"One of the good things about the SF Valley is it's not hip," she says, "so it only attracts people who want to live here. It doesn't attract people because it's cool."
There is, however, much about the homes that is cool. The homes may not have the abstract, radical appearance of an Eichler or a Palmer & Krisel tract home, and the glass may not be as expansive. But the Sterns still have sliding glass doors opening to a rear yard (though many sliders have been replaced with French doors).
Clerestory windows in the modern and transitional models bring in light and views. Some homes even have indoor clerestory windows with frosted glass between rooms. Soffits with up lighting in living areas add visual interest.
Roofs are low-slung gabled, and sometimes dual-pitched. Oddly angled canopies often welcome visitors at the front door, along with built-in masonry planters. Exterior siding is redwood board-and-batten or stucco, often with sections of brick, or of slump stone that suggests adobe.
Some homes are built on concrete slabs; others have standard foundations with a small crawl space. (Tunnick calls it "a slither space.")
Inside, all the homes except Colonials have open, cathedral ceilings; moderns and ranches have exposed beams; transitionals have sloped plastered ceilings. Only Colonials have attics. Brick or slump stone fireplaces are either in the center of the wall or in the corner. Interior siding is wood or plaster and floors are hardwood or oak parquet.
The living-dining area is a single space separated from the kitchen by a counter. The den, which faces the living space, can be closed off to become another bedroom—a strategy also adopted by Ain and other modernists whose goal was to design inexpensive, compact homes.
"They're small houses," says Steve Lombard, Adam Lombard's husband, "but they're very usable. There's not a lot of dead space."
Over the year, many of the homes have been altered. One has turned into an 'adobe'; a few have sprouted second stories. Still, the neighborhood retains its overall integrity and is well maintained. "There are only ten to 15 that are real schleppy," Rick Knave says. "That's very good for a neighborhood this size."
There are no regulations that preserve the neighborhood's architecture—though that may change following the city's historical survey. Lee Bothast, for one, would welcome a historic preservation overlay zone. "I think the homes merit that," he says.
Today, neighbors say, the trend is towards preservation. "People who live in houses that have not been altered are tending not to alter them," Steve Lombard says.
He and Adam, who share their home with their son, Justin, are "bringing it back to the '50s," Adam says. When they bought their house 12 years ago, it was wallpapered in silver Mylar and had crystal chandeliers everywhere. "They had a chandelier in the bathroom," Adam says.
Others are updating their homes to emphasize their modernism. Tunnick, who believes Stern was forced to compromise on his modern principles, plans some corrections.
Tunnick ripped the brick section from the front of the house. "It's totally inappropriate for the style," he says. "I'm not sure why they did that. And they painted the redwood, which is totally inappropriate for the style. I'm not sure why they did that."
Greg Thirloway, a landscape designer, and his wife Heather Lee, an actress, turned their home into what Thirloway calls "a polished version" of its original design. He created freer flow by removing some hallway doors, and he exposed the original beams that a previous owner had hidden. His water-thrifty garden is beginning to inspire his neighbors, most of whose lawns go for lush green.
Even Eddie Bernard, who is often criticized by his many friends in the neighborhood for not keeping things period, is changing his view.
"People are getting more attentive to the '50s. For the ones I've been remodeling, I've just been doing whatever sells," he says. "But the '50s are getting more attention. It's more popular. So I'm moving towards preserving the look. People are calling me up and asking, 'Do you have any that are original, do you have any that haven't been touched at all?'"
Roger Mocenigo and Debbie Hopp, among the newcomers who are restoring their homes, are replacing derelict cabinets in kind and retaining the original aluminum windows—which have become something of a rarity in the neighborhood.