A Move To Atherton Brings Exclusivity & History

Atherton Caltrain Station by Tumbenhaur via CC BY-SA 3.0

Atherton Caltrain Station by Tumbenhaur via CC BY-SA 3.0

A beautiful, tree-lined town in Northern California’s San Mateo County, Atherton is a small, affluent and strictly residential community. It is one of the United States’ wealthiest zip codes (94027). Neighborhoods include West Atherton, Lindenwood, West of Alameda, Atherton Oaks and Lloyden Park. The town is about six square miles. It reaches across El Camino Real from the Alameda de las Pulgas to beyond Middlefield Road. Made up of lavish estates, it is situated far from the roads, down long driveways and behind high fences. The town is centrally located and within easy distance to highly-rated restaurants and shopping in nearby Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Redwood City.  Atherton is also in the heart of Silicon Valley, so it is perfect for work opportunities.                                                      

Atherton By The Numbers

Seal of Atherton
Seal of Atherton via Wikimedia Commons      
  • Population is 6,914 for 2017/2018.
  • Unemployment rate is 3.3%. (US average is 5.2%).
  • The average resident income is $144,197 a year (US average is $28,555 a year).
  • The median household income of a Atherton resident is $250,001 a year.
  • The job market has increased by 3.8% over the last year, predicted to increase to 44.3% in the next ten years (higher than the US average of 38.0%).
  • Sales tax rate is 9.0% (US average is 6.0%).
  • Income tax rate is 8.0% (US average is 4.6%).
  • The average home value was about $6.8 million as of May 2018.

Prominent Town History

The town’s namesake is entrepreneur Faxon Dean Atherton. A successful lumber and land investor, his fortune increased significantly with the California Gold Rush. In 1860, he moved his family to San Francisco. Eventually, they moved further south to a 640-acre country estate near Menlo Park. Mr. Atherton established the first country home on the peninsula. Other prominent San Franciscan families, such as the Selbys and Stanfords, soon followed.

Main Street Atherton CA 1949 by Unknown via Wikimedia Commons
Main Street Atherton, CA, 1949 by Unknown via Wikimedia Commons

Originally, the area was called Fair Oaks, after a nearby railroad station that still stands. Property owners, who desired to maintain the strictly residential nature of their community, filed for incorporation in 1923. However, a Sacramento suburb already existed named Fair Oaks. So, the town became “Atherton,” to honor the first settler in the south peninsula.

For a more thorough history, dig into a copy of Under The Oaks – Two Hundred Years in Atherton by Pamela Gullard and Nancy Lund.

Places Of Interest

Holbrook-Palmer Park
Holbrook-Palmer Park by LPS.1 via CC0

Holbrook-Palmer Park is 22 tree-covered acres and the only park in Atherton. Olive Holbrook-Palmer left it to the town in 1958. The Main House, Jennings Pavilion, and Carriage House are the historic buildings on the grounds. All are rented out for private events. Walking paths wind around beautiful garden areas. There is a par course, ball fields and tennis courts. Recreational programs are also provided.

The Atherton Train Station is a short walk away from Holbrook-Palmer Park. It is right next door to the town’s Police Department. Only open on weekends, it serves (32) Saturday and (28) Sunday local Caltrains (but not the Baby Bullet trains).

For Frank Lloyd Wright fans, there is the Arthur F. Mathews House, designed in 1950 in the red brick and wood Usonian-style. Oak trees surround the home and keep it well-hidden from street view. The construction is in a diamond-shape layout. It has two separate but parallel wings. Walls of windows in the central dining area and workspace overlook a large terrace. The home has Philippine mahogany built-ins. It is one of only two Wright houses in San Mateo County.

Watkins-Cartan House
Watkins-Cartan House by Sanfranman59 via CC BY-SA 3.0

The Watkins-Cartan House is another historical building. It is an interpretation of Gothic Revival architecture, built in 1866 for Commodore James Thomas Watkins. He was the captain of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. It is the only remaining example of homes established by San Francisco elite who then commuted via the newly built railroad. The Cartan family, who acquired the house in 1945, landscaped the vast grounds.

There are also several tracts of contemporary Joseph Eichler homes to boast about, mostly in the Lindenwood neighborhood of northeastern Atherton.

Dive Into Art

The Holbrook-Palmer Recreation Park Foundation is a non-profit organization formed in 1968.  The foundation hosts activities, along with other charitable and educational programs, to encourage community awareness and use of the park. The Friends Of The Holbrook-Palmer Park Foundation (formerly the Atherton Dames) is the fundraising arm of the foundation.

The Atherton Arts Foundation, is a 501(c)3 public benefit corporation, is the sole organization responsible for the acquisition and display of art within Atherton. Besides art shows, the Art Foundation sponsors musical events, educational programs, and local artists. Space is also provided for local artist’s shows and classes in the Holbrook-Palmer Park facility.

More Community Organizations

Historical archives are organized and stored by the Atherton Heritage Association, which also provides historical information to the town council.

The Atherton Tree Committee is a volunteer, non-profit, community-based organization, Formed in 1989 it’s goal is to preserve the town’s trees – native live oaks, white oaks, cedars, redwoods, pines, and bays, to name a few. The Committee educates residents on tree care and replacement. It provides landscaping guidance of public lands, and encourages overall appreciation and protection of its urban forest.

The Atherton Civic Interest League is a community-based, non-profit organization founded by civic leaders in 1946. Its mission is to improve the town’s quality of life. Many prominent residents have served on the ACIL’s Board of Directors.

Atherton Library via ci.atherton.ca.us
Atherton Library via ci.atherton.ca.us

Friends of the Atherton Community Library meets monthly and holds fundraisers to support the Atherton Library, which opened in 1967. It is a small, cozy one-room library that offers books, magazines, ebooks, CDs, DVDs, and WiFi.

The Menlo Circus Club is a private club with tennis, swimming, stables and a riding ring.

The Menlo Polo Club, whose fields are covered with Bermuda grass, was founded in 1923. Affiliated with the United States Polo Association, the club also organizes and hosts events and philanthropic fundraisers.

Lavish But Quiet

Overall, moving to Atherton is for those who want to live a high-end, yet strictly residential locale. Surrounded by beautiful landscapes, it is well worth the short drive to neighboring cities for goods, restaurants, and nightlife.


*     *     *     *     *

Have you recently moved to Atherton? What helped you to adapt and feel at home? We’d love to hear about your experience. Share your tips below.