The City Dwellers: Meet the People Living DowntownFeb 11, 2021 01:17PM ● By Sophie Johnson
(This story first appeared in the May 2017 print issue of Walnut Creek Magazine. It was updated in February 2021. Photography by Josh Isaacs and Jessica Freels.)
It wasn’t too long ago that Walnut Creek drew people primarily for its top-notch schools, pastoral hills, and suburban homes with big backyards, private pools, and two-car garages. While this residential landscape retains its rich appeal, a new population has emerged—the city dwellers. These urbanites are inhabiting the apartments and condominiums cropping up all over town, lured by walkability to shopping and dining, plus the host of smart and stylish amenities many new residential communities offer.
Curt and Jane Blomstrand are the definition of downsizing baby boomers—people who left large suburban residences for an urban lifestyle. Yet the charming couple prefers to call their new way of life something else. “Reinvention is a better word,” says Curt, a retired home builder and father of three who lived with his wife Jane for over 40 years in a large Lafayette rancher before moving into their Cole Avenue condo. “I was tired of the honey-do list. Every weekend, there were chores and the little burdens of having a well-maintained home. I knew it would be an adjustment, especially for Jane who loves to garden, but our lives are so much fun now.”
After reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up, Jane was inspired to de-clutter her Burton Valley home and keep only items that were useful and meaningful. She also held on to a few family treasures and artwork curated from years of travel. “Going through decades’ worth of things was so freeing. We didn’t want to bring very much with us.”
In 2017, the Blomstrand’s purchased an efficiently designed, 2000-square-foot, two-bedroom plus-den condo for a cool $1.2 million from Lenox Homes. Part of a 12-unit building, its panoramic views of Mt. Diablo provide the backdrop for a dazzling downtown city-scape, endlessly enjoyed from the outdoor patio and floor-to-ceiling windows. Our granddaughter laid back on the couch the other night and said, ‘I love this place, it’s so relaxing."
Attention to detail is evident throughout the spacious interior in everything from the concealed European hinges to the Bosch appliances. It’s not just the opulent materials but also the functionality of the space that attracted the couple. “The layout of the rooms is just so practical,” says Jane.
While the chic condo is within easy walking distance to BART, food, and entertainment, a state-of-the-art car lift system provides residents with ample parking. “Every morning I walk to Starbucks then stroll through Broadway Plaza before the shops open, and make a big circle back home,” says Curt.
THE LUXE LIFE
For most of the downtown residents we interviewed for this story, living in heart of the city within walking distance to restaurants and bars is the major draw. Personal injury attorney, Theresa Baumgartner, is no different. “I love walking out my front door for a cocktail at Pacific Catch or a kale salad and skinny margarita at True Food Kitchen. I definitely eat out more often now,” she says.
Theresa was renting a sprawling 3,300-square-foot home on an acre of land in Pleasant Hill before moving into her spacious tri-level apartment at The Agora last summer. With its central location at the corner of Newell Avenue and Main Street, her two-bedroom-two-bath apartment separates living spaces into three levels: kitchen, living room, and bath on level one, bedrooms on level two, and a private rooftop deck on level three. “I love the patio. It’s private and it feels like an oasis.”
She says residents at The Agora are a mix of working professionals, young families with school-age children, and retired couples or singles who have sold a home and are now empty nesters. This carefree lifestyle comes with a steep price, monthly rents range from $4000-$5300 depending on the space, but for residents, the floorplans, location, and onsite amenities are worth it.
Perks include a rooftop pool and sun deck, 24-hour fitness center, community kitchen and lounge, bio-filtration areas for pets, advanced soundproofing, and electric vehicle charging stations. The Agora also offers residents pick-up dry cleaning service and close proximity to Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Broadway Plaza.
An underground, gated garage may be full of parked cars, but residents tie on their sneakers to explore the city instead of driving. “I hardly move my car on the weekends,” says Theresa.
FROM COAST TO COAST
Jeff Kari and Juliana Tokumo first met in New York City in 2014. “Our goal was to move to the West Coast, so when Jeff's company had an opening in the Bay Area, we jumped at the chance to relocate," says Juliana. Escaping the winters and exploring the green hills around Mt. Diablo was compelling enough, but the couple also saw parallels to the Big Apple.“The experience we have when we go to Sasa for sushi is always great—it’s on par with NYC restaurants. Our other local favorites are Lettuce and Tender Greens."
But that's where the similarities end, especially when it comes to apartment living in Manhattan and Walnut Creek.“In NYC we had only two burners, now our stove is worthy of a professional cook," says Jeff. Cabinets and closets provide plenty of useable storage space, and the two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment at The Arroyo, which goes for roughly $4000 per month, comes with two outdoor patios including one off the master bedroom.
While its exterior façade is somewhat unremarkable, the interior at The Arroyo welcomes residents into a lush garden with plenty of room to lounge and drink coffee. But the real showstopper here is the rooftop terrace is
reminiscent of a resort complete with a fitness center, cabana-style
beds, sweeping views, and poolside fire pits.
While long-time Walnut Creek residents may be stunned by the cost of living at new downtown residential developments, Josh and Julie Schaffer found their niche at AVE in a 686-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment for $3,000 a month. Besides an outdoor pool and fitness center, the deluxe residential community offers package delivery lockers, underground parking, plus access to bicycles. In non-covid times, yoga classes, barbecues, game nights, and holiday parties provided residents with ways to connect and socialize.
“We love Walnut Creek because of the downtown and the access to
recreational open space,” says Josh. “With
all the trees, it’s like the town in France where Julie is from. We looked at places in Oakland and Emeryville, but once you’re on the other side of the Caldecott
Tunnel, it’s a different world.”
The Schaffers, who moved to Walnut Creek from Europe three years ago, love the cosmopolitan yet safe vibe. “We walk everywhere, to the farmers’ market, restaurants, the post office, everything is close by.” With its easy access to BART and only one car, AVE's prime location was the main selling point for the Schaffers, who toured all of the new apartment buildings in town. Another big perk is the washer-dryer unit neatly tucked into a closet —a convenience Julie says other apartments did not offer.
Residents at AVE include millennials like the Schaffers, as well as down-sized empty nesters who appreciate its pet-friendly policies. Athletes and business travelers take advantage of the fully-furnished units that can be rented for 30 days or longer.
The Schaffers, who moved here to be close to Josh’s family in Orinda, hope to buy a house in Walnut Creek someday when they start a family. “For now, it’s the right amount of space for what we need,” says Julie. “Not more, not less.”(Note: Since posting this story, we learned the Schaffer's recently moved to NYC.)