Hidden Atherton

Post image for Betty Hilmer shares memories of her adobe house in Atherton

An adobe house in Atherton? Don’t think pueblo or cliff dwelling. The house that caught Robert and Betty Hilmer’s eye over 50 years ago is a mid-century modern gem.

“We happened on it by chance,” Betty recalled, sitting in the family room of a house that’s largely unchanged since they moved in in 1956. “We were living in an Eichler in Menlo Park and were working on drawings for a house we were going to build in Alpine Hills.

“Bob always liked adobe construction, and when we drove by, he stopped to see what was going on. Joe Whelan was the builder, and he showed us around. The plans for the other house stopped immediately!”

hilmer-house

The Hilmer house was designed by Knorr-Elliot Associates; the engineer on the project was John E. Brown. An article in Architectural Record Houses of 1950s explains: “This house…uses a blank adobe wall to mask its rich, congenial, inside world…Privacy was an important part of the design. The blank wall facade isolates the lot and protects the two separate pavilions — one for sleeping, one for living and entertaining — which are set amid private gardens, a patio and a reflecting pool.

“A steel frame structure frees the walls of any load-bearing obligations so that glass can be interchanged with adobe wherever light and views of the private outdoor areas are desired.”

Walking around the front outside of the house, it seems like it’s all adobe, but inside you’re surrounded by windows. “Yes, it’s light,” chuckled Betty. “Joe [Whelan] said he could never build another like this one! In winter it’s cold, and in summer it’s hot!”

One historical note: A corner of the lot was once part of AP Giannini’s estate. “The lore is,” Betty said, “that the trees were planted by AP himself!”

Photo of Betty Hilmer by Linda Hubbard (c) 2016; other photos courtesy of Hilmer family

{ Be the first to comment }

Hidden streets of Menlo Park: Croner Avenue

Thumbnail image for Hidden streets of Menlo Park: Croner Avenue

At least to this observer, “avenue” implies a larger roadway than Croner Avenue, a narrow passageway sandwiched for about a quarter mile between North Lemon and Orange avenues in Menlo Park. We ambled upon it one day while walking the dog and talked to one of the residents who indicated that some of the houses on the […]

Click to read more →

M.A. Harris estate is one of Atherton’s historical best – then and now

Thumbnail image for M.A. Harris estate is one of Atherton’s historical best – then and now

Over the past 100 years, there are a few special properties in Atherton that have maintained their prominence. The estate located at 120 Selby Lane is one. Originally part of a 16+ acre parcel, this estate was home to Matthew A. Harris, member of the first Atherton city council, subsequent Mayor of Atherton and president […]

Click to read more →

Bear Gulch Reservoir hides in plain sight in Atherton, providing water for local residents

Thumbnail image for Bear Gulch Reservoir hides in plain sight in Atherton, providing water for local residents

Get off the beaten path a bit, and you’re apt to discover something hiding in plain sight, something actually pretty big. Case in point, the 166 million gallon (at capacity) Bear Gulch Reservoir in Atherton, a body of water much more visible on Google Earth than to area residents. We paid the Reservoir a visit […]

Click to read more →

Barnyard in Atherton? Yes, hiding in plain sight at Sacred Heart Schools

Thumbnail image for Barnyard in Atherton? Yes, hiding in plain sight at Sacred Heart Schools

Collecting eggs. Milking goats. Feeding chickens, rabbits and ducks. It all happens after every school day on the campus of Sacred Heart Schools. “For lower and middle school students, it’s an enrichment program,” explained Dr. Stewart Slafter, who wears the multiple hats of farm manager and geography/history/agriculture teacher. (He also tends the barnyard on weekends […]

Click to read more →

10 things to be thankful for in Menlo and Atherton

Thumbnail image for 10 things to be thankful for in Menlo and Atherton

How can you walk, bike or drive around Menlo Park and Atherton at this time of the year and not be immediately thankful? The most obvious prompted us to put together this Thanksgiving top 10 list. 10. Yes, the obvious at this time of year — the fabulous Fall color. Is it our best kept […]

Click to read more →

Do you know where Atherton’s secret garden is?

Thumbnail image for Do you know where Atherton’s secret garden is?

There’s a secret garden in Atherton — but just how many residents are in on the secret,  we’re not sure. Those who know about the garden, treasure it. The garden  is attached to the Atherton Library. It was “reinvigorated” some years ago by Joan Sanders and is now lovingly tended by three members of the Friends […]

Click to read more →