Menlomorphosis

In the midst of teardowns and imposing, new homes, Menlo Park’s Eichler owners still manage to cherish living modern
Menlomorphosis
Eichler in Menlo Park's Stanford Gardens gets overshadowed by new, multi-level construction on its way up.
Menlomorphosis
Menlomorphosis
The fate of this Eichler in Menlo Park's Stanford Gardens was decided in seconds by heavy equipment in July 2013.

It’s not easy being an Eichler in Menlo Park.

Home to Facebook, the heart of Silicon Valley, the city of 33,000 has some of the Bay Area’s loveliest neighborhoods—bucolic, almost paradisiacal places. Attractive, but in the main unpretentious, homes are arrayed on generous lots along tree-lined streets, with kids swooping past on bikes.

But it can get noisy. “We feel we are living in a new subdivision that’s being built all around us,” says Phil Friedly, who lives with his wife Marcia in one of Joe Eichler’s oldest developments, Stanford Gardens.

Friedly, a retired economist, counts off the number of Eichlers in the neighborhood, developed in 1950, that have been lost to massive remodels or demolitions in recent years.

There’s the house next door that was recently converted into a two-story neo-Craftsman bungalow, and one that was replaced by “another Colonial mediocrity.”

A block away, without notice, one original Eichler from 1950 was torn down a few months ago. Stefan Heller, who lives in an Eichler nearby, saw the equipment move into position while biking to Stanford, where he’s a professor.

“Minutes later, the house was gone,” he wrote. “A sad day.”

A year earlier, a couple hoping to build a LEED Platinum home threw up a post on Craigslist offering to give away the Eichler on their lot to anyone who would haul it away. No takers.

Altogether, Phil Friedly says, Stanford Gardens has lost about 20 Eichlers since he and Marcia arrived in 1979. The teardowns began in the late 1980s and early 1990s and accelerated in the 2000s, Phil says, fueled by “Silicon Valley types with stock options.”

“Then spec builders descended on the area,” Phil says, producing 5,000- and 6,000-square-foot homes, “very elaborate, very traditional.”

The story is the same across the city.

“I worry about it,” says John Danforth, who bought his rambling 1,600-square-foot 1951 Eichler in the forested, unincorporated Menlo Oaks neighborhood in 2002.

“These houses were built on half-acre lots. They’re zoned for 5,000 square feet, so contractors buy them and level them to build McMansions.”

“Even if you’re like me,” adds Danforth, “someone who wants to live in them forever, there’s the danger of your neighbor tearing down the one next to you, and then there’s a wall of windows on the second story looking down at you.”