Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - September 2, 2011

Professorville

Historic homes in a walkable, bikeable neighborhood

by Casey Moore

Named for the Stanford professors who originally congregated there in the 1890s, Professorville is known for its 100-year-old late Victorian homes, arching oak trees and proximity to downtown. As Palo Alto's oldest residential neighborhood, the area even boasts national recognition as an official Historic District.

"We just liked the feel of the neighborhood," said longtime resident Ruth Letts of her family's thoughts upon moving into their Lincoln Avenue home 39 years ago. "It was very unpretentious. ... The warmth of the neighborhood just felt right, and it continues to feel right."

Bordered by Kingsley and Addison avenues and Cowper and Ramona streets, Professorville features a variety of turn-of-the-century architectural styles including Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, Craftsman Bungalows and Wood Shingle.

The neighborhood enjoys residential seclusion while sitting close to Town & Country Village, University Avenue and several public schools.

"You can click off anything and say, 'Yeah, I walk there,' even the train station," Letts said.

"Everyone seems to walk or ride bikes, which helps you get to know your neighbors," said Megan Barton, who moved to Professorville with her family in 2007.

In recent years, the walkability to downtown has created severe parking problems. Commuters, eager to take advantage of the lack of a time limit, pack Ramona and Bryant streets bumper-to-bumper during work hours.

Residents are left with limited street-side parking options — a serious issue, since many of the older homes were built without garages.

Similarly, "Lincoln's kind of a thoroughfare now," Letts said. "When we moved in, it was very quiet."

The neighborhood has experienced significant change during the last decade, according to Palo Alto historian Steve Staiger.

Letts remembers watching her Lincoln Avenue neighbors transition from predominantly families to older, retired empty-nesters. But the area has recently attracted many families with young children, reinvigorating the gentrified atmosphere.

"There's this new surge of energy," Letts said. "It's all good stuff, it really is."

"I feel like the older neighbors socialize wonderfully with those of us that are younger or have younger families," Barton said.

Even a short walk through the neighborhood reveals the juxtaposition of old and new. After passing several traditional houses, a new-construction home can suddenly appear, jarring the landscape.

Residents who wish to renovate or rebuild their houses often experience opposition from the Palo Alto Historical Review Board (HRB), who seek to maintain the historic status of the area. One couple recently spent three years and $500,000 fighting the HRB for the right to demolish their Lincoln Avenue home.

Despite the headaches of the permit process, most residents support the efforts to maintain the traditional look and feel of Professorville, Letts said.

"We really appreciate the people that come in and keep the integrity of the houses," she said. "No two houses are alike."

It was this protectiveness that motivated Palo Alto residents to unify to save Professorville in the 1970s from a proposed 18-story health center. Letts and Barton agreed that the community is still strong today.

"We take care of each other's children, pets, share meals," Barton said.

"It's the old borrowing the sugar, borrowing the egg," Letts explained.

FACTS

CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS (NEARBY): Addison Kids' Club, 650 Addison Ave.; Downtown Child Care Center — CCLC, 848 Ramona St.; The Learning Center, 459 Kingsley Ave.; Downtown Children's Center, 555 Waverley St.

FIRE STATION: No. 1, 301 Alma St., and No. 3, 799 Embarcadero Road

LIBRARY: Downtown branch, 270 Forest Ave.

LOCATION: bounded by Kingsley and Addison avenues from Cowper to Ramona streets

PARKS: Scott Street Mini Park, Scott Street and Channing Avenue; Heritage Park, Homer Avenue and Waverly Street

POST OFFICE: Hamilton, 380 Hamilton Ave.

PRIVATE SCHOOL (NEARBY): Castilleja School, 1310 Bryant St.

PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Addison Elementary School, Jordan Middle School, Palo Alto High School

SHOPPING: University Avenue; Town & Country Village

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