Sat11222014

Senior Lifestyles

Los Altos Hills legacy: Town confers landmark status on globetrotting couple’s home


Photo By: Photo by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo Photo By Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

Martin Packard shows off a half-century of mementos in his Los Altos Hills home, recently designated a historical landmark.

It’s quite altruistic to give something without expecting anything in return. Martin and Barbara Packard of Los Altos Hills did just that when they asked the town to designate their La Cresta Drive home a historical landmark.

After a deliberative process that began four years ago when a building inspector recommended that the couple consider it, the Los Altos Hills City Council Nov. 6 granted the nearly 50-year-old Morgan Stedman-designed home a historical landmark designation. A site or structure earns the title based on its architectural, aesthetic and historical characteristics. Only 28 other landmarks in Los Altos Hills share the official distinction.

It was a bittersweet moment for Martin, 91, and the couple’s two children, because the announcement came four months after Barbara’s June death.

“She would have said thank you,” Martin said. “She didn’t complain about things and really ran with things to create something.”

Although it took the Packards decades to build their home into the eclectic space it is today, after walking through their front door, it is easy to understand why securing the historical designation was an act of love, one embodying their life philosophy of preserving culture for the posterity of those who call Los Altos Hills home – today and tomorrow.

Building bridges

Martin said it was love at first sight when he met Barbara at Oregon State University. Offering his Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity pin as an engagement present, the two began their life journey together.

They shared a passion for connecting with people and their cultures as global citizens – a characteristic that shaped the ambience of their home as they gathered hundreds of mementos over the years to remember the people and places they visited.

“Whatever we did, wherever we were, we would try to quickly pick up the culture,” said Martin of the couple’s love of international travel.

Their travels influenced the architecture of their Japanese, Mexican and Spanish-inspired home. Although the style was unusual for renowned Bay Area architect Stedman, Martin said it took him only an hour to convince Stedman to accept the commission to design the home.

Whether by luck or fate, in the late 1950s, Martin also managed to convince a developer to sell him one of the last remaining lots in the area for $35,000. Martin said that he thought the price was a bit high, considering that the lot next door sold for $10,000 less.

Construction was completed by 1965 with the help of Barbara, who was on the roof pounding nails when she was six months pregnant.

Landmark construction

Echoing the spirit of innovation found in Martin’s scientific work at Varian Associates, Stedman designed a home that was efficient, open and connected to the natural surroundings of its site.

A dramatic concave roofline and symmetrical beams stretching from the edge of the roof mimic the form of a Japanese shrine.

Upon entering the 2,300-square-foot home, a 20-foot-tall atrium passageway – filled with plants, paintings and artifacts – washes visitors in bright light and ushers them into a warm, open space highlighted by mementos from the couple’s global journeys.

Galvanized by the blue skies of Klamath Falls, Ore., and the earth colors found in the Western landscape of the United States, the Packard home radiates lightness and vibrancy. Tile work inspired by Native American pottery meets a wall of blue in the living room – a space that seamlessly opens onto outdoor patios. Panoramic views of the Bay Area give the home a connection to place despite the distinctive eastern-design elements.

Intimate spaces including a traditional Japanese room with tatami mats, shoji screens and a walnut tree cut from their site, as well as a Japanese bath with a walk-in soaker, clearly illustrate cultural fusion.

Reminders of the couple’s travel experiences are everywhere – from cowbells from the foothills of the Swiss Alps to a collection of masks from Asia and Europe. A music room with a French Art-Case piano and a Meiji period Japanese Step Tansu staircase and shelf climbs alongside the wall to a hidden attic, adding mystery to the mix.

“All life is part of us,” Martin said.

Family memories

The Packards’ home was not simply a space for their family, according to Martin, but also an abode that fostered friendship, creativity and entrepreneurship. Although Stedman’s architecture is notable, the history made in the home is just as important as the legacy it leaves the community.

Over the decades, the Packards hosted dozens of Chinese and Japanese students in their home – extending their family to an international network of long-term friends. Sharing their home offered the opportunity to return the gift of culture that so many others had shared with them when they visited around the world.

“We were always looking for ways to improve communications between people,” Martin said.

After Barbara developed a fondness for Bernese Mountain Dogs while traveling through Switzerland, the Packards devoted an entire room to the breed, filled with photos and paintings they collected over the decades. Barbara would later found the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America and open a boarding kennel in Mountain View.

The designation of the Packard home as a historical landmark is not the end of Martin and Barbara’s story, but the beginning of a movement that may inspire others to similarly share their history with future generations.

“I hope this will be the start of many more landmarks that should be preserved,” said Los Altos Hills Councilwoman Ginger Summit when voting in support of the landmark designation last year. “This is one of the most exemplary models we have in Los Altos Hills.”

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