Taking to the Hills

Small-town feeling and informal ties set the stage for natural friendships among the Eichlers of Terra Linda
Taking to the Hills
A view from above Terra Linda North, where approximately 630 Eichler homes stand on windy, sometimes hilly streets surrounded by open space.

Hills can be grand, imposing, sublime. Hills are all of that in Terra Linda, where nearly 850 Eichler homes nestle against their flanks.

But these hills are something else too: protective, comforting—and accessible.

Walking from front door to ridge crest can take ten minutes or less, which isn't the case in Lucas Valley, the tonier Eichler neighborhood just to the north, where the steepness of the hills is awesome—but forbidding.

The result in Terra Linda is a neighborhood where people arrive because they love the open architecture—and those hills. They're also drawn to the great schools, a fairly easy commute, and—till recently at least—relatively affordable prices.

"This particular spot, it's got open space in three directions," says Mel Kirchgessner, a longtime resident who was lazing in a lawn chair mid-street on Vallejo Way with neighbors on a recent Friday evening, gazing at hills all around him. "You can't buy that. Although we did."

"Any place I've ever lived, I have to live near trails," says Sarah Roth, who grew up in the Eichlers of Sleepy Hollow, just on the other side of the ridge, part of the Terra Linda-Sleepy Hollow Open Space. "Because I love to either bike, or hike. I need to have that space."

Taking to the Hills
Besides hikers on foot, local bike riders take to the streets too.

"Hiking really pulled me to Marin. I hike all the time," says Janet Wiscombe, a journalist who, with husband Ed Lai, an engineer, bought their home here in 2008.

The couple's home is situated on a rise, so when Janet and Ed entertain in their backyard beneath a grand Chinese elm, all they see are hills. "All kinds of animals come out at night in the yard," Ed says, including possums, raccoons, skunks, and turkeys. Recently, he enjoyed watching a gray fox reclining on the lounger.

Ed's love for open space and parks resulted in his becoming a leader in Friends of China Camp, formed to run nearby China Camp State Park after the state ran out of funds to do so itself.

Almost every cul-de-sac in Terra Linda has a trailhead at its end, and many houses have gates that open directly onto open space.

And the hills are not the only appeal to walkers. Diane Heath, a 28-year resident, lives along one of the many pedestrian paths that cut from one roadway to another, and loves to walk them and nearby streets.

"The blocks are long," she says, "so it's nice if you're on a walk to decide: 'I don't have time to go all the way around. I'm going to cut through here.'"

Taking to the Hills
Taking to the Hills
Two shots at the Eichler of Stephanie Watts and Rudi O'Meara in the North section. Top: That's Stephanie and Rudi in the pool, with a hill of their own poking up behind them. Above: Inside their kitchen.

"Terra Linda is a bit of a bubble," says Denise Albertini, who grew up in her Eichler, which her parents bought new in 1957. "It's a little cloister," she says of the neighborhood, "in the sense of camaraderie, the community thing."

Ann Reppun, a nurse, who can crest the hills from her front door in 15 minutes, appreciates Terra Linda's small-town feel and changelessness after 19 years in her home.

"You still go to the pool at the rec center," she says, "you still walk down to Scotty's [a popular grocery market dating to 1957], you still see the teenagers hanging out in the park.

"Everybody is out walking," she says, "everybody knows each other, and everybody's hiking in the hills. There's kind of a thoroughfare going up the hills."

The Eichlers of Terra Linda are west of Highway 101, north of Frank Lloyd Wright's Marin County Civic Center. With Northgate Mall, a shopping center focused on a Safeway and large office and residential complexes, this is no longer a quiet ranch, as it was when Manuel T. Freitas sold 400 acres to developers in 1953.