Bringing Back 'the Berries' - Page 2

Enthusiastic neighbors prove there’s nothing 'lower' about the Eichlers of Lucas Valley
Bringing Back the Berries
At home with Sigrid Painter (left), who’s lived in Lucas Valley since 1959, and son Steve. They have lots of nice-looking mahogany walls to show off.

“Our block is incredibly social,” says Jordan Kurland, whose young son is the only boy among seven kids on his stretch of Huckleberry. “People are always putting out chairs in the front, and kids ride their bikes up and down.”

Over on Juniperberry, Sabine Grandke-Taft and her husband, Wolfgang, had a similar experience when they arrived 16 years ago. “As soon as we moved in, the first thing we got was a basket with fresh pears. They knocked on the door and said, ‘We are your neighbors right over there,’” Sabine says.

Throughout Lucas Valley, the neighborhood “has evolved in a positive way in the past ten years,” says John Klima, a resident since 2007. “There is a lot of enthusiasm about the houses. There’s a lot of energy about it.”

 “When we moved in ten years ago, we were the first wave of a new generation,” says Jamie Weinstein, who lives on Kernberry. Her husband, Kif Scheuer, adds, “Now, every house that sells is young families.”

Bringing Back the Berries
The Painters’ living room.

The ‘Berry Patch,’ as the collection of long, winding streets is also known, for many years lay in the metaphorical shadow of its better-known neighbor, Eichler’s tract that is known today as ‘Upper Lucas.’ Upper Lucas Valley has won a degree of fame among enthusiasts of modern neighborhoods because its homes are largely pristine.

This is due to a well-organized homeowners association that rigorously enforces architectural controls—and to a populace that is proud of their original architecture.

Homes in Upper Lucas Valley, which were built a few years later than in what some people call ‘Lower’ Lucas Valley, are larger, have historically sold for significantly more, and include later, popular models. Only one model in ‘Lower’ Lucas, for example, has an atrium.

‘Upper’ has one other major advantage over ‘Lower.’ When Eichler built ‘Upper,’ between 1962 and 1966, he buried all the utility lines, resulting in unobstructed views of the gorgeous, oak-dotted hillsides that border both the neighborhoods.

In ‘Lower,’ people view those hills through the typical suburban maze of overhead cables. “Having the utilities undergrounded is big,” Klima says.

Bringing Back the Berries
The Painters’ front exterior hides behind lush landscaping.

Eric Stone, who is part of the ‘Bike Night’ crowd, adds that in Upper Lucas, there are no streetlights, which adds some rural charm. The homeowners association also operates its own cable system, which is not available to their neighbors in ‘Lower Lucas.’

Oh, and about that ‘Lower’ thing. It sort of brings to mind Maxim Gorky’s play about the down-and-out, ‘The Lower Depths,’ right?

‘Lower Lucas’ is not what Joe Eichler named the place when building started in 1957. He simply called it ‘Lucas Valley,’ as can be seen in his ads for ‘Eichler Homes Lucas Valley.’

“Lucas Valley is scenic,” one ad read, “tree-studded, rural, yet only 22 minutes away from the Golden Gate Bridge. A commuter’s dream.”

It wasn’t until Eichler built his later subdivision further up the valley, and thus known as ‘Upper’ Lucas Valley, says Sigrid Painter, who’s been living in the original tract since she was a young bride in 1959, that ‘Lower’ got attached to the earlier subdivision.

Bringing Back the Berries
One of the Eichler models found in Lucas Valley.

And by the way, Eichler did not name ‘Upper Lucas Valley’ upper-anything when he built it; he called it, again, simply ‘Lucas Valley.’

 “There is one lady that gets a bee in her bonnet at being called ‘Lower Lucas Valley’ versus Lucas Valley…But it is only a regional description. She feels it is a class description,” says Renee Adelman, who owns Bay Area Modern Real Estate in Marin.

There can indeed be confusion about the neighborhood’s name—or even where it is. Although ‘Lower’ Lucas Valley has a San Rafael postal address, it is not within the city limits. Nor is it part of Novato, as out-of-towners sometimes assume.

It is unincorporated and governed by county supervisors, and has its own elected community services district, which takes the name ‘Marinwood,’ and runs the park, recreation and other services.