It’s not size alone that has saved the Peninsula Way homes, as the lots could handle homes twice their size. It’s the owners, many of them longtime residents, who appreciate what they have, like well-known graphic designer Sam Smidt. “I bought my home to house my art collection,” Smidt says.
“We all have some type of artistic design background,” resident Anne Kortlander says.
The newest Eichler neighborhood in Menlo Park, and one of Joe Eichler’s final developments, is a trio of homes on Stanford Avenue, hidden on a court off the main road.
Dee and Laura Tolles, original owners, discovered the brand new home when Dee, a young banker, was relocating to the area. Laura was amazed. “I said, ‘I’ve never seen a house like these in Texas,’” she told their real estate agent.
They bought the house directly from Joe Eichler, and Dee and Joe became friends, lunching at one of Joe’s favorite spots, Frere Jacques in Palo Alto. “Joe had a little Mercedes. He always wore a comfortable tweed coat and homburg hat, and the [convertible] top was always down.”
“Joe always had two martinis,” Dee says. “He and I just hit it off.”
Dee, who many years later served as Menlo Park’s mayor and member of the city council, became Eichler’s banker, handling his financing until shortly before Eichler Homes went bankrupt.
“He was a good businessman, but he was a risk taker,” Dee says.
The Tolles also have watched as Eichlers in their area have been replaced—but they don’t moan about it.
“It’s a wonderful neighborhood,” Laura says. “Young, wealthy families are moving in here with children and lots of nannies. They have torn down houses and built beautiful houses. You can’t count all the new houses. It’s amazing.”
“I’m very much of a free spirit,” Dee says. “Someone wants to do it, if it’s not causing an important problem, let them do it.”
Dee’s attitude seems widely shared. When, a few years back, Phil Friedly and a neighbor sought protection from the planning department, they were encouraged by a city planner. “A number of us said, how many more of these houses are we going to lose?” Phil says.
Their plan was not ambitious. The neighborhood already had several two-story homes, so they wouldn’t try to block second stories. “But we wanted to limit huge houses,” Phil says.