Close to the Los Gatos border sits one of the more affordable Cambrian neighborhoods in San Jose and the west valley generally. It enjoys lovely views of the hills, great public schools with high API scores, a neighborhood private school to boot, and convenient access to freeways and stores. There’s no sign, marker or gateway to the area, so many of its residents are probably unaware that the official name to it is Cambrian Gardens.
This neighborhood provides an incredible “bang for the buck” for home buyers wanting excellent schools and not wanting to pay luxury home pricing. In many ways, it’s a “sleeper” – meaning that many people don’t know it’s there, but it’s a good deal!
Where is the Cambrian Gardens area of Cambrian?
The rough borders are Union Avenue, Los Gatos-Almaden Road, Leigh Avenue, and the West Valley Freeway (85).
Not everything within that area is part of the tracts which make up Cambrian Gardens, though. It was developed just south of and directly adjacent to the Cambrian Park area which is so well known, but now separated from it by the freeway. (Click image or here to see live map in Google.)
Cambrian Garden Landmarks
Homes built in this part of Silicon Valley were clustered around the later-built neighborhood public school (bordered by Clarinda, Laurinda, Emeline and Sandy), James De Voss, which is now leased out as a private one, the Global School, as well as Little Oak Preschool. The other major landmark to the neighborhood is Ross Creek, which slides through the middle. With it come frogs, egrets, ducks and other wildlife which are generally welcome.
What are houses like in the Cambrian Gardens neighborhood?
The property was subdivided, developed and built beginning in the late 1950s. Most sections were completed by the early 60s but one part (Mise and Stuckey) came much later and houses there a bit larger.
Typically, the original construction in Cambrian Gardens consisted of smaller ranch style houses on about 6000 square foot lots with 3-4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and anywhere from 1100 to 1600 square feet. (Most common: 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and 1200- 1300 SF.) Most lots have a frontage of about 60 feet with lots going back about 100 feet.
Since there were several builders, there are likewise several designs. At the same time, though, most were built within a few years of one another so basic features tend to be similar. Fireplaces, front porches, sliding glass doors to back patios, the use of tile, hardwood and abundant windows are all hallmarks of these homes.
Kitchens: a real estate trend of that era was “galley” style kitchens with a breakfast nook area or eat-in kitchen so that’s predominantly what you’ll find here. Some houses have both a formal dining area (dining “L” or combined living-dining room) as well as a breakfast room. Cabinets were often built under soffits, so if remodeling, it’s easy to get more storage by simply bringing the cabinets down directly from the ceiling.
Bathrooms: As with other construction of that vintage, bathrooms were built with efficiency in mind and are compact. The hall bath usually has a shower over the tub and the master bath includes a stall shower in most cases. (The latter often has a built in cabinet next to the shower which could be “blown out” to make a bigger stall shower.)
Houses are set fairly far back on the lot, which was typical for the time in which these properties were built. For buyers with an eye to expansion, this means there’s room to add on in front (some build up, some build out when adding on).
Garage & laundry: Laundry is usually in the garage in Cambrian Gardens. Most properties have an attached 2 car garage, but one builder provided an option that enabled purchasers to elect a 1 car garage + family or bonus room (and also to have an inside laundry room). A lot of houses have an extra wide side yard just off the garage, which appears to have been intended to function as an area for a drying line.
The majority, if not all of these houses, were built with hardwood floors (all but kitchen and bathrooms in most cases) and forced air heat (but again, one builder used wall heaters – though most of those have since been upgraded by later owners to forced air heating). They are almost exclusively on raised foundations, not slab (exception that I’m aware of being the “bonus” option on the 1 or 2 car garage design, where the family or bonus room is on slab – the rest of the house on a perimeter or raised foundation).
A challenge with some designs in the area is a shortage of closet space (for what we are used to today). To reclaim some interior space for closets, some homeowners move the furnace from an interior space to either the garage or attic, thus adding another closet. Others add on to the house, build “organizers” in the existing closets and have other ways of minimizing their need for more.
In looking through the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions, or CCRs, I was surprised to see the name McKeon twice listed out of three names for those who subdivided this area. The McKeons are best known in this area for the many, many fourplexes that dot Santa Clara County. (There were several builders, though.)
What about the schools?
This area is not all served by the same public elementary schools. One section, north of Ross Creek, has attendance at Carlton Elementary and the other, south of Ross Creek, at Alta Vista. Both are extremely well regarded. (Please see the boundary map for the Union School District online.) All attend Union Middle School and Leigh High School. Here are the numbers for the API Report numbers for 2013 (California is switching to another measurement system, so API reports have been put on hold since 2013 during the transition):
- Carlton: 935 API
- Alta Vista 949 API
- Union Middle 938 API
- Leigh High 833 API
What do homes cost in Cambrian Gardens?
Naturally there is a range of size, condition, and sale type (regular sale vs short sale or bank owned) and those all influence resale value or market value. Additionally, there are more and less desirable areas: Leigh and Los Gatos-Almaden Road are much busier than more interior streets such as Kenlar, Tilden, or Nerissa (which has no through traffic at all). And, of course, homes that are very close to the freeway will be louder and that also impacts a buyer’s probable value for the home.
Disclaimers aside, at this time prices are running mostly around $900,000 to $1,200,000 with exceptions for the extremes one way or the other (big additions or homes needing a lot of work in a less desirable area). Over the last six months homes have sold in this area from $990,000 to $1.38 million. You can check on the current Cambrian real estate market conditions here.
Overall, it’s an inexpensive area for the quality of the schools and is a great choice for people who want to live either in the Alta Vista neighborhood or perhaps closer to Carlton Elementary (such as in the King Streets or El Gato Terrace areas) but don’t want to spend that much.