Rancho Rinconada is a residential neighborhood in the eastern part of Cupertino, California. It is bordered by Saratoga Creek (just west of Lawrence Expressway), Stevens Creek Boulevard, Miller Avenue and Bollinger Road. Cupertino High School, Sedgwick Elementary School, and Hyde Middle School serve Rancho Rinconada.
The homes in Rancho Rinconada were originally low cost single-story houses built in the 1950s by builders Stern and Price. These ranch houses or “ranchos” were based on a Cliff May modular design and marketed under the name “Miracle House”. Similar projects were later undertaken in Palo Alto, CA and Long Beach, CA.
The modular construction and materials used were designed to keep the cost of construction to a bare minimum in order to produce a very affordable home. This modular design reduced materials and man hours to the point where a single home could be put up in a single day.
Since the Rancho Rinconada home residences lived outside of any city limits up until the 1990s and only subject to county regulations, modifications to the home were not tightly regulated as typically found within a city limit. Over the years, many homes in Rancho were remodeled or changed in some way, and much was done without regard to building codes or good building practices.
With the advent of the era for two income families came the need for two car garages, which became more prevalent in the 1960s. Rancho Rinconada homes were built with one-car car ports. More time saving kitchen appliances were going into kitchens. The 1970s brought the Microwave Oven in as a common kitchen appliance, but the Rancho kitchen was not designed with but a couple of low amp outlets connected to the other house’s outlets and a total of two electrical breakers for the whole house. Then computers and their peripherals came alone in the late 80s putting even more demand on a home’s electrical system for which Rancho homes were not designed.
As various city boundaries surrounded the county (Santa Clara County) pocket containing Rancho Rinconada, land values rose and its location relative to the high tech industry made it become a desirable location. Rancho Rinconada was no longer the blue collar rural community located among cherry orchards. It became a community located in the heart of the high tech industry explosion and surrounded by high tech growth and it’s highly educated white collar workers. But for a good part of the 1970s and 1980s it was a neighborhood in decline that facilitated a lot of undesirable activities.
But, residents of Rancho Rinconada’s had the privilege of a Cupertino mailing address, which by itself lends to higher land values than surrounding cities, and shared the acclaim of the famed Cupertino schools. As the high tech industry drew more and more Asian engineers and managers whose culture emphasizes education, Cupertino became a highly desirable area for them. Though not a part of the City of Cupertino, Rancho gave a low cost avenue for families to get their children into one of the very best school systems. Along with the strong desire to put their children in a good schools, these there often extended families that would live in the same household. Larger houses were needed for such families and Rancho was the place to get a larger housing at the cheapest price for the Cupertino schools.
By the mid 1990s, the value for the Rancho properties that had the original homes was now almost all in the land alone as the old Rancho homes held little value due to the nature of their cheap construction. The expense of bringing the old modular construction to modern standards had become cost prohibitive. Rather than do a major remodel, it was simply cheaper to tear the old Rancho home down and rebuild from scratch. Building from scratch gave the builder more flexibility in what to build and gave one a better built house to meet modern standards.
By the mid 1990s many contractors, particularly some Asians ones, were knocking down the old Rancho buildings and building from scratch. And to get as much profit as possible from the property they would build as big as they could. This resulted in many newly built “Pink Mansions” of the two story 3,000 – 3,500 sq. ft. type on standard lots of 5,500 sq. ft.
Near the end of the 1990s, a portion of the neighborhood bordering San Jose along Lawrence Expressway was annexed by the city and contractors then began construction on large, executive style homes. Rancho Rinconada then became a target for wealthy Silicon Valley executives, as the county’s development laws, to which the rest of the neighborhood was subject, allowed remodeling or rebuilding a home up to the size of the largest home in the immediate area. Additionally, the county did not have community input or review of building plans. As a result, families employed in high-tech industries bought property in unincorporated Rancho Rinconada and demolished the existing houses to build new “monster houses“.
In March 1999, the residents of the unincorporated part of Rancho Rinconada voted to be annexed to Cupertino, with the promise of more restrictive property development procedures and improved services to the neighborhood. Later that month, the Cupertino City Council voted into law a bill that required neighborhood comment and reduced the percentage of a lot that could be covered by a building.
The “irrational exuberance” at the dawn of the new millennium brought another paradigm shift in the remodeling and construction of homes in the Rancho Rinconada neighborhood. Not only were large homes being built, but high-end materials, fixtures and appliances were incorporated to market as executive homes for high income families. Though there were restrictions put in place that reduced the percentage of the lot that could be built above ground, the contractors went underground building underground living space to maintain a large available living space for an executive class home.
As one meanders through the Rancho Rinconada neighborhood in the summer of 2010 enjoying the shade of the mature street trees, one might marvel at the eclectic group of homes from the old cheaply built Rancho home of the 1950s that still stand to the high-end executive homes of the 2000s that make up what is known a Rancho Rinconada of Cupertino, CA
The neighborhood is bordered by the West San Jose neighborhood to the east and south, central Cupertino to the west, and the city of Santa Clara to the north.