Active Neighbors Add to the Mix in Marin

Terra Linda home
The Eichlers of Terra Linda back up to accessible hills, a natural amenity that attracts active people who often become activists in the neighborhood and beyond. Photo by Sabrina Huang

There is much that is remarkable about the Eichler homes of Terra Linda, in San Rafael, which we visit in ‘Taking to the Hills’ in the new, Fall ‘21 issue of CA-Modern magazine. The second largest of all of Joe Eichler’s tracts, it made national news in the mid-1950s when Joe stood up to new homeowners who objected when Black people became their neighbors.

Terra Linda is also an early planned community, laid out with stores, offices, churches, parks and other amenities by a previous developer. Joe took over the residential portion when the earlier developer failed.

But really, what a visitor to Terra Linda quickly discovers it that neither history nor planning make the sprawling neighborhood special.

Yes, the open space hillsides that border the neighborhood on three sides – providing views from virtually every house and opportunity for hiking, biking, and more – do define the place.

Ed and Janet
Ed Lai and Janet Wiscombe, who were attracted to Terra Linda by it natural beauty, have both gotten involved with the wider community. Photo by Sabrina Huang

But, we must remember, those hillsides are open today only because residents halted plans to build a highway through them. It is the residents who have always made Terra Linda the friendly, active, and intellectually stimulating place that it has become.

Residents organize to put on social events, to fight against poor planning decisions, to oversee future growth in and around the neighborhood.

Consider, for a start, Ed Lai and Janet Wiscombe, who bought their Eichler in 2008. One of the appeals for them was the hills.

“Hiking really pulled me to Marin. I hike all the time,” says Janet. The couple enjoys viewing wildlife from the comfort of their backyard. But when it comes to nature and society, they are far from passive observers.

For years Janet, a retired journalist who has worked for the Denver Post and many other papers, covering “just about everything,” taught incarcerated women at the County of Marin Jail, which is across Highway 101 from Terra Linda.

From the open space, views show the Eichlers are nestled among the hills. Photo by Dave Weinstein

“We are wired into several communities,” Janet says of her and Ed’s community activities.

Both Janet and Ed are politically active, including through phone-banking. You know, those two U.S. senators in Georgia who, to the surprise of many, won their seats in November? Janet and Ed’s phone calls may have helped.

Ed is known because of his leadership at China Camp State Park. Currently the treasurer of Friends of China Camp, Ed had been a docent there when, a decade ago, the state announced the park would close due to budget shortfalls.

“A group of us didn’t want to see that happen,” Ed recalls, so Friends took over to run the park.

Ed is also on the board of the Marin Chinese Cultural Association, where he is programs coordinator. “That’s one way of building community,” he says. “We know a lot of people. It’s a big community, tai chi and mahjohng.”

In recent days, the neighborhood group Responsible Growth Marin blocked replacing much of the largely empty, neighboring Northgate mall with what would have been the largest Costco in the U.S., complete with 30 open-all-night gas pumps.

Cool car
A classy Lincoln Continetal from 1968 adds to the appeal of the streetscape on De La Guerra Road. Photo by Dave Weinstein.

The Eichlers of Terra Linda are west of Highway 101, north of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Marin County Civic Center. With Northgate Mall, 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.

The neighborhood comes in two parts.

There is Terra Linda North, as people call it, about 630 homes on windy, sometimes hilly streets surrounded by open space. These are compact pre-atrium models from 1955 and ’56.

You’ll find Terra Linda South a mile away, on a thoroughfare that accom­modates Terra Linda High School and on smaller lanes and cul-de-sacs. These homes, from 1958 to 1960, include atrium models.

Although a few houses have been badly altered, on the whole the architec­ture of Terra Linda appears intact from the street. In part this is because a zoning overlay in 2004, spurred by neighbors’ outrage, banned second-story additions.

  Hazelrigg Family
Heidi and Michael Hazelrigg have forged strong friendships with neighbors. Photo by Sabrina Huang.

“We all find that we have a lot in common with each other,” says Heidi Hazelrigg, who lives in Terra Linda South with her husband, Michael, and two daughters.

They have friends in both sections, “so much so we go on vacation together,” she says. "Like two years ago, ten fami­lies went to Europe together. So the community is very tight.”

“But the pool is the big thing” in connecting neighbors, says Greg Knell, who has lived across from it in the North section since 1989. “That’s one reason I bought here,” he says, “so our kids could just go over there [to swim].”

There is something else very special about Terra Linda – something that draws people to the neighborhood, something quite frightful yet oh so sweet. And it happens on October 31 – right about now. It happens on Bamboo Terrace, in the North.

Learn more about Terra Linda today by reading 'Taking to the Hills' in the new, Fall ‘21 issue of CA-Modern magazine.

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