Hillside to the Stars - Page 2

San Mateo Highlands—where Eichler’s largest tract turns longtime neighbors into lifetime friends
Hillside to the Stars
Hillside to the Stars
The Highlands' two celebrity homes, the Eichler X-100 (above) and Life House (top), drew lots of attention to the Highlands when they were built.
Hillside to the Stars
Hillside to the Stars
Eichler owner Jonathan Feinberg (top), who loves to regularly bike throughout the neighborhood. Above: Exterior of Jonathan’s Eichler.

Still, the Spencers invite friends to party. "We serve popcorn and put blankets out. It's pretty amazing, actually," Astrid says of the fireworks display and carnival. "It's the best holiday because we don't have to go anywhere."

Another popular event is the 'San Mateo Highlands Home Tour,' a fundraiser for the school. The next will be in 2020.

It's not surprising that when Highlanders praise their neighborhood what they talk about most are their neighbors. They brag about the sense of community, and how many people volunteer to do so many different things. "The neighbors have a wonderful spirit that is volunteer driven," says Marc Rarden, who grew up in the neighborhood and returned with his family, buying the family home.

This is a neighborhood that doesn't just have a community association, it has area representatives whose roles are to "talk to the neighbors, see what's on their minds," says Jonathan Feinberg, who served as a rep years ago.

"There's not many of these communities left where everybody gets together," says Rick Priola, who grew up in the neighborhood and has been in charge of the fireworks for many years.

Oh, sure, people mention location. They enjoy the views of San Francisco Bay from one side of the tract, and of the coastal hills to the other.

They appreciate proximity to I-280, which winds through grassland and generally has less traffic than other highways. Glenn Sennett, a 30-year resident, calls it "the most beautiful highway I've ever seen."

Plus, from most homes kids can walk to elementary school in less than 15 minutes, sometimes less than two.

The school really brings people together. "The first day in kindergarten, that's when it all happened," says Margo Tomaszewska-Richter, who's been living in the Highlands now for ten years and is raising two kids. "We met so many parents and neighbors. It was a transformation, coming from Belmont to here."

Then there is the Highlands Recreation Center, with a clubhouse, pool, tennis courts, early childhood center—and oh, yes, a sheriff's substation, for that extra smidge of safety. The rec center was built and funded by the community.

"The rec center is really sort of the anchor for community spirit," says Rarden.

He says the friendliness of the neighborhood remains intact since he grew up here. "Back in 1970s there were many kids in the neighborhood," he says. "We had 'walking school buses' to school, one parent walking with five kids. Summer was spent at the rec center and pool, and kids could go out walking by themselves.

"Those are the things we are now experiencing with our kids. That's pretty magical."

The community association has published a newsletter, The Highlands Lowdown, for 60 years. It's mailed free to everyone in the community, not just the 48 percent of residents who pay dues.

Neighbors volunteer at the school, including for a program called Art in Action. Meghan Lubker, the Lowdown editor, is among the volunteers who teach kids to paint, draw, work with clay, and more.

Seniors too benefit from several volunteer programs. Jeff Schwartz, who works at the rec center, helps coordinate the Highlands Senior Network, "to allow for seniors to stay in their homes as they age, till the end of life," he says.

Hillside to the Stars
The Highlands, which has plenty of flat areas in addition to its hills, is a great place for walkers, who are seen here along Lexington Avenue.