where to look in Portola Valley
Ladera isn't part of the town of Portola Valley—it's an unincorporated pocket between Portola Valley and 280—but it's still an upscale hillside neighborhood with excellent schools, a neighborhood swim-and-tennis club and nearby shopping. Affordable only by Ladera standards are the 25 Eichlers of Unit 2, three floor plans apparently designed by Jones & Emmons and built in 1951. They’re found on Dedalero, W. Floresta and La Mesa from N. Castanya to W. Floresta.
But lower Ladera also has a number of early California contemporaries dating from the area's first development as a cooperative, from 1948 to 1950. Designed by modernists John Funk and Joseph Allen Stein of San Francisco, they're indistinguishable from contemporaneous Eichlers to the casual (and even not-so-casual) observer and, in fact, at least one has been advertised as an Eichler (with the neighbors weighing in on both sides of its likely heritage at the open house). Considering the rationale behind the cooperative—affordable housing—these Funk and Stein homes are surprisingly upscale for the time, almost all with second bath (still not common then) and ranging from about 1500 to 2500 sq.ft. and sometimes more.
Further up the hill, conventional homes dominate the slightly newer neighborhoods of upper Ladera, but even here you'll find expensive custom contemporaries built through the 1970s. Apparently it's hard to make a Tudor look natural clinging to the side of a cliff.
Even more back-to-nature is Portola Valley's Portola Valley Ranch, with its clusters of low-key contemporary homes set unobtrusively into the hillsides above Alpine Road. In fact, Portola Valley Ranch reminds me of an upscale resort, with its serene ambience, natural landscaping, pools, tennis courts, hiking trails, club house and even a vineyard. Built from the late 1970s to late 1990s, the chance of this kind of unpretentious yet upscale cluster housing ever being duplicated seems remote, as the recent success of the more traditional and imposing Blue Oaks subdivision nearby demonstrates. Not that Ranch houses are humble. Virtually all are at least 2000 sq.ft. and many over 3000 sq.ft., and their high beamed ceilings make them feel even more spacious. Half-acre lots are common, although most are steeply sloped. Two-story homes are prevalent, but one-story homes are also available. Views range from serene canyon to Windy Hill to three mountains (Hamilton, Tamalpais and Diablo) and three bridges.
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