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Downtown North


Downtown North, Palo Alto's northernmost neighborhood, is also one of its oldest. Soon after Palo Alto began as an offshoot of Stanford University in the 1890s, the town was dry, and a trolley ran up University Avenue.

Much has changed since the post-World War II downtown developed into a Norman Rockwell-esque landscape of creameries, movie houses and five-and-dimes. Instead of Woolworth's, today you can find an Apple store, an icon of Silicon Valley, along a bustling main street.

Downtown North is bounded by the meandering San Francisquito Creek on the north, University Avenue on the south and tucked between Alma Street and Middlefield Road.

By the end of the 1920s the neighborhood was built out, according to Palo Alto Historian Steven Staiger. Vestiges of the old blue-collar populace still remain in the smaller properties and houses designed like cottages or bungalows. Houses are built closer to the sidewalks, porches sit out front, the driveways off to the side — encouraging neighborly interaction. A few larger rebuilt houses and apartment complexes represent the current need and development for the growing town.

Jeanese Snyder, whose children will be the family's fifth generation to grow up in her Downtown North house, has seen the town shift from small town to urban center. Gone is the "slower-pace" that Snyder refers to when people used to fish and inner tube down San Francisquito Creek or when her grandmother actually used to hose down the dirt road outside their house.

"Growing-up [in the 70s we thought we lived in the most boring town there was because University Avenue closed up. I mean we road our bikes downtown at night because nothing was open," she said.

The largest sore spot for Downtown North is its parking and traffic situation, Staiger said. Commuters drive through Downtown North to get to Stanford or use its residential areas for parking while working around University Avenue. And the closer a resident lives to University Avenue, the bigger traffic and parking hassles are.

The city has implemented a combination of traffic-slowing techniques such as no-turn signs and traffic circles, which provide some relief to the ongoing situation, though parking still remains troublesome.

But the inconveniences are easily offset by Downtown North's proximity to everything, residents say.

Darel and Elu Chapman and their three young boys live in a house built in the 1910s next to the creek, on Palo Alto Avenue. Elu Chapman said she "wouldn't trade anything for the convenience." They moved into their house in 2002 and are part of a shift from older residents to more families and children in the area.

Within walking distance are Stanford events, such as fireworks and public lectures, as well as the annual May Fete Parade and Palo Alto Festival of the Arts on University Avenue, the downtown farmers' market and even Sunset Magazine.

"At work ... it's fast-paced tech, and I come home and it's almost like a step back into the '50s or the '20s and it's green and it's older and I know people. It's quite a contrast actually," Darel Chapman said.


CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS (AND NEARBY): Discovery Children's House — Montessori, 437 Webster St.; Downtown Children's Center, 555 Waverley St.; First School, 625 Hamilton Ave.

FIRE STATION: No. 1, 301 Alma St.

LIBRARY: Downtown branch, 270 Forest Ave.

NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION: Dan Lorimer, 650-322-5566

PARKS: Cogswell Plaza, Lytton Avenue between Ramona and Bryant streets; El Camino Park, 100 El Camino Real; El Palo Alto Park, Alma Street at El Camino Real; Hopkins Creekside Park, Palo Alto Avenue from El Camino Real to Middlefield Road; Johnson Park, Everett Avenue and Waverley Street

POST OFFICE: Hamilton, 380 Hamilton Ave.

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

SHOPPING: University Avenue, Stanford Shopping Center

MEDIAN 2008 HOME PRICE: $1,595,000 ($899,000-$3,800,000)


MEDIAN 2008 CONDO PRICE: $1,120,000 ($775,000-$1,395,000)


View the neighborhood map (PDF)

— Kris Young

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Like this comment
Posted by Steve Frankel
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 1, 2010 at 8:54 pm

The map of Downtown North is missing Bryant Court. It is the only alley in the neighborhood where houses front onto an alley, making it unique. How it was missed is surprising. It runs for one block from Waverley to Bryant, midway between Everett and Hawthorne.

Like this comment
Posted by Public streets
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 1, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Downtown north should also be remembered as the only neighborhOod in the city that almost suceeded in turning it's public streets into a private enclave. Shockingly the city council did not succumb to pressure from the neighborhood NIMBYists and the self-serving plan was abandoned.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 4, 2010 at 3:53 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Neighborhoods that want to become private should be required to buy back their quasi private streets and also pay for improvements to alternate rights of way to accommodate this displaced traffic.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 4, 2010 at 3:12 pm

"Neighborhoods that want to become private should be required to buy back their quasi private streets and also pay for improvements to alternate rights of way to accommodate this displaced traffic."

It follows you believe that neighborhoods full of cul-de-sac streets, like south PA, should cut those de-facto private streets open to allow through traffic, right? Or does ad-hoc libertarianism ends at one's own front yard?

Like this comment
Posted by Steve Frankel
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 20, 2010 at 7:47 pm

It seems ignorance of history has resulted in some misguided statement about the intent of the Downtown North Traffic Calming demonstration. Private streets was never the intent or desire of the residents. From the late 1970's the City recognized a problem with cut-thru (non-resident) traffic. After city-funded studies and traffic calming design options were presented, the road closures were implemented on a temporary basis. They did indeed reduce cut-thru traffic, but some residents did not agree with the limit these measures placed on their own access. Most all of the barricades were removed. Road closures are used to control traffic in other Palo Alto neighborhoods. College Terrace has many roads closed to thru traffic. This was one of the considerations in the Downtown North selection of road closures for traffic calming.

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