In 2010-2011 we assisted the City of Foster City with the existing conditions analysis for the Land Use & Circulation Element of its General Plan. This involved lots of photos. Foster City is a master-planned “new town” founded in the 1960s on engineered landfill in the marshes of the San Francisco Bay. The city was named after T. Jack […]
Went to the post office today to mail a birthday card to my sister, and realized this may be the last time I visit this venerable building in its current use. It’s scheduled to close January 17th and move retail operations to a smaller space down the street. Somewhat ironically, the self-serve machine was out of order, so one had to wait in line and engage with a real person at the counter. Perhaps it was the old building’s way of exerting its influence one last time before the doors are shut.
Through the years of the consulting business we compiled a lot of photos, so part of this site will be to provide a venue for pulling those out of the archives. Here is a handful of photos produced for a proposal for Jasper, Indiana taken in the fall of 2008. The weather was not great the day the […]
When we were working on the Scottsdale Downtown Plan and renting an apartment in Downtown Scottsdale, we’d often drive down Thomas Road on our treks into Phoenix. On our way we’d pass by an unusual mobile home park featuring mobile homes flanked by permanently-built structures. After driving by countless times, we pulled over one day and took these photos. It’s […]
From 2007-09 we worked on the Downtown Plan for Scottsdale, Arizona. This was a particularly special project since I’d grown up in Scottsdale, twenty years earlier. The downtown was going through a resurgence and people were excited to work on the plan. Like the rest of our projects, there were lots of photos. This first set was […]
Earlier this month I uploaded photos taken on a summer evening by our staff for the Comprehensive Plan in Logansport, Indiana. Here are a few more, taken the same evening, of corn fields outside town. Photos by Amber Eisan and Mishayla Binkerd.
Ever been to IKEA and seen those micro-home displays, where an entire household is fitted out in half the space of a two-car garage? Scandinavians are known for their skilled use of space, but apparently starting this past July Sweden has been allowing landowners to build tiny rental cottages in their gardens without need for planning permission. […]
In 2010-2011 we assisted the City of Foster City with the existing conditions analysis for the Land Use & Circulation Element of its General Plan. This involved lots of photos. Foster City is a master-planned “new town” founded in the 1960s on engineered landfill in the marshes of the San Francisco Bay. The city was named after […]
In 2008-09 we assisted the City of Logansport, Indiana with a new Comprehensive Plan. One of the best decisions we made was to include two local college students from Logansport on our team, Amber and Mishayla. They helped us facilitate workshops, wrote and edited documents, and took lots and lots of photos. Over the course of the […]
Next in line from the Surreal Suburbs archives. This was a series I put together back in 2005 featuring notable and oddball midcentury suburban communities in the Bay Area. Earlier I recapped the iconic Eichler Fairmeadows subdivision in Palo Alto; here we go back to Westlake in Daly City.
Westlake in Daly City, California: Your House is Your Castle
The vast subdivision of Westlake in Daly City offers a striking example of post-World War II design with a particularly kitchy 1950’s touch.
The place was built by Henry Doelger, who had earlier built the vast Sunset District in San Francisco. The Sunset District itself has a surreal suburban charm, with exceedingly (some would say overly) cute Tudor, Spanish, French Provincial and Colonial architecture along with horrifyingly banal stucco boxes, depending on the block and phase of development. But Westlake took the prototype a step further towards the suburbs. Unlike the Sunset District, where each house is attached to its neighbor in a rowhouse pattern, the Westlake houses are all detached. Also significantly, each Westlake house sits behind a neatly kept lawn, which is required to be maintained into perpetuity by the community’s CC&R’s.
Extending from the San Francisco city limits south to the sprawling Serramonte Shopping Center, and from the Pacific bluffs to Interstate 280, Westlake forms the major part of Daly City. It coherently obeys the “neighborhood unit” principles that were coming into vogue at the time, with each residential unit having an elementary school at its center, and no through traffic. There is an articulated recreational open space system, and a town center complex of shopping, community, and high school facilities just as the textbook said it should.
The town center district, built in phases between 1950 and 1960, provides a particularly good example of the transitional form between downtown-style strip commercial development and the later enclosed shopping mall prototype. There is a shopping center with big parking lots, but there are some mixed-use commercial buildings facing some of the side streets that still exhibit a downtown character. The blocks surrounding the shopping center consist of well-maintained garden apartments with fussy Colonial styling.
One of the social centers of Westlake is the Westlake Joe’s restaurant on John Daly Boulevard. Stop by this place at 5:30 PM and everything starts to make sense: Westlake is the place that the San Francisco middle class fled to in the 1950’s as it abandoned the old Victorian neighborhoods. Those same folks, now getting on in their years, fill the tables at Westlake Joe’s for early suppers (you won’t be able to get a table at 6:00). The food is marginal, but that’s not important. This is a social scene of unmistakable comraderie.
Touring the neighborhoods, there is a mixture of French Provincial, Colonial, and Moderne architecture. The 50’s modern ranch style is perhaps the most characteristic, however, and with today’s styles it has gained a renewed hip appeal. Meticulously trimmed lawns and wildly shaped succulent plantings just add more to the visual.
Since this write-up was originally put together, a really great book on Westlake was released titled Little Boxes: The Architecture of a Classic Midcentury Suburb by author Rob Keil, and more recently a 44-minute documentary was released. Worth checking out!