Greenridge - Castro Valley - Page 2

Little-known yet in the 'middle of everywhere,' these Eichlers light up the East Bay hills with community feeling

Neither is a problem in Greenridge, which despite a second-story addition or three, and some poorly chosen garage doors, seems remarkably intact. And the neighborliness that has characterized the neighborhood from its start in the 1960s has never dissipated, say many original owners who remain -- and a few who moved away and then moved back.

No. The challenge for Greenridge's newcomers is simply this: How can they match the panache of their elders?

They might try attending the opera. That was the ticket for Doris and Francis McKim, who taught art and music appreciation, and vocal and instrumental music, respectively, in nearby public schools.

The McKims were Greenridge's first buyers, putting their money down before any homes were built. A friend who owned an Eichler in Walnut Creek advised the young couple that ground was about to break for a subdivision in their area.

Francis and Doris, a fan of modern architecture since her high school years, called on Eichler in his Palo Alto office, Doris recalls. "C'mon," Joe told them, "and we'll climb the hill and you can choose your lot."

resident in her hallway

Today their flat-roofed model -- with redwood ceiling panels left unstained, at their request -- is filled with a lifetime's worth of art, and with programs to every San Francisco Opera performance they ever attended, which is most of them.

Francis passed away several years ago but Doris remains active, substitute teaching in the local schools and hosting the neighborhood's longtime annual holiday party.

Newcomers might also consider community activism. Three times Doris worked on efforts to incorporate Castro Valley, whose only government now is the distant and seemingly uncaring county.

"There are just enough diehards, rednecks -- who want it to stay as it is, who think their taxes will go up," she says about her last defeat. "We were so deflated."

Over the years, Greenridge neighbors have gotten deeply involved with their community. One of the better-known residents, Lowell Jensen, was a longtime Alameda County DA and served as U.S. assistant attorney general under Ed Meese.

"He was prosecuting Black Panthers while benefits for the Panthers were being held in the neighborhood," recalls Katherine McKenney Shea, an original buyer at Greenridge who has long been involved in Bay Area politics.

resident in atrium and view of living room

Other neighbors made history. Joellen Drag Oslund, whose father was a naval officer stationed at Treasure Island and grew up in the neighborhood riding horses, established several historic 'firsts' during her own service in the Navy. She was among the first group of six women to earn their wings as Naval pilots, in 1974, and she was the first female naval helicopter pilot.

brnch with guests

Oslund is one of several children who grew up in Greenridge who either stayed as adults or moved back.

Other residents simply made local history, like the late Mary Drag, Joellen's mother, whom Doris remembers as 'Queen of the Ridge' for opening her pool to groups of children, hosting the neighborhood Christmas party, and "rounding up the other women to fight this or that."

family having lunch

Greenridge, midway between the new (1959) Cal State Hayward campus and Lawrence Livermore Lab, attracted many professors, mathematicians, and scientists, many of whom car-pooled to the lab. The president of the university lived in Greenridge. Greenridge's proximity to the Oakland Airport also attracted many pilots, old-timers recall.

John Giles, a Londoner who taught physics at the university, bought his home from a Livermore physicist in 1968. "We wanted to live somewhere that was a liberal community," he says. "It had that reputation." On the whole, he says, Castro Valley "had the reputation of being a senior community and conservative. So this stood out as a kind of island of modernity and tolerance."

"It was integrated, for one thing."

A strong sense of community isn't the neighborhood's only attraction, however. There are fine local schools that kids walked to in the old days using paths that wound downhill through neighbors' lots.

Greenridge is one of Eichler's relatively few hillside neighborhoods. The main street, Greenridge Road, runs for a mile along a steep ridge, with views in either direction. "If you like city lights, you're on the west side," says Gerry Caufield, who likes city lights. "If you like hills and a more natural look, you're on the other side."