Forging Friendships

Palo Alto’s Green Gables—National Register Eichlers savor their rich social scene built on informal traditions
Green Gables
The De Feo family, residents of Palo Alto's Green Gables since 2005, head out for a family stroll. Walking their dog is a daily routine for mother Roxanna, who says, "It's nice because it's a beautiful walking neighborhood." Pictured above (L-R) are daughter Cecilia, father Jon, Roxanna, son Dominic, and Marion the husky. Their two classic cars (far right) are a perfect match for their Eichler exterior.

Faunce Rand still recalls the first neighbor she met in the Palo Alto Eichler development of Green Gables, which, befitting its name, has always enjoyed a generous tree canopy.

"We had just moved in, and I was raking the lawn," she says. "He stopped his car and came over to introduce himself. And so that was the first time I met anybody."

The man was Ken Tucker, and 52 years later they remain neighbors and friends. "Lovely people," she says of Ken and his wife, Maxine.

Like all mid-20th century neighborhoods, Green Gables has changed a lot since the first homes were built in 1950, among the earliest Eichlers that were designed by real architects.

The original 63 homes, plus 80 or so others built in 1955 and 1956, have seen some teardowns, and many of the homes have been expanded, while generally retaining architectural character.

  Green Gables
Jon and Roxanna De Feo in their kitchen.

What hasn't changed, however, is how important friendship is to folks in the neighborhood, which they also love for its walkable location, near downtown Palo Alto, adjacent to a small shopping center, and near parks and schoolyards, regional trails, and the Bay.

Unlike some neighborhoods, in Green Gables no community organization exists to unite Eichler residents. There's not even a crime watch for the Eichlers. Instead, people socialize with neighbors, forming nodes of conviviality, with social traditions sometimes going back decades, and some created by newer residents.

Kids attending school and playing sports pull people together, as do casual meetings while walking dogs and at nearby Pardee Park and the grounds of Duveneck School.

Considering how old the earliest Green Gables houses are, and how small they originally were—three bedrooms, one bath, about 1,100 square feet, no atrium—the neighborhood is remarkably well preserved. Some similarly aged Eichler tracts have not fared as well.

  Green Gables
The Green Gables National Register plaque from 2005.

The older section of Green Gables is historic not only because it is one of the first Eichler neighborhoods with variants of architects Anshen and Allen's original Eichler model, the AA-1, but because this tract brought Joe Eichler his first sustained attention in the press, when Architectural Forum named this and other early tracts 'subdivision of the year' in December 1950.

Back in 2005 Green Gables was one of the first two Eichler tracts to be named to the National Register of Historic Places, along with Greenmeadow, a later tract in southern Palo Alto.

Many but not all residents know about this distinction, and some take pride in it. But when they brag about their good lives in the neighborhood, they talk about each other.

"All the people who had kids the same age, we ended up doing vacations together and going on camping trips every year," says Jon De Feo. He and his wife, Roxanna, have raised a son and daughter here since buying their home on Channing Avenue in 2005.

Green Gables
The De Feo and Barthelemy families, who live two doors from each other, have much in common, including children of similar ages. All have become close friends. Above: The De Feos host the Barthelemys for a recent backyard gathering.

The De Feos became close to fellow Eichler owners Matt and Kelly Barthelemy, who live on their street. Their children are of similar ages, and have also become close friends.

The Barthelemys bought their home shortly before the De Feos. Their daughters played on softball teams together, both dads coached baseball, and Matt coached basketball as well. Their children have all swum at several local pools, including the Eichler-built Eichler Swim & Tennis Club a few miles away.

"Football, rugby, and baseball were his [my son's] big sports," Jon says. Roxanna adds, "They've all done tennis, swimming. But I would say baseball is the big one around here."

"[Jon's] son is the same age as my son, so they played together a lot different sports," Matt Barthelemy says. "We did flag football as well."

A few blocks away, Matt and Sandra Robles are raising four children in one of the later Eichlers, which they have lovingly remodeled in a modern way, and filled with childrens' games, books, and sporting equipment.

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