Welcome to Paradise - Page 2

Eichlers of Los Altos' Fallen Leaf Park turn to historic designation to keep their world tranquil and pristine
Welcome to Paradise
Tracy Gibbons and neighbor Nate Johnson (above) have been guiding Fallen Leaf Park's bid for historic status.
Welcome to Paradise
Welcome to Paradise
Tracy Gibbons has done a wonderful job restoring her Eichler.

And having arrived, few want to leave. Tracy Gibbons, who's made a point of knocking on every door, says up to one quarter of the residents are original owners. Some children who have grown up in the neighborhood are still here too.

"We love the relations we have developed with some neighbors here over a lifetime," says Jan Hustler, who's lived in the neighborhood with husband Jim since 1975. "That of course keeps a person in the neighborhood."

Ursula Shultz, who was a Swiss stewardess when she met her late American husband skiing, and then moved here in 1975, calls one stretch of Clay Drive "'widows' line' now, because we have a lot of widows on the street. But I want to stay as long as I can because I love the house."

Neighbors have something else to brag about. Among the doctors, dentists, lawyers, and business bigwigs who have lived here was none other than Joe Eichler himself with wife Liliane. Joe's son Ned and Ned's actress wife lived in another Eichler next door.

Yes, you might call Fallen Leaf Park a self-satisfied place, and that's good. But can satisfaction lead to complacency?

Perhaps. And that's why it's fortunate Tracy Gibbons and Nate Johnson arrived in 2013, buying houses across the street from each other. Both saw trouble brewing in paradise.

No, there was no direct menace, not among the 37 homes in their Eichler tract. But a non-Eichler on the street behind Nate's house got demolished to be replaced by a much larger home, and they saw the same thing happening throughout Los Altos.

"There is now no protection at all for Fallen Leaf Park," Tracy concluded. She and Nate decided to get some—before the teardowns started—by creating a local historic district.

"Maybe if you're new to a neighborhood," Nate says, explaining why he and Tracy took up the cause, "you're a bit more tuned in to this kind of stuff."

The effort, which started in 2015, was carefully plotted, with Tracy and Nate contacting every owner that they could to win buy-in. Tracy enjoyed the process, as it involved oftentimes-lengthy visits, hearing people's stories, touring their homes.

And—it worked. Although they needed to win 25 percent approval from the owners, they instead got 70 percent approval.

Fallen Leaf Park is likely to become the first historic district in Los Altos. "Los Altos has the enabling codes and ordinances for historic districts, but to date they've never been used, so we'll be the first to test-drive a process," she said.

It's not surprising, neighbors say, that Fallen Leaf remains largely intact. One neighbor after another says they bought because of the architecture.

"There's a commitment to the Eichler ideal," Angela Horine says. And sometimes there is a direct connection. Her husband David, for example, studied with artist Matt Kahn while at Stanford. Kahn designed interiors for Eichler model homes and supplied art to decorate them.

Jan Hustler says her connection is familial—her grandmother was friends with Frank Lloyd Wright's lover, Mamah Cheney. "This has all become part of our family lore," Jan says. "Because of that I was interested in modern architecture."