Eichlers in Bloom - Page 5

Clusters of tall trees and extensive trails define the peaceful 34-home enclave known as Walnut Grove
Walnut Grove
Walnut Grove
Walnut Grove
Top: Out back with the Gee-Bigelow family, who have one of the most original Eichlers (including its kitchen) in the tract: Brian Bigelow (far left) and Audrey Gee (far right) with son Aidan and daughter Ariel. Middle: In the family's living room. Above: Their front exterior.

Audrey was born in 1969, just before her parents moved into their brand-new Eichler home. The tract had replaced a walnut orchard, and each house had a tree in the backyard. A nearby orchard stood two doors down.

"We would play in the walnut orchard, build forts in the walnut trees, and we would throw walnuts at each other," Audrey recalls.

"We rode our bikes all over," she says. "We went to each others' homes, we wouldn't even knock. We would just go in, and no one would lock their doors."

Brian grew up about a mile away and remembers a neighbor who still harvested walnuts on 300 acres, complete with a walnut gin. "It was more agrarian, for sure," Brian says of the neighborhood back then.

Dan Sonnier remembers raising two boys here. He and Tami thought the neighborhood was safe, and the boys would walk to Foothill Middle School. A branch of the public library is near, so Dan and Tami made sure the boys took advantage of it. "Here's your card, I told them," Dan says. "You can read any book in here you want. They read a lot."

The boys had many friends from school—but fewer in the neighborhood. The lack of kids was "the one thing I always thought, it's not a regret, but it's one thing that was a negative," Dan says.

There are several families with young kids in the neighborhood now.

There are also many long-timers, though original owners are sparse. Why would anyone leave?

"We had talked about maybe moving one day, now that the kids are gone," Dan Sonnier says. His and Tami's decision? "Naaah."

Yet, some people do hightail it. Bob Deutscher recalls, "One guy who lived on Brighton, a dentist. The guy was building a boat in his backyard for years. When he finished building the boat, he was ready to retire. He took the boat out, sold the house. I don't know where he is now."

Audrey Gee, who moved out to go to school and start a career in law, thought about returning to the area in the late 1990s. Her parents by that time had built a new house, and were renting out their Eichler.

Audrey and Brian moved back to the neighborhood in 1998. The kids love the house and neighborhood.

Aidan walks the couple of blocks to third grade with a friend who lives next door. Ariel, a high school freshman, is a competitive swimmer.

Audrey appreciates being a mother in the house where she was a child, one of five siblings.

 "It was great growing up in this house," she says. "I loved, loved, loved it. Being able to have kids in the home where I grew up in, it's really special."

Mike Carthage and Joe Garcia don't have that history with the neighborhood or their home—but Mike has some.

He recalls vacationing in California from the East Coast, where he's from, in 1995, falling in love with the area and deciding to stay. An early job was for an architect in Danville who drove him by these Walnut Creek Eichlers.

Mike was amazed, and thought, "What are those houses? Very cool!"

"And here it is, 23 years later, and I'm living in one in this neighborhood." He adds, "It's just a happy house. I really, really love living in a mid-century modern house."


• Walnut Grove, the Northgate Eichlers, can be found at Wiget Lane just south of Ygnacio Valley Road. Its 34 Eichlers are on Belford Drive west of Wiget, on Wiget Lane itself, on Brighton Way between Wiget and Clyde Dr., on Clyde Drive south of Brighton, and on Bliss Court.Walnut Creek has two other Eichler enclaves, neither far from the Northgate Eichlers.

Photography: Sabrina Huang; and courtesy Ken Fox of East Bay Modern Real Estate