Palo Alto Centennial
Publication Date: Wednesday, April 13, 1994

Two towns are better than one

by Don Kazak

If not for Mayfield, there might not have been a Palo Alto, at least in the way we know it. But since there was a Palo Alto, eventually there was no Mayfield, except in memory.

The town of Mayfield, centered in what is now the California Avenue business district, predated Palo Alto by some 40 years, being established in 1855. In fact, the original name of the College Terrace part of Mayfield was Palo Alto, until Senator Leland Stanford heard about it and had it changed.

Senator Stanford, after he decided to turn his horse farm into a university, met with Mayfield leaders in 1886 to discuss his plans for the university. He told them that his university would need a nearby town for its needs, and Mayfield was the closest town. But, he added, he didn't like the dozen saloons that had given Mayfield a somewhat unsavory reputation and suggested that they be closed.

The saloon owners won out, their establishments remained open, and Stanford went on to build his university and encourage the development of a new town, Palo Alto, north of Mayfield. Stanford thought so highly of Mayfield that he locked the gate from Escondido Road into Mayfield and kept it locked until 1913.

Symbolically and realistically cut off from Stanford, Mayfield suffered while its upstart neighbor, Palo Alto, prospered. When the Mayfield city officials finally outlawed the saloons in 1905, the town's reputation improved. As Palo Alto and Mayfield started growing toward each other, talk began of annexation.

The issue was hotly debated in the newspapers of that time, the Mayfield News and the Palo Alto Times. On Oct. 8, 1924, Mayfield voters rejected annexation by 26 votes. On May 8, 1925, however, annexation won at the Mayfield polls by a 69-vote margin, setting the stage for Palo Alto voters to follow suit.

In the two months between the Mayfield and Palo Alto annexation elections the newspapers were full of letters to the editor and editorials on the subject.

Editorial headlines included "Don't Get Wild Eyed," "Mayfield Ahead!" and "Every Contention one Side of the Mayfield Question Has Its Counter Statement on the Other."

"The Mayfield that seeks to be annexed to Palo Alto is not the Mayfield of 20 or 30 years ago with her wealth of saloons that period," noted a Times editorial from May 10, 1925. "It is rather a regenerated Mayfield that has long since abandoned her saloon-day past and walked straight . . . along the path of progressive development."

On July 2, 1925, Palo Alto voters overwhelmingly approved the annexation of Mayfield. After legal papers were filed with the state, the two communities were officially consolidated on July 6, 1925.

The Mayfield News trumpeted its displeasure four days later:

"It is with a feeling of deep regret that we see on our streets today those who would sell, or give, our beautiful little city to an outside community. We have watched Mayfield grow from a small hamlet, when Palo Alto was nothing more than a hayfield, to her present size . . . and it is with a feeling of sorrow that we contemplate the fact that there are those who would sell or give the city away."