As you drive up into Los Altos Hills on Moody Road, the landscape grows a little more rural by the mile.
In these foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the elevation rises from approximately 180 feet above sea level near downtown Los Altos to 750 feet in just 4 miles.
Pass Murietta Lane, evoking the memory of the legendary California bandit, then pass Old Snakey Road - no question what that name evokes - and you’ll come to Sherlock Court and then Sherlock Road, both named for a founding family of Los Altos Hills.
Joan Sherlock is the lucky woman who lives at the top of the road that bears her name. She was raised here, and here she is surrounded by family history in a place she and her loved ones have lived through many things.
"This is a part of our existence," she said as she looked out on the surrounding hills.
An investment with a view
The house was just a one-bedroom summer cottage in unincorporated Santa Clara County when her parents, newlyweds Thomas and Trudy Sherlock, purchased the 2-acre property in 1948. There was a dirt road to their front door and no water service or electricity. Thomas, who had served as an officer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in World War II, was used to roughing it. Trudy thought the view was worth the inconvenience. The price seemed as steep as their driveway. They hoped as they improved the home that their investment would pay off.
The price? The Sherlocks inked the deal for $5,500.
After two children came along - first son Tom and then Joan - Trudy found a job as a social worker with Santa Clara County, and the two incomes made the mortgage payments easier to manage. Joan’s father had his own business as a landscape architect and put his skills to work remodeling the place they called home.
When Los Altos Hills incorporated in 1956, the town council appointed Thomas Sherlock to its first Planning Commission. In the 9 square miles that made up Los Altos Hills, there were just 2,500 residents. The winding lane that ended at the Sherlock house, along which a half-dozen families now lived, was called Heimendinger Road.
"Named after the guy who owned the bulldozer," Joan laughed.
Joan recalled the bucolic days of her youth.
"We really lived up here like country kids," she said. "After school, my brother and I disappeared into the canyons with the other kids from the hills around us. Nobody worried about us. Mom rang a bell for dinner and we listened for the sound and then raced home."
Life up there was not for everyone. There were rattlesnakes, power outages (once electricity was installed) and mudslides. After a garbage truck flipped over on a bad curve, neighbors were told to leave their cans on Moody - for the safety of the drivers.
Rebuilding after challenges
The family’s life changed forever when Thomas Sherlock, just 50 years old, died of a heart attack in 1963. He had been serving as deputy mayor, and the council officially named Sherlock Road in his honor. Trudy, now a single mother, kept her job and held the family and home together.
But by 1991, the kids were grown and Trudy was ready to downsize. Joan offered to buy the house and, with a new job in marketing in Silicon Valley, moved back to her childhood home with daughters Jacqueline, Anika and Tavia.
"I wanted them to have this sense of place," Joan said.
Their lives were badly shaken in November 1995 when a fire broke out at the house at 2:30 a.m. Joan got the girls to safety and then - in those days before cellphones - roused the neighbors to call the fire department. Her car survived, and firefighters found her keys in the ashes of the kitchen. But just about everything else was lost. Investigators think the fire began in the home’s ancient wiring.
They rebuilt. The walls were new, but the memories remained.
Today, the house is stunning, blending the colors of the hillside with a Craftsman style. The fire played its part in transforming the old cottage into a five-bedroom beauty. Its 21st-century kitchen looks out on the same view the Sherlocks have known all of their lives.
"When my brother and I were kids, this whole area was our backyard," Joan reminisced. "In spite of everything, we have been so lucky. Our parents came here and gave us such an idyllic childhood. And now we are here, too. I feel they have left us a legacy of paradise."
Robin Chapman is a journalist and the author of "California Apricots: The Lost Orchards of Silicon Valley" (History Press, 2013).