"We wanted a place where the kids could play and meet neighbors, and Monroe circle is perfect for that," Hollie Halpin said. "The goal was to get into a neighborhood, a school district, a community, and bring the kids all the way through."
Having moved into their two-story, four-bedroom home in mid-February, the Halpins are still getting to know Monroe Park and its surroundings.
The park itself, a small, gently sloping plot marked by a swing-set and a pair of benches, serves as a centerpiece for the neighborhood and is the popular destination of many a late-afternoon and evening stroll. The Halpins, who live nearby, have taken to going there every night after dinner. They often encounter other denizens of Monroe Park, who are all too happy to help the couple become better acquainted with the area.
Framed by Adobe Creek to the west, El Camino Real to the south, Del Medio Avenue to the east and railroad tracks to the north, Monroe Park is divided along a zigzagging northeast-southwest axis that distinguishes Palo Alto residents from their Mountain View neighbors. As 36-year veteran Linnea Wickstrom puts it, Monroe Park is "a border state."
Wickstrom estimates that approximately 250 houses occupy Monroe Park, with 110 on the Palo Alto side. Small lots typically go for $800,000 to $900,000, while bigger houses often sell for $1.6 million to $1.8 million, said Wickstrom, who is president of the local homeowners' association.
Asked to describe the character of their neighborhood, the word residents most often invoke is "eclectic."
A stroll around the Monroe Drive loop reveals quaint bungalows nestled beside towering two-story Mission-style homes, in a subdued, earthy palette of greens, browns, beiges and teals. Small details, like wood-paneled garage doors, bright window frames and rustic roof shingles, lend each home a distinct and quietly surprising air.
But carpentry alone cannot account for the quirky aesthetic of Monroe Park, whose well-manicured lawns are a spectacle unto themselves. In the springtime, vibrant poppies, azaleas, Irish bells and birds of paradise accentuate wrought-iron gates, cobblestone pathways and arched trellises. Large firs shade the roadway, with the occasional cactus or palm tree providing deliberate, yet casual flair.
Nancy and Randy Popp moved to the neighborhood from Mountain View 15 years ago, expecting to only stay for five — but the neighborhood charmed them, the couple said. They decided to stay and raise their three young children in Monroe Park.
"There's a mix of new and old, it's not cookie cutter," Nancy said of the neighborhood's juxtaposition of housing models.
"The neighborhood's great, people are friendly," said Randy, adding, "The park is a really good neighbor. ... It's a catalyst for social interaction."
He recalled an event that, in his mind, typifies the character of the neighborhood — the day his children teamed up with kids next door to sell lemonade by the road, stopping bikers, drivers and pedestrians alike, who indulged their entrepreneurial urges.
"It's a kind of old Americana. It's been very nice for me," he said.
Considering the proximity of Monroe Park to the hectic climate of El Camino Real, that kind of full-bodied neighborhood milieu comes as a pleasant surprise to outsiders. But residents who live nearest to El Camino receive frequent reminders of its influence.
Last December, the city council approved a plan to redevelop the corner of El Camino and Monroe Drive, replacing the Palo Alto Bowl and Motel 6 with a Hilton Homewood Suites and 26 units of three-story, condominium-style housing.
Residents were concerned with increased traffic and parking overflow, and a series of negotiations ensued. Wickstrom said that while neighbors generally opposed zoning for regional retail, they were more amenable to developing the area for a hotel service.
"We acknowledged right up front we live 100 yards from a major commercial artery," Wickstrom said. "Everybody compromised a little bit."
As it turned out, Palo Alto Bowl and the Thai Garden restaurant got a reprieve, with a new lease signed through 2014.
But change is something neighborhood old-timers are all too familiar with. Knud Jensen, who moved to Monroe Park in 1959 with his wife Ellen, remembered when Monroe Park was lined with a few small homes and empty lots. He has watched neighbors come and go, and houses grow into gargantuan, impressive structures.
"The whole neighborhood has changed," he said, adding, "it has improved."
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CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS (NEARBY): Children's Corner, 97 Hillview Ave., Los Altos; Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School, 450 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto; Growing Tree Montessori Preschool, 450 W. Charleston Road, Palo Alto
FIRE STATION: No. 5, 600 Arastradero Road
LIBRARY: Mitchell Park branch, 3700 Middlefield Road
LOCATION: bounded by Adobe Creek, El Camino Real and Mountain View borders (near Silva Avenue)
NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION: Monroe Park Neighborhood Association, Linnea Wickstrom, president, email@example.com
PARKS: Monroe Mini Park, Monroe Drive and Miller Avenue
POST OFFICE: Cambridge, 265 Cambridge Ave.
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Los Altos School District — Santa Rita School, Egan Junior High School; Mtn. View-Los Altos Union High School District — Los Altos High School
SHOPPING: San Antonio Shopping Center