There's nothing like it
Do you know where Mill Valley’s 2 A.M. Club is? How about Whole Foods on Miller Avenue? “If you can locate either one of those spots,” says Charles “Chuck” Oldenburg, “you know where Homestead Valley is—it’s the valley behind both places.” Or to put it another way: “Homestead Valley is between Mill Valley and Tam Valley.”
By Oldenburg’s best estimate, the community has 1,100 residences housing 2,500 residents; “no one knows for sure.” Yet no one knows better than Oldenburg. He and wife Christina have lived in the same home on Montford Avenue for 45 years, and Chuck is looked on as the community’s historian. So if you want to know how the community got its name, ask him.
“In 1866, Samuel Throckmorton, one of Marin’s original landowners, built a hunting lodge near Miller Avenue,” Oldenburg recounts. “He named it the Homestead, and over time, the surrounding area became known as Homestead Valley.”
Another community stalwart, freelance writer Susan “Suz” Lipman, not only resides in Homestead Valley but works there, as does husband Michael “Lippy” Lipman, an animator of children’s media. “We’ve lived here for 13 years,” she says. “We both have studios in our home.”
The Lipmans, who have a 12-year-old daughter, Anna, like the community for its physical beauty—rare for an area so close to schools and shopping—and the friendly neighbors, which together make for an atmosphere both active and serene. “After spending the day in front of a computer screen,” Lippy says, “I’ll go for a long bike ride, and I enjoy waving to friends, then getting lost in the area’s timelessness.”
A frequent destination of those rides is the Homestead Valley Community Center, with its clubhouse, pool and acre of grassland locals refer to as “the Meadow.” Center director Les Lizama, who clearly loves the job (“I can’t believe I get paid for doing this”), manages a calendar that includes a Fourth of July picnic and parade (“kids on bikes, guys on a fire engine, the works”), Halloween and holiday parties, Mozart on the Meadow summer gatherings and a long list of homeowner meetings, election-day voting, potluck dinners and “Get Ready” emergency response meetings.
“We’ve divided Homestead Valley into 69 blocks with 10 to 15 homes per block,” he says. “We’re not fully recruited yet, but the community wants to be independent, self-reliant.” Funding for the Homestead Valley Community Association comes in part from county taxes collected for the Homestead Valley Sanitation District.
Another gathering spot is Stolte Grove, a picturesque stand of redwoods with Reed Creek running through it and picnic tables, barbecue stands and a performing stage nearby. Adjacent to the grove is Three Groves, a more formal garden area dating back over a century and named for its profusion of three clusters of trees—redwood, oak and buckeye. Both Stolte and Three Groves are located where Montford and LaVerne Avenues come together to form a favorite walking destination known as “The Loop.” Other local landmarks include the highly regarded Marin Horizon School, which serves preschool through eighth grade; the site of the Montford Avenue home (no longer standing) where Jack Kerouac and Beat poet Gary Snyder supposedly wrote The Dharma Bums; and what’s now generally referred to as Tamalpais Canyon, which decades ago was called Camp Tamalpais.
“In the early 1900s, Camp Tamalpais was 11 acres divided into 137 tiny lots that sold, according to their deeds, for anywhere from ‘$10 in gold’ to $75 each—or $98 if you wanted a platform tent on your property,” says realtor Kat Ryan, a 24-year Homestead Valley resident working with the Mill Valley/Strawberry office of Frank Howard Allen. Then came the Great Depression, and now, according to Ryan, there are probably 25 small cabins dotting the canyon.
“Of all the Homestead Valley sales I’ve made, the most unusual one was four years ago—and for only $329,000,” she adds. “It was a charming 370-square-foot cottage on a nearly 10,000-square-foot lot covered with redwoods. However, it was a really steep hillside lot and reachable only by climbing 165 stairs.”
Current Homestead Valley properties range from a two-unit fixer-upper listed at $795,000 to a seven-bedroom recently redone estate with pool and stunning bay views for just over $10 million. “Our highest sale recorded to date was around $5 million for a six-bedroom overlooking the valley on more than three acres,” Ryan says. But there is no “typical” home in Homestead Valley, she points out. “Just like there’s nothing typical about this community. Homestead Valley is a one-of-a-kind.”