|Fall Real Estate 2007
Publication Date: Friday, October 12, 2007
by Rotem Ben-Shachar
What drew Kathy Lawrence in 1981 to the large Midtown neighborhood is its small-town feel.
Defined as the area from Oregon Expressway south to Loma Verde Avenue, and from Alma Street to Highway 101, Midtown encompasses two shopping areas, three parks and five elementary schools. But for Lawrence, the best part is bumping into her neighbors while running errands.
"I love being able to walk to the grocery store or ice cream store and bump into people from the neighborhood. It's a great way to stay connected," she said.
Sheri Furman, president of the Midtown Residents Association, who has lived in the area since 1976, said the shopping center is what sets Midtown apart from other neighborhoods.
"It should be a model for an ideal shopping center," Furman said. "It has a great variety of interesting stores that are still neighborhood-friendly."
Peggy Kenny likes the combination of useful stores such as Palo Alto Hardware and Safeway, as well as restaurants such as Mike's Café and Café Sofia.
"It's fun to have a place close enough to walk to for lunch or dinner," said Kenny, a resident since 1983.
The shopping center also features public art projects that "represent the different parts of our constituency," Annette Ashton, former president of the neighborhood association, said. A local resident, Liz Lada, painted a mural about teenagers on the wall of Long's, located on Middlefield Road, near Colorado. Nearby is a poetry wall that contains five poems written by residents, and a mural on the back of TravelSmith by Greg Brown, who was awarded artist of the year by state senator Joe Simitian.
The neighborhood association urges residents to shop at Midtown and support local businesses, said Ashton, a resident since 1973.
Since the late 1960s residents have worked to keep local businesses in Midtown. Over 40 years ago, "residentialists" pressured the City Council to slow commercial growth in the area. Eventually, the council ruled that commercial developments in the southern half of the area must move within 15 to 30 years. But local support has prevented several businesses from leaving. Merchants gathered more than 6,000 signatures against the rezoning of the shopping complex on Loma Verde and Middlefield Road, featuring a liquor store, laundry services and a delicatessen in 1985.
The importance of neighborhood camaraderie has not diminished over the years. As Midtown continually becomes more diverse "in every way: race, occupation, age, income level," Kenny said, neighbors continue to make an effort to get to know one another.
"There has been a change in the neighborhood," Kenny said.
Lawrence agrees. "Small ranch homes have been torn down to make room for bigger homes, and we have lost some family-owned businesses such as Midtown Pharmacy, but the feel of the neighborhood remains the same."
Kimberly Larzelere, who has lived in the neighborhood for only four months, has been amazed by how friendly and conscientious the neighbors are.
"Midtown has an enormously welcoming community feel. Neighbors have constantly come by and introduced themselves. Even for my teenage son, it has been so easy moving here, because the neighborhood teens have been so friendly," she said.
One of the neighborhood association's largest priorities is integrating both old and new residents.
"It's a challenge to keep track of people moving in and out," Ashton said. "But we make a large effort for neighbors to meet neighbors. We try to maintain the old-fashioned ideals of Palo Alto, having a sense of community and keeping people connected and informed." The neighborhood association is now implementing a system in which each block has a coordinator to connect neighbors.
The most-anticipated neighborhood event is the annual ice cream social that takes place in Seale Park every October. City council and school-board candidates scoop ice cream at the social and get to know residents, and answer any questions.
"There are all sorts of neighborhood delights and treats in Midtown," Ashton said.
Even though the neighborhood is so large, the Midtown Residents Association continues to make a great effort since it began in 1994 to bring local news to the neighborhood. The association meets once a quarter, sends out an e-newsletter twice a month, and a fiscal newsletter once a quarter.
"Since people are so busy, we try to provide multiple ways for them to receive local news," Lawrence said.
Recently, the association has focused on improving the neighborhood parks.
"We are so lucky to have such a huge amount of open space for residents to use," Furman said.
Hoover Park now includes bathrooms and new play equipment. But work continues to be done on the park to renovate pathways and replace irrigation systems.
Yet no matter how many changes the neighborhood undergoes, residents said its friendly atmosphere has not changed.
"Midtown has a dynamic balance of continuity and change," Lawrence said. "The neighborhood continues to go slowly upscale with the addition of larger homes and new shops, and traffic also continues to increase," she said. "But once I get home, it feels the same as it did 26 years ago."