Bringing Back 'the Berries'

Enthusiastic neighbors prove there’s nothing 'lower' about the Eichlers of Lucas Valley
Bringing Back the Berries
Riding bikes is a popular pastime in Eichler’s original Lucas Valley tract. “People are always putting out chairs in the front,” says local Jordan Kurland, “and kids [as above] ride their bikes up and down.”

It was a typical Wednesday evening on Juniperberry Drive in a Marin County neighborhood called ‘the Berries.’ Nothing was happening.

It was dinnertime—and Shane and Chantal Valentine, who’d been living in their Eichler for six months without meeting neighbors, had a flash. “We decided to eat dinner out in the front yard,” Shane recalls.

“The kids were playing,” he says of his children, “and our literal next-door neighbor came out and asked us what we were doing.”

Eating dinner, of course. Care to join us?

So Kevin Dusinski, his wife, and son Elijah brought their dinner out of doors—and a tradition was born.

Bringing Back the Berries
In Lucas Valley the Eichlers blend seamlessly with the beautiful oak-dotted hills.

“When we first moved here, for the first couple of years nobody knew each other, and nobody saw each other,” Kevin says. “Then every single Wednesday night we would have a little bike night to get the neighborhood together, hang out, the kids could run around and play, ride their bikes around, play sports, basketball. It really made for a little camaraderie.”

“It was fun!” Elijah remembers.

“And the next week another neighbor would come out,” Shane says.

‘Bike Night’ was originally called ‘Wine Wednesday’ when it started six years ago, but the name changed to suggest a more kid-oriented focus. Whatever it is called, the gathering transformed its little corner of Eichler’s original Lucas Valley tract. The neighborhood of 375 homes includes such streets as Appleberry, Kernberry, and Greenberry.

Bringing Back the Berries
A ‘Bike Night’ social from February 2020. It’s “a little camaraderie,” courtesy of hosts Shane and Chantal Valentine.

The tradition that began with that alfresco dinner went on for several years and led to other events on Juniperberry, such as July 4 pig roasts, and block parties that continue till this day.

Throughout the tract, youngish families have been reinvigorating the neighborhood for the past decade and a half. At the other end of the tract, a portion of Huckleberry Road is another “pocket of sociability,” in the words of newcomer Leslie Kurland. It is a place, her neighbor Mariah Caceres says, where “we all congregate on the street.”

Shep and Dot Burton, who have lived since 1975 in a custom Eichler that was designed by Eichler’s architect Claude Oakland as his own home, bring food baskets to newcomers on Huckleberry.

 And, as the older generation passed away, the Burtons and others say, their children made sure that newcomers would be sociable sorts who love Eichler homes and would make convivial neighbors.

Two or three homes in their little cluster were sold for less than the high bid, Dot Burton says, to bring in newcomers who would “match [the friendliness of] the existing neighborhood.”

Bringing Back the Berries
Lucas Valley’s residents are enthusiastic about being together. Meet some of them. Back row standing (L-R): Gerrin and Kristen Graham, Jordan and Leslie Kurland, Mariah and Heath Caceres, Drew Thorne; front row seated (L-R): Gemma and Mable Graham, Isaac Kurland, Shep and Dorothy Burton, Ava and Chloe Caceres, Jill Thorne.

Heath Caceres, who grew up in West Marin, says he and Mariah benefited from this attitude. Back in 2015, they even wrote a letter to the sellers of the home they hoped to buy to win favor.

“We were both educators, and were not necessarily going to be able to be the highest bidder in the Bay Area,” Heath says. “Our letter was about how I grew up here and I loved it here, we want to make this our home, I was on the [neighborhood] swim team here for half a season as a Waterdevil.”

And once newcomers arrived, old-timers made them feel at home. Kristen Graham, who arrived with her husband, Gerrin Graham, and two young children in 2010, remembers being welcomed by a longtime resident.

“I remember Lydia from across the street coming over,” Kristen says. “She knocked on our door and she said, ‘We’re so happy you’re here. We’re going to be having a party for you. It’s at 2, and you’re going to be there.’ And we were like, Yes, we will!”