Living the Good Life in the Los Altos Eichlers

The Eichlers of Fallen Leaf Park in Los Altos make up one of the finest collections of late Eichler homes anywhere. And residents know it. Photos by Dave Weinstein

It doesn’t seem surprising that a compact neighborhood of Eichler homes in the city of Los Altos has gotten it together to seek historic designation to head off trouble before any trouble has appeared.

Fallen Leaf Park, which we focus on in the new spring '16 issue of CA-Modern magazine in 'Welcome to Paradise,' has always been a neighborhood that’s been attentive to its own many virtues. The article also mentions Los Altos’ other Eichler homes, small clusters on Parsons way and Almond Avenue.

Built in 1968 and 1969 on a cherry orchard, and canopied today by an eclectic and colorful forest, this 37-home subdivision remains nearly intact.

“It’s because neighbors have been intensely aware of the appearance of the houses, especially from the outside,” says Jean Wolman, who moved into the neighborhood with her husband Allen in 1976. He’d discovered the enclave by bicycling around.

“When we came here it was an exceptionally beautiful street,” Jean says. It was landscaped well from the get-go.”

The loggia in Margot Gordon's house opens onto a lovely rear courtyard

Her neighbor, Lou Fries, describes Fallen Leaf Park today: “It’s a quiet, peaceful neighborhood. Most people maintain their homes and property nicely.”

“It’s not quite a cult,” he adds, “but you get to like the Eichlers.”

Today the neighborhood is seeking to stave off any potential second-story additions or teardowns by seeking local historic designation. Tracy Gibbons, one of the leaders of the movement, enjoyed the process in large part because it got her into many of her neighbors’ homes.

A marvelous canopy created by street and front and back yard trees certainly justifies the name 'Fallen Leaf Park' when autumn comes around.

Fallen Leaf Park is likely to become the first historic district in Los Altos. “Los Altos has the enabling codes and ordinances for historic districts but to date they’ve never been used, so we’ll be the first to test drive a process,” she said.

Tracy got to know many of her neighbors and got to hear their many stories. One of the neighborhood’s top storytellers, Margot Gordon, remembers getting to know Joe Eichler, who sold homes himself in the neighborhood when it was new.

Richard and Marcia Campbell turn their home into a forest of Christmas trees for their annual holiday party,

He also lived there, along with his wife, Liliane. Their son Ned, who helped market the homes, lived in the neighborhood too, with his actress wife.

“Joe went around smoking cigars, like my husband, constantly,” she recalls. “They would get together and smoke cigars.”

“Liliane would ring our doorbell occasionally and say, ‘Where’s Joe?’” Margot says.

Fallen Leaf Park has always been something of a move-up Eichler neighborhood, and several people who bought there had lived in Eichler homes before.

Among these are Richard and Marcia Campbell, Midwesterners, who first moved to the Bay Area in 1964. After serving in the navy in Pearl Harbor, Richard says, “we were not going back to Iowa.”

Their first Eichler was in the Fairmeadow subdivision in Palo Alto. When Marcia called Richard at work in 1970 to say she had seen a beautiful Eichler for sale, his response was:

“Look, Marsh, we have a house. We’re not looking for another house.”

But when they stopped by, just, you know, to look, Richard remembers, “The cherry orchard was in bloom. The whole area was beautiful.”

Richard, an architect, did bring just a little bit of the Midwest with him to California and to his Eichler home. He has filled one room with a model train set complete with a Midwestern setting, including measured reconstructions of building in Ames, Iowa.

Ophie, who belongs to Ursula Shultz, enjoys life in Fallen Leaf Park as well as life on the couch.

Ursula Shulz, who was a Swiss stewardess when she met her late American husband skiing, and moved here in 1975, says she was attracted to the home because “it was a contemporary house. In Switzerland there are a lot of contemporary houses, but you had to hire an architect, so it cost a lot. This sort of thing was unheard of.”

Today, Fallen Leaf Park is attracting younger families again, much as it did in it earlier years. And it remains a sociable place, if not party central.

For years, probably the biggest gathering has been Christmas time at Marcia and Richard Campbell’s house, open to those neighbors lucky enough to know the Campbells. Neighbors, plus former neighbors and Marcia’s former kindergarten students, often number 100.

“We have a tree in every room,” Marcia brags.

“Oh, more than that,” Richard says.

For more on the secrets behind a truly successful, to some paradisical, Eichler neighborhood, read more about Fallen Leaf Park in 'Welcome to Paradise,' a sneak preview of the spring '16 CA-Modern.

The fall is a great time to visit Fallen Leaf Park -- or to live there.

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