Woodlake Apartments

1965 • San Mateo, CA

This 30-acre garden apartment complex was the result of a collaboration between developer Gerson Baker, architecture firm Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons, and Lawrence Halprin & Associates. Designed as an inclusive residential enclave, the development includes apartment buildings and townhouses constructed in five clusters around the edges of a rectangular parcel with a shopping center in the northwest corner. Each residential cluster features shared courtyards and a rectangular swimming pool. At the center of the property is a meandering lake with a fountain at its north end. The lake is surrounded by open lawns, curvilinear paths, benches, and mature trees. An amoeba-shaped swimming pool and recreation complex is located adjacent to the lake. Access roads and parking areas are confined to the periphery of the complex, making the interior more parklike and safer for pedestrians. Street trees surround the perimeter, separating the property from the contiguous streets and sidewalk.

Though no longer intact, the amoeba-shaped pool originally included a glass mosaic on its floor and an abstract sculpture that protruded from the water’s surface. Both elements were designed by Bay Area artist Ray Rice (who also collaborated on the Lehman garden a few years earlier).

Early view of Woodlake Apartments

Woodlake Apartments experienced years of neglect during the 1980s and 1990s, primarily due to deferred maintenance and a transitional tenant population. The community is currently undergoing a renaissance due to a newly active Tenants Association. In recent years the tenant population has begun to acknowledge the important role the landscape plays in creating a sense of community at the residential complex. A Landscape Committee and an Archive Committee have been formed, and a responsive management and maintenance team are in place. With the exception of some changes to the recreation area (a fence around the pool, and lap lanes where the Rice sculptures were once positioned) the park-like landscape that Halprin designed is essentially intact and is well-cared for.

The Tenants Association would do well to commission a Cultural Landscape Report (CLR) to ensure that future maintenance and improvements takes into account the historic designed landscape at Woodlake so that no further significant features are lost. A CLR would identify and evaluate the complex for historic and cultural significance, and provide guidance and recommendations for future treatment.  It would also lay the foundation for future listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Given that Capitol Towers in Sacramento was listed under the categories of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, it seems very likely that Woodlake would also be eligible, as the designers employed even more sophisticated site planning and garden design techniques at the San Mateo property.



Design Team

Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons (architects)


Condition Scale Condition: B
Good, but needs work

Info Scale Visibility: F


Info ScaleNational Register of Historic Places

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  • 900 Peninsula Ave
    San Mateo, CA 94401

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Featured Photographer

Caitlin Atkinson
Atkinson grew up in Nevada City, California, where the trees, mountains, and rivers instilled in her a love of all things natural. She studied photography at the California College of Arts in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her photographs have appeared in magazines, books, and exhibitions in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. When not photographing, you can find her in the garden and enjoying the outdoors.