where to look in San Mateo

homecontemporarySan Mateo is an anomaly in architecturally conservative San Mateo County: a great place to look for Eichlers, especially if you’re priced out of Palo Alto. I’m not sure why contemporaries are relatively rare here, although I suspect that the weather—colder, windier and foggier—has something to do with it. San Mateo shares San Francisco’s cool maritime climate, but fortunately it’s south of the fog belt.

You’ll find acres of Eichlers in the San Mateo Highlands, set in rolling hills just west of San Mateo (the Highlands is unincorporated) near 92 and 280. The setting, with its unspoiled views of the nearby fish and game refuge, is incongruous for anyone expecting typical ‘50s suburbia. Most of the 750 or so homes, built from 1956 to 1960, are what I call “mature Eichlers”, anything but entry-level, spacious ranchers often in the 1800 sq.ft. range. Most of the 20 or so floorplans are four- bedroom homes of 1620 to 1820 sq.ft. Four early atrium models were offered, 4/2s of 1660, 1710, 1810 and 1820 sq.ft. Price leaders are 3/2s of 1340 to 1650 sq.ft. Lots are usually generously sized, with quarter-acres not uncommon, and many homes are on low-traffic cul-de-sacs. There’s even a recreation center with pool and tennis. An out-of-the-way location when new made this project a tough sell, but access has improved greatly over the years and there’s a shopping center at the foot of the hill. The local school, Highlands (check with district for availability) is one of the higher-scoring San Mateo schools. All this goodness makes the Highlands not particularly cheap by San Mateo standards although, typical of Eichler developments, it sells at a slight discount to nearby conventional ranchers of the same era. Eichler fans take note: the Highlands is a good 20% more affordable than its most comparable neighborhood, Greenmeadow in Palo Alto.

19th Avenue Park’s 232 homes account for only a fraction of Joe’s work in San Mateo. Although west of 101, they sell at discount east-of-101 prices—these Eichlers offer bang for the buck. Values are low in part because this was one of Eichler’s earlier, less deluxe projects, built in 1955-56. Homes are smaller than his slightly later Highlands development—3/2s of 1200 and 1300 sq.ft and 4/2s of 1540 sq.ft.—plus there’s no community center and no views. Lots are small, often near 5000 sq.ft. and sometimes even smaller, and you feel the closeness. But for the genuine Eichler connoisseur, it doesn’t get much cheaper than this.

San Mateo east of 101 has a number of non-Eichler contemporaries in two tracts called Parkside and South Shoreview. South Shoreview is the older development, dating from the very early ’50s, and its homes are typical low-budget efforts, very small, even smaller than the usual “cozy” starter housing so common then. Most common is a 2/1 of just 820 sq.ft., and a 3/1 of 1000 sq.ft. (Early flattops were often tiny, almost as if their builders thought that an open plan and maybe a higher ceiling would let them save a few bucks by shaving off a few square feet. I think this size difference is partially responsible for the idea that contemporaries sell for less than conventional ranchers since, all else being equal, home price is based on home size.) South Shoreview contemporaries get their variety from three different elevations: a center roofline that’s either flat, shed (tilted to one side) or peaked. Slab, wall furnace and attached one-car garage complete the typical South Shoreview package. You’ll also find a number of homes there that are neither fish nor fowl, neither contemporary enough to attract the flattop aficionado nor traditional enough to reassure the mainstream buyer.

Parkside, also east of 101, is a few years newer and definitely a step up from South Shoreview, what the typical buyer considers a “real home”. They’re still small contemporaries, but a bit bigger, ranging from about 1100 to 1300 sq.ft., with three bedrooms and usually two baths. Perimeter foundation, two-car garage, forced-air heat and hardwood floors are common. Roofs are either flat or slightly pitched, with a good number having exposed exterior beams for that Eichler look. Of note are thirty-five Parkside Unit 1 homes, 3/1s of 1030 sq.ft., that give a very convincing imitation of an early Eichler with post-and-beam construction, open plan, big windows and mahogany-veneered plywood paneling. Unlike Eichlers they feature hardwood floors, perimeter foundation and central forced air heating. They’re very attractive homes, if a bit close to 92.

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

copyright © John Fyten 2004-17

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