Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - April 2, 2010

Old Palo Alto

Historic, walkable, bike-able and beautiful

by Karla Kane

Gamble Garden, a 2.3-acre public oasis featuring diverse demonstration and formal gardens, educational programs and grand historic buildings, lies at the heart of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood.

A crown jewel of the city, the garden, residents say, is representative of the things they love about their neighborhood as a whole: beautiful architecture, lush, well-tended greenery and a friendly atmosphere.

Old Palo Alto, which stretches from Alma Street to Middlefield Road and between Embarcadero Road and the Oregon Expressway, is one of the city's wealthiest and most desirable, popular with such local celebrity Steves as footballer Steve Young and Apple honcho Steve Jobs. And despite the "old" name, another Steve, city historian Steve Staiger, said it isn't the oldest neighborhood in town, with its first homes not built until after the turn of the 20th century.

"I think Realtors gave it that name because it sounds cool," he said.

Though the appropriateness of its name may be up for debate, its reputation as a pleasant place to live is not.

"It's got a great urban canopy and a great neighborhood feel," Nadia Naik, founder of the recently created Old Palo Alto Neighborhood Association, said. "It's historic, walkable and bike-able."

Naik moved to the area from Boston four years ago and liked the quiet, tree-and-flower-filled atmosphere and "eclectic, hodgepodge" of houses, including Craftsman, Colonial, modern and Mediterranean-style homes.

Fellow resident Mary Haverstock has renovated her own house several times and currently resides in a Craftsman-style home.

"We tried to maintain some of the integrity of the original design," she said. "The housing styles of the neighborhood are a real mix, and I love that," she said.

Haverstock and her family made the decision to return to Palo Alto from San Francisco in 1994 and specifically chose Old Palo Alto because of the "beauty and charm of the area" and its family-friendly environment, including the excellent school system, she said.

Haverstock, who, like Naik, has kids in the local schools, which include Walter Hays and Addison elementary, said it has been ideal for bringing up her family. And, she said, "Four new families with small kids" have recently moved near her home on Byron Street, "which is a change."

Turnover that brings in new families and children to mix with the older, long-time population? "That's really fun," she said.

Daniel Garber, chair of the city's Planning and Transportation Commission, has called Old Palo Alto home since 1996. He said the neighborhood reminded him and his wife of the Midwestern communities they grew up in, and that his family has enjoyed many block parties over the years.

The central location, too, is an important feature for residents.

"It doesn't have many attractions, but it's close to Midtown and California Avenue," he said, and downtown is within reach as well.

"It's not always organized," but there is a friendly feel, with neighbors chatting and socializing often, Haverstock said, explaining that there is more block-to-block activity than an overarching neighborhood identity.

"It's the perfect amount of neighborhood involvement; we're not busybodies," she said, laughing.

"When I'm out and about, walking my dog, looking at the gardens and flowers, I meet people," she said. "It's a real community."

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FACTS

CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS (NEARBY): Neighborhood Infant-Toddler Center, 311 N. California Ave.; Walter Hays Kids' Club, 1525 Middlefield Road

FIRE STATION: No. 3, 799 Embarcadero Road

LIBRARY: Main Library, 1213 Newell Road

LOCATION: between Embarcadero Road and Oregon Expressway, Alma Street and Middlefield Road

NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION: Old Palo Alto Neighborhood Association (OPANA), Nadia Naik, nadianaik@gmail.com

PARKS: Bowden Park, Alma Street and California Avenue; Bowling Green Park, 474 Embarcadero Road; Kellogg Park, next to Bowling Green Park

POST OFFICE: Cambridge, 265 Cambridge Ave.

PRIVATE SCHOOL: Castilleja School, 1310 Bryant St.

PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Addison or Walter Hays elementary schools, Jordan Middle School, Palo Alto High School

SHOPPING: Town & Country Village; Midtown

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