Real Estate


Faculty have left, history remains in this island of tradition

"These early homes survived the great earthquake of 1906, and today constitute the largest neighborhood of its kind in the mid-peninsula area."

So reads the commemorative rock resting inconspicuously beside the Lincoln Avenue sidewalk, right in the heart of Professorville, one of Palo Alto's oldest residential areas.

Resident Sandy Peters stooped to make out the lettering on the dark, bronze plaque.

"Hmm. I've never noticed that before," Peters said. She moved into the area in the 1970s, just after the neighborhood's historic houses had survived yet another threat.

Professorville, named for the period when it housed a large portion of Stanford University's faculty, had been seriously considered for the site of a proposed 18-story city hospital.

In anticipation of the project, the area was allowed to sink into a state of neglect, many residences being temporarily rented by groups of students, Peters said.

Concerned residents and preservationists banded together to protest the hospital, which was subsequently voted down. Since then, residents have made a habit of mustering local opposition to any threats the neighborhood might encounter.

"We've banded together only when we have had to fight a problem in the neighborhood," Peters said.

Professorville has since been registered as a national Historic District, and has retained a distinctly residential feel despite its proximity to downtown.

"Over the years, this area's become really gentrified," Peters said.

The neighborhood's core is bounded by Kingsley and Addison avenues from Cowper to Ramona streets and features a variety of traditional styles of architecture, including Craftsman, Shingle and Colonial Revival.

Residents share a common commitment to maintaining the overall look of the neighborhood as well as the upkeep of individual historic homes, Peters said. The Palo Alto Historical Review Board (HRB) encourages this perspective, and treats Professorville's history as a point of pride.

The same is true of local organizations dedicated to the history of the Palo Alto area. Once a year, the Palo Alto Stanford (PAST) Heritage presents homes that reach their centennial anniversary with an individualized plaque.

The neighborhood's front doors are littered with these small bronze ovals, which can be glimpsed from the street through the shade of dense tree growth and against dark shingles.

Professorville was also the original focus of the PAST Heritage Holiday Home Tour when it started more than 20 years ago, according to Peters.

The historic status of the area and certain individual houses can be the source of extra frustration for residents looking to renovate the exteriors of their homes or build additions, Peters said.

"I guess there are more hurdles you have to deal with," she said. These potentially include petitioning the Palo Alto Historic Review Board to review and approve construction plans.

But many residents have fought to maintain this high standard for neighborhood projects, fearing the encroachment of downtown office spaces and the parking dilemmas they have already caused.

Because many houses in Professorville were not originally built with garages, their owners have largely resorted to street-side parking.

At the same time, the absence of a time limit on these streets has attracted many who work downtown, causing Ramona and Bryant to be choked with cars parked bumper-to-bumper.

"It's getting to be a joke," Peters said. "If you pull away in the morning to do errands, you can just forget about parking when you get back."

Living so close to University still has its benefits, Peters said.

"I can walk to everything, and I'm a walker, so I love it. I think it's a wonderful advantage to live here," she said.

Sandra Tucher, who has lived there since 2005, agrees.

"It's very central, and everything seems very close and accessible," she said. "It seems like everything's just a bike ride away."

She also said that the proximity of downtown gives it a comfortable, urban feel.

"There's often just people circulating in the neighborhood," Tucher said. "It's nice to feel like it's frequented by lots of different people."

The nearby Heritage Park, itself only three years old, has become a destination for the neighborhood's families along with Addison Elementary School, she said.

Peters said the residents' tendency to take frequent strolls contributes to Professorville's neighborly atmosphere.

"There's a lot of sitting on porches and talking to neighbors," Peters said.

Community events tend to be exclusive to a particular area or group of friends, she said.

"There's a little dinner here, a little dinner there," Peters said.

Kelli Tomlinson, a friend of Tucher's, recounted, "One of our neighbors organized a little progressive dinner that moved down the street from one house to the next. And then there was a little tea party at Christmas."

On one street, two elementary-school-aged sisters send out hand-written bulletins featuring neighborhood updates, jokes and recipes.

Even Peters' cat, Noodles, "lives with everybody."

Yet some point to a divide between new residents with families and so called "old-timers" who have remained in the area for decades.

Jack Pfluke, who moved into his home on Kingsley in 1974, said he doesn't now feel a strong connection to other residents in the area.

"It's not a tight neighborhood, no. It was pretty tight when we moved in. But then as the older people moved out, that was never replaced," he said.

Professorville still manages to maintain the basic essence of a neighborhood, due, no doubt, to the aesthetic of the homes themselves.

"We have quite a span in the age range, but I have no qualms about going to a neighbor and asking for a cube of butter," Tucher said.

"I like the feel of the neighborhood," she added. "It's not overly manicured or coiffed. It's not too snipped and clipped."

Peters also values the beauty she encounters on her habitual walks around the area.

"All the homes are just so neat," she said.

Even the continuity of traditional styles can be pleasantly interrupted by a house painted an Easter-egg blue, for example.

"My favorite thing is Thanksgiving, when all the leaves on the ginkgo trees turn this bright yellow," Peters said. "They just fall like snow."


CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS (NEARBY): Addison Kids' Club, 650 Addison Ave.; Downtown Child Care Center <0x2014> CCLC, 848 Ramona St.; The Learning Center, 459 Kingsley Ave.

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

LIBRARY: Downtown branch, 270 Forest Ave.

PARKS: Scott Street Mini Park, Scott Street and Channing Avenue; Heritage Park, Homer Avenue and Waverley 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 Shopping Center

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