buyer (he’d taken a company public just a few months before), it was probably dot-com funny money, but there’s no doubt that the upwardly-mobile types who can pay today’s somewhat less-dramatic prices won’t consider an old contemporary the highest and best use of a Lindenwood acre.
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copyright © John Fyten 2004-17