where to look in Mountain View

homecontemporary
Check out Mountain View’s Monta Loma tract, just south of the former Hewlett-Packard Mayfield facility in Palo Alto. Architecturally it’s a sort of 7/8ths scale replica of South Palo Alto, all contemporaries all the time, except that the homes are even smaller here. Eichler was active in Monta Loma in 1954, building over 200 homes in a tract called Fairview. They’re 3-bedroom/2-baths, almost all of 1116 sq.ft.

Eichler’s competitor John Mackay went into Monta Loma in a big way in 1955-56, also leaving behind over 200 3/2 flattops. Almost half are on slab, most of them 1104 sq.ft. but a handful of 1344 sq.ft. Unlike Eichler, Mackay also built raised-perimeter contemporaries here, most of 1280 sq.ft., although his last homes were either 1302 or 1389 sq.ft. At least some of these Mackays were designed by Anshen + Allen after it parted company with Eichler over a royalties dispute. Eichler started using Jones & Emmons, and Emmons Drive seems to confirm that Fairview is their work. It was here that Eichler and his estranged architects had a rapprochement, Joe spotting Anshen and Allen while they were doing a walk-through for Mackay, and began using them again in tandem with Jones & Emmons until 1960.

Monta Loma’s third builder of contemporaries was Mardell Building Company, and perhaps Marcelyn and Dell Avenues give some clue as to the origin of this name (as it turns out, “Sydelle” was the name of the wife of one of Mardell’s partners). He/she/they built 234 raised perimeter contemporaries of 1140 and 1216 sq.ft., the former a 3/2, the latter usually a 3/2 but sometimes a 4/2 with the 3/2’s dining room the fourth bedroom. Built from 1955 to 1959, Mardell Manor was the last Monta Loma tract to be built, its homes indistinguishable from Eichlers and Mackays to the casual observer. Here’s how to tell the players: Eichlers have plank ceilings; Mardells also do but, unlike Eichlers, originally came with hardwood floors; Mackays sometimes had hardwood but always have painted cellutec ceilings.

(By the way, no one is sure what “Monta Loma” refers to, or why it’s such a ham-fisted abuse of Spanish grammar. My guess is that it came from a prosaic mound of debris in the area that, according to “Palo Alto: A Centennial History”, dated from Indian times and lasted until it was leveled shortly after World War II. Long disused and overgrown, this mound could have passed for a Monte Loma or, if you were a non-Spanish speaking subdivider looking for a catchy tract name, a “Monta Loma”.)

There’s another Mackay development in Mountain View, similar to Monta Loma and built at the same time, further south on Spring, Morgan, Telford and Rock. This tract of almost sixty 1104 sq.ft. 3/2s also has one of his 1302 sq.ft. perimeter models as well, one year before he built ten more in Monta Loma.

Further south on Trophy and Eichler there’s a cluster of 48 very late Eichlers in a tract called Bell Meadows, built in 1972 and 1973. The array of floor plans is typical of his last developments, from a price-leader gallery 3/2 of 1536 sq.ft. to a 5/3 of 2286 sq.ft. Most are atrium gallery 4/2s of either 1912 or 2030 sq.ft. Don’t let the address put you off: Mountain View has some great neighborhoods west of El Camino and Bell Meadows is one of them, and it’s one of the best preserved and best maintained of Eichler neighborhoods. An additional bonus is that it’s not far from Mountain View’s great downtown.

What might be called the ultimate expression of contemporary design in Mountain View (or at least the last) is the unusual Glenborough development off Sylvan. Dating from 1976, just a few years after Bell Meadows, the almost rustic, Tahoe-esque architecture reminds me less of Eichler and more of west-of-280 semi-rustic exurbia from the same period. Built on quarter-acre lots, these are substantial homes ranging from 1747 to 2588 sq.ft., but the design minimizes their bulk. Not that these homes don’t have visual impact: they’re very different in a uniquely ’70s way, although they look more natural in their neighborhood setting than they do photographed individually for the MLS. One design resembles an A-frame, with a sharply pitched roof and lots of glass within the pitch. Another looks like a courtyard-entry Eichler circa 1960 except for two hip roofs, one on each side; one roof is topped with either one or two large glass boxes that cap skylights but look like huge lanterns. Yet another design looks like a very tall one-story except for a row of windows atop the center for a second-story den. Words don’t do them justice, but the ambience is surprisingly relaxed and inviting and the location, close to Sylvan Park and its tennis courts, is good. The builder, Thrust IV, also left behind some similarly modernistic townhouses in Mountain View off Central, the Cypress Point Lakes and Cypress Point Woods developments. Can’t miss ’em.

The small homes of Rex Manor/Meadow Glen look very ordinary from the outside, typical of the boxy cottages of the era, but inside you’ll find vaulted ceilings with exposed beams. This is Mountain View’s most consistently affordable single family neighborhood, yet it’s within easy driving distance of Palo Alto. About 400 were built in 1950-51 along Farley and its side streets, virtually all 3/1s of less than 900 sq.ft. although some have been expanded. They’re contemporaries of the “small and cheap” variety, with low-pitched T&G roofs, slab and wall furnace. The neighborhood is humble but enhanced by the same mature street trees found in South Palo Alto. Supposedly these homes were built to house Moffett Field workers, and their no-frills appearance gives this story some credence.

Cloverdale, across 101 from Moffett Field near the intersection of 85 and 101, has about 90 homes dating from 1954-55, similar in size to those of Rex Manor but overtly contemporary in appearance. They’re unusually “no-frills”, even for 1954, with just one bath, cheap and inefficient wall heaters and usually just a one-car garage. Construction is typical of inexpensive contemporaries, with slab foundation and tar-and-gravel roof. They’re small: the most common model is a 3/1 of just 816 sq.ft. Top of the line is a 1047 sq.ft. 3/1 with two-car garage. Another affordable pocket of Mountain View, then and now.

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Feel free to contact me at jfyten@cbnorcal.com.

copyright © John Fyten 2004-17

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