Taking to the Hills - Page 4

Small-town feeling and informal ties set the stage for natural friendships among the Eichlers of Terra Linda
Taking to the Hills
A neighborhood happy hour gathering draws a crowd outside the Wiscombe-Lai Eichler, located in Terra Linda South.

"We were working outside the house, and we met Mel and Ada and Deborah and Steve and Sally," Stephanie says. "We were totally embraced by everybody and supported, because we had a terrible construction problem. Everybody listened to us, everybody sympathized, everybody cheered us on."

And then there is nearby Bamboo Terrace. "That part of the neighborhood is the heart and center of the Eichler community," says Renee Adelmann, citing the one event that brings hordes of tourists to the neighborhood: Halloween.

"There are so many trick-or-treaters it is as though the street is closed down, but it really isn't," says Calvin Ng, who lives one street away.

"One house is huge on the Halloween display," says Sarah Roth, who also lives on Calvin's block. "They go crazy. They do a Bates Hotel thing, they have a whole setup, they have wine and beer."

And it all started with a couple of foam tombstones. "My mother was here passing out candy," recalls Denise Albertini. "[Back in the early 2000s] we were lucky if five or six kids would show up. The next year we had a few more."

Gradually she and her husband, Steve, added more décor, both off the shelf and handmade, and neighboring houses followed their lead. Steve, a mechanic, helps construct animated monsters. Nothing gets too violent, Denise says. "I think of Halloween as a community holiday, that's how I think of it."

  Taking to the Hills  

  Taking to the Hills
Top: Janet Wiscombe and Ed Lai carry on together at home with a musical interlude. Above: The couple's living room.

Terra Linda did not begin as an Eichler neighborhood, but as a master-planned community by developers Cal Wheeler and John P. Boswell of the Terra Linda Corporation. They laid out the streets in the earlier sections, including the first portion of Terra Linda North, and built about 200 modern tract homes, the Alliance homes.

The trade journal House + Home reported in 1954 that the developers envisioned "a complete town, which in four years will have 4,500 houses, some apartments, three shopping areas, a full quota of schools, recreational areas, and churches." The article said Terra Linda "will have the largest number of contemporary houses ever built in one place."

But the Wheeler-Boswell development hit financial problems. Eichler took over residential building in 1955, ensuring that the neighborhood remained modern in design.

Terra Linda helped cement Joe's reputation for selling to all in an era when racial discrimination in housing was legal. When white owners objected to his selling a home to a Black family, Joe told them he would buy back their homes but would not turn away Black buyers. It made the national news.

Denise Albertini recalls her Black neighbors from back then. "You could count them on one or two hands," she says.

From the start until today, the area's proximity to San Francisco—15 minutes down Highway 101 to the Golden Gate Bridge—and affordability have pulled people in. You hear similar stories from residents about fleeing the fog and congestion of the city.

Taking to the Hills
The combination of home and hills make for a dynamic presence.

Bob Schaff, a pediatrician, and Melton Smith, a nurse, were living in the city and wondering, "What's the closest place we could live to the city that has warm weather and is at least somewhat more affordable," Bob says.

That was 2006, and the couple had recently fallen in love with the mid-century modern homes of Palm Springs. Then they discovered Terra Linda.

"Wow," Bob says, "we can have our Palm Springs home with this Eichler, yet live in the Bay Area."

Towns closer to the city—Mill Valley, Sausalito—cost more, says Deborah Bay, who moved to the Santa Margarita area with husband Dan in 2003 from San Francisco's Richmond district.

Sarah Bonar, who runs a home bakery, and Li Shen, a game designer, moved here four years ago from a 600-square-foot condo in San Francisco's South of Market area. Now they have room to raise their daughter, Penelope, as well as two dogs, a cat, four tanks of fish, and a quartet of chickens. Immense palms in the backyard are as old as their house.