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CGF In the News
The Los Altos Town Crier
By Lauren McSherry
A pioneer of the Peninsula's environmental movement, Lois Crozier Hogle continues to lead the way in saving open space.
The 90-year-old environmental trailblazer has set an unusual precedent in Los Altos Hills by establishing her 11-acre property as a conservation easement to be preserved in perpetuity.
Although conservation easements have existed in Los Altos Hills since the early 1970s, what makes Hogle's easement most unique is its size. Hers is one of the last remaining properties greater than 10 acres in the city, where high property values are leading to more subdivisions and fewer parcels of undeveloped land.
As a conservation easement, the property, which she named Oak Meadow, can be sold, but never subdivided. And Hogle's historic home, designed by architects Birge and David Clark, can be modified, but never razed.
Dubbed "the first lady of the environment," Hogle is co-founder of the Committee for Green Foothills (CGF) and has devoted her life to environmental issues.
"We call her the first lady of the environment because she has always been on the cutting edge, thinking ahead to the necessary actions to save the foothills," said Hills resident Mary Davey, former president of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.
This is indeed the case regarding her conservation easement, approved by the city council Jan. 20.
The idea originated during a conversation with her daughter.
"We both said we would love to see this house preserved as one of the beautiful open areas in the Hills," Hogle said, "and we wanted to protect it from developers. I hope it will be the beginning of people re-evaluating their land and that this will be a precedent that others will look to."
Having called Oak Meadow home for 44 years, Hogle has watched Los Altos Hills and surrounding cities become denser. She has worked tirelessly to prevent development from encroaching on open space she holds dear. Areas she helped save include land beyond Junipero Serra Boulevard, near the corner of Page Mill Road and Foothill Expressway and in the upper reaches of the foothills, Davey said.
"When I first moved to Palo Alto in 1959, I fell in love with the foothills and felt that they should not be developed," Hogle said. "I'm interested in retaining open space in the town - to preserve the house and to preserve this beautiful area."
Sense of place
The house was designed by brothers David and Birge Clark, Palo Alto architects who built more than 450 homes locally and are credited for defining downtown Palo Alto's early-California style, also called Spanish Colonial Revival.
Built circa 1940, on the cusp of World War II, the one-story house consists of two wings joined by a long hallway. It is an unusual building in that it has none of the features typical of the Clarks' early-California designs: tile roofs, iron grillwork on windows and entry gates, thick stucco walls, arches and a courtyard or partial courtyard. The building with its flat roof, horizontal planes, slate patio and extensive floor-to-ceiling glass windows is considered somewhat of a rarity.
Los Altos resident Dean Clark, Birge's son, remembers walking through the house during its construction. He was 15 years old at the time. He recalled that his uncle and father were using new and different materials in the house, such as brick on the interior walls and exposed rock on the exterior; that the house was spread out more than their usual designs and that its horizontal planes flowed with the hill that it was built on.
The brothers created more houses in this style after World War II, but this is the first one that Dean remembers. He believes the house may have been inspired by the 1939 World's Fair in San Francisco because nine Bay Area architects, including his father, were commissioned to design modern houses containing all the latest inventions. The house his father designed for the fair is similar to Hogle's.
Another historic feature is a Japanese teahouse with rice-paper doors designed by architect Morgan Stedman, known for buildings that complemented the California landscape. Stedman and his wife, Kathryn, a landscape designer, helped found CGF.
Kathryn, a professor at Stanford University during the 1950s, collaborated with renowned architect Joseph Eichler on 100 homes for which she designed fencing, walkways and planting schemes. Life magazine featured her landscape work on an Eichler home in a 1954 article. She fashioned a pool near the Hogle teahouse and planned the surrounding landscaping.
The Stedmans worked together on projects, as was the case for Hogle's home. Hogle hired them to design the pool area and teahouse in 1962, the same year CGF was founded.
"We talked business," Hogle said. "But we also talked green foothills."
"Her home was such a beautiful, warm place to go," Davey recalled. "That house was inspiring and welcoming."
Hogle frequently held discussions, brainstorming sessions and organizational meetings attended by friends and neighbors, such as novelist Wallace Stegner; Ruth Spangenberg, CGF co-founder; Frank and Josephine Duveneck, founders of Hidden Villa; Artemis Ginston, founder of the Hills pathway system; and Mary Davey, an early organizer of the open space district.
In fact, the CGF's first meeting would have been held in Hogle's living room, but she had already hosted three other meetings that week, so she asked neighbor Ruth Spangenberg to have it at her house. At that meeting, Stegner agreed to step in as the committee's first president on one condition - that Hogle continue as the committee's chief organizer, Davey said.
Stegner wrote, in a piece titled "Roses for Lois": "Lois has created more than just another environmental group. She has helped create a community of like minds as well as a community of effort. And though she had other things in mind while she worked, the by-product that she didn't anticipate is not to be ignored. The by-product is love.
"Thanks to Lois, we are much more a community, a neighborhood, a family than we would have been without her example, her enthusiasm, her energy and her vision."
A living legacy
David Mitchell, an attorney for the Peninsula Open Space Trust, assisted Hogle with the conservation easement designation. Conservation easements are unlike open space easements because they are voluntary and landowners receive a tax benefit, but the tax reward usually is not a primary consideration, he said.
"In Lois' case, she's such a generous person anyway, she's doing it to preserve the rural character of her property," he said.
A conservation easement can somewhat diminish property value because it limits the changes a new homeowner can make.
But more and more people who love their land and their town and want to preserve open space are choosing conservation easements, Mitchell said.
Hogle hopes that the trend will continue, especially in Los Altos Hills.
"People are being won over; they are appreciating open space as never before," Hogle said. "Once land is gone, it's gone forever."
Page last updated September 13, 2010 .