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)
HOMES SOLD: 13
MEDIAN 2008 CONDO PRICE: $1,120,000 ($775,000-$1,395,000)
CONDOS SOLD: 11