Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, just south of Permanente Creek, the Highlands of Los Altos is a small neighborhood of approximately 600 homes. Most people drive by it on Foothill Expressway without ever realizing there is a vibrant community with a rich history behind the wall. Many of the early Los Altos homes were owned by wealthy San Franciscans. Such is the case of one of the earliest homes in the Highlands, which was mentioned in a news release dated 1939. However, most of the rest of the homes were built in the 1950s and some of those original owners still live here.
Many longtime residents remember a long, narrow field along the east side of Granger Avenue that allowed the landowner to take off and land his private airplane. Of course, this was before Foothill Expressway and Highway 280 existed. Back then, Granger was a dirt road and there were railroad tracks where Foothill Expressway is now. Other residents have fond memories of running through apricot orchards and a few orange groves. One neighbor, who grew up in the Highlands, remembers picking apricots from his favorite trees to eat as he walked to school at Montclaire Elementary. Some of these original apricot trees still bear fruit in the backyards of a handful of Highlands homeowners.
From the beginning, the Highlands of Los Altos has been characterized by its sense of community, contribution, and caring for one another. Food seems to bring people together and there’s no exception to that rule in the Highlands. There have always been neighborhood gatherings and block parties. One neighbor remembers that after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, nobody wanted to go back inside their house, so they held an impromptu neighborhood barbecue in the street.
Today, neighbors look forward to the annual neighborhood picnic that draws hundreds of people from babies to seniors. This event is held in conjunction with the Los Altos Police and the Neighborhood Watch Program. Typically, the Chief of Police visits the neighbors and brings motorcycles and police cars for the kids (big and small) to explore. City Council members take advantage of this opportunity and connect with their constituents. There are also smaller gatherings throughout the year. During the fall and winter, traditions include elaborate Halloween and holiday decorations. Neighbors host sing-alongs and game nights in their homes on a regular basis. One particularly enthusiastic family sets up an outdoor movie theater to show the Charlie Brown Halloween Special on their driveway for trick-or-treaters on Halloween.
The Highlands neighbors have made significant contributions to the community at large. For example, Smithwick Auditorum at Foothill College was named after former Highlands resident. When the area was first being developed, one of the neighbors organized a petition to provide neighbors with a secondary access road. Volunteers planted some of the beautiful trees that now grace Montclaire Elementary and Foothill Expressway. Parents invest countless hours in our youth by volunteering at the elementary school or taking on leadership roles in Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Brownie Troops, YMCA, Adventure Guides, and variety of youth activities including soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, Girls On The Run, and performing arts.
It’s common for neighbors to become friends. While people come from diverse backgrounds, neighbors are quick to find common ground with each other such as kids in school, work, dogs, hobbies, sports, crafts, exercise, etc. Many families still talk about the warm welcome they received when they moved in. Much of life revolves around Montclaire, which sits at the heart of the Highlands. On school days between 8:00am and 8:30am, there is a parade of kids and their parents who walk or bike to school. Even residents who don’t have children in school participate in the social activities and take advantage of the tennis courts, three playgrounds, and wide open grass field at Montclaire. People are generous with their time and look out for each other. They even put out the garbage/recycle bins for each other when their neighbor is out of town.
In this day and age of disconnected isolation, the Highlands neighborhood reminds us that there is a community for those who desire to be connected and contribute to one another.