Preservation Efforts Fostered Friendships

Early Eichler Home in Greer Park
Greer Park in Palo Alto is a generally well preserved, a very early Eichler neighborhood with many original homes. It won protection from two-story homes in two phases. Photos by Dave Weinstein

Greer Park in Palo Alto is one of Joe Eichler’s older neighborhoods, and one of his more innovative ones, thanks to an unusual site plan that involves homes arrayed on a series of tight circles.

It’s a fairly well preserved tract too, which is not always the case for those whose homes were built in 1950 and 1951. This was before Eichler homes adopted their later, often more expansive looks, and several years before they got atriums, the characteristic bit of outdoor space essentially within the home.

A recent visit to the neighborhood showed that folks in Greer Park have worked for years to preserve their tract’s appearance, seeking and receiving single-story overlay zones twice. These are planning zones that prevent two-story homes and second-story additions.

New house in Greer Park
A recently built new home on Metro Circle that replaced an Eichler had to have its living level five feet above grade because of flood concerns.

A few years ago, as teardowns and second-story additions threatened and were built in several Eichler neighborhoods in Palo Alto, other neighborhoods too sought such protection.

Sometimes it resulted in bad feelings between neighbors, as people opposed to such zoning fought against those who favored it.

There was a bit of that in Greer Park, back in 2015 when some neighbors sought such protections. One area of the neighborhood had already been successful in getting an overlay zone.

This was Van Auken Circle, and it won such zoning way back in 2002. At the time, planning staff recommended the City Council approve the request, in part because there was strong neighborhood support, “40 of the 58 parcels, or 69 percent.”

Then in 2015, neighbors who lived on the other two circles, Metro and Moffett Circles, and on adjoining streets, sought similar protection.

Joe and Susan in front of an Eichler Home
Joe Evans and Susan Kaye were on opposite sides on the zoning issue but are good friends.

Joe Evans, a retired chemist and part-time bluegrass musician, who has lived on Metro Circle since 1961 and raised three children there with his wife, Barbara, circulated petitions for supporters to sign. He said there was not much opposition.

The neighborhood already has several two-story additions and several large homes that have replaced Eichlers.

Also, interestingly enough, it has several new homes that, while nominally single-story, do loom over their neighbors. That’s because Greer Park, which is not far from Highway 101 and San Francisco Bay, is in a flood plain.

So new homes and major remodels are required by city codes to have living spaces that start five feet above the ground – not slab on grade, the way the original Eichlers were built.

The neighborhood has flooded, Joe says, once before he moved in, and again at the start of the 1990s. “A flood came up as far as the slab of our house but did not get inside,” he says. But other neighbors did get water in their homes.

A proposal to build a large home on Metro Circle “sort of precipitated the single-story overlay” idea, Joe says. His wife, Barbara, adds, “Because they were going to be looking down at the neighborhood.”

Eichler home in Greer Park
Another home in Greer Park.

One neighbor who did oppose the 2015 overlay zone effort was Susan Kaye, who lives across the street from the Evans and is a friend. She’s lived in the neighborhood since 1987 and says it has always been a friendly place. When her wife passed away a few months ago, Susan says, “I really got lots of support from the community.”

Susan’s home itself is almost unchanged, and shows the charm of these early, unpretentious Eichler homes. It has a single-sloped roof over a portion of the house, a compact plan, open beams, Dutch doors, paneled walls, and some interior-exterior walls of concrete block.

“I opposed the overlay zone,” Susan says. “I think people have the right to do what they want with their houses. We have young people moving in with families who may need more space.

“The funny thing is, on this circle there are three houses that have second floors. And the new homes, they say you can’t put a second story on it, but they have to raise them up. It’s outrageous.” Still, she says, the overlay effort did not create bad feelings among neighbors.

Instead, Barbara Evans says, the effort – which won support from about three-quarters of residents – “really brought us together, these guys who started working together. We got to know each other.”

The council approved the overlay zone in December 2015. The zone covers 72 homes.

“We had a party here when it was over and that started a tradition for the past couple of years,” Barbara says. Since then, there has been an annual potluck on Metro Circle in different homes. Another tradition was created too.

“One neighbor built a [three dimensional] model of the three circles,” she says. “They pass it every year to the people who are doing that year’s potluck.”

She adds, “It’s really been a very sociable circle.”

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