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

A portrait of Palo Alto

by Paul Gullixson

Picking the right photo to feature on the cover of our 84-page special Centennial publication was a task more formidable than I ever envisioned. But then, so was just about every other aspect of this project.

Our design director, Carol Hubenthal, presented us with an array of mock-up book covers, all compelling images of Palo Alto's past. One was of the Toonerville Trolley on University Avenue. Another was of locomotives at the train station. Still another was of the ornate fountain once found in "The Circle" at the end of University Avenue.

We also looked at collages that included all the above. All the covers said something. But, at first glance, none said it all.

At that point we found ourselves re-examining what this publication was all about. This discussion, in short order, brought us to the photo you see today, one Carol had preferred all along, one I call "Tribute to the unknown May Fete parader."

This black-and-white photo, hand-colored by Peninsula artist Geoffrey Nelson, came from the files of the Palo Alto Historical Association. Nothing was left to give us a clue about the name of this boy or those around him. We're not even sure what year it was taken.

But in our view, no picture better conveys what Palo Alto is celebrating this year.

Palo Alto's history is not a story about buildings or streetcars. It's about people. It's the story of a host of individuals who have contributed to the evolution of a city that, after 100 years, is widely respected for its sense of community.

This is also a story about children. Beginning with the construction of Palo Alto's first schoolhouse--a two-room shack built quickly on Bryant Street in 1893--the city has maintained a keen interest in its youth and their future. This continued over the years with the creation of Palo Alto's playgrounds, libraries, and such community institutions as the Children's Theatre, the Junior Museum and, of course, the May Fete celebration, with its humble beginnings as a pet parade in 1921.

This photograph offers these elements and more.

Knowing the names and the year this was taken became almost inconsequential. With few changes, this was a picture that could have been taken at any time, just as easily in 1934 as 1994. This, it seems, is the picture that Palo Alto set out long ago to create of itself.

The next chore was determining what should come after the cover of "Palo Alto: The first 100 years." But in fact the bulk of the contents of this book had already been determined for us, thanks to the foresight of some individuals at the Palo Alto Weekly long ago.

This project really began on July 3, 1985, when the Weekly published a special section called "Old News" that focused on Palo Alto's and Menlo Park's history prior to 1906.

The following year, the section covered the time period from 1906 to 1920. Then, with each ensuing year, the Weekly focused its special section on a new decade, with the idea that the city's entire history would be covered in time for Palo Alto's Centennial celebration in 1994.

What you see today is the culmination of those efforts.

Given that most of these stories are being reprinted from past editions--with some editing and additions--you may recognize bylines of writers and editors who have long since moved on from the Weekly. They are clearly as deserving of recognition now as those who were on staff at the completion of this nine-year project.

As for those who did shoulder the burden of producing this book, the credit belongs to three people in particular: Associate Editor Elizabeth Howton, who led the campaign in gathering the material and making sure that somehow it all came together in a readable format; Carol Hubenthal, who is responsible for the cover design, layout and classic look of the pages within; and Marketing Director Lisa Van Dusen, who championed the ad sales effort needed for this.

We also give special recognition to Palo Alto historian Steve Staiger and the Palo Alto Historical Association, two treasured resources. In addition to providing us with the majority of the photographs used here, they have been critical in the research of these stories over the years.

Our goal has been to provide readers with an easy-to-read overview of the city's transformation during its first 100 years as well as some insight into the people responsible for the city's growth. But we also recognize the book's limitations. This is not a comprehensive examination of the city's past. For that we recommend the recently released book by the Palo Alto Historical Association and historian Ward Winslow.

In our publication, we offer some historical highlights, some profiles and numerous anecdotes about Palo Alto life as told by some of the city's longtime residents. These are merely intended to be what they are--a parade of memories.

After all this, the book ends much as it begins--with a look at a Palo Alto youth. This is in the form of a column written by a high school student who offers her own portrait of Palo Alto, one she hopes will continue for the decades to come.

Congratulations, Palo Alto, on your 100th birthday. This is our gift.