What drew Karen Lawrence in 1981 to the large Midtown neighborhood is its small-town feel.
Defined as the area from Oregon Expressway south to Loma Verde Avenue (east of Middlefield) and from Oregon Expressway south to East Meadow (west of Middlefield) and from Alma Street to Highway 101, Midtown encompasses two shopping areas, three parks and five elementary schools. But for Lawrence, the best part is bumping into her neighbors while running errands.
"I love being able to walk to the grocery store or ice cream store and bump into people from the neighborhood. It's a great way to stay connected," she said.
Sheri Furman, chair of the Midtown Residents Association (MRA), who has lived in the area since 1976, said the shopping center is what sets Midtown apart from other neighborhoods.
"It should be a model for an ideal neighborhood shopping center," Furman said. "It has a great variety of interesting stores that are still neighborhood-friendly."
The importance of neighborhood camaraderie has not diminished over the years. As Midtown continually becomes more diverse "in every way: race, occupation, age, income level," Peggy Kenny, a resident since 1983, said, neighbors continue to make an effort to get to know one another.
"There has been a change in the neighborhood," Kenny said.
Lawrence agrees. "Small ranch homes have been torn down to make room for bigger homes, and we have lost some family-owned businesses such as Midtown Pharmacy, but the feel of the neighborhood remains the same."
One of the neighborhood association's largest priorities is integrating both old and new residents.
"It's a challenge to keep track of people moving in and out," Ashton said. "But we make a large effort for neighbors to meet neighbors. We try to maintain the old-fashioned ideals of Palo Alto, having a sense of community and keeping people connected and informed." The neighborhood association is now implementing a system in which each block has a coordinator to connect neighbors.
The most-anticipated neighborhood event is the annual ice cream social that takes place every September. City council and school-board candidates scoop ice cream at the social and get to know residents, and answer any questions.
"There are all sorts of neighborhood delights and treats in Midtown," Ashton said.
Even though the neighborhood is so large, the Midtown Residents Association continues to make a great effort since it began in 1994 to bring local news to the neighborhood. The association has general meetings four to six times a year, sends out an e-newsletter weekly and a printed newsletter twice a year.
"Since people are so busy, we try to provide multiple ways for them to receive local news," Lawrence said.
Yet no matter how many changes the neighborhood undergoes, residents said its friendly atmosphere has not changed.
"Midtown has a dynamic balance of continuity and change," Lawrence said. "The neighborhood continues to go slowly upscale with the addition of larger homes and new shops, and traffic also continues to increase," she said. "But once I get home, it feels the same as it did 26 years ago."
CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS: Grace Lutheran Preschool, 3149 Waverley St.; Love'n'Care Christian Preschool, 2490 Middlefield Road; Mini Infant Center of Palo Alto, 3149 Waverley St.; Ohlone Kids' Club (PACCC), 950 Amarillo Ave.; Palo Alto Friends Nursery School, 957 Colorado Ave.
FIRE STATION: No. 4, 3600 Middlefield Road
LIBRARY: Mitchell Park branch, 3700 Middlefield Road
NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION: Sheri Furman, 650-856-0869, www.midtownresidents.org.
PARKS: Greer Park, 1098 Amarillo Ave.; Hoover Park, 2901 Cowper St.; Seale Park, 3100 Stockton Place
POST OFFICE: Cambridge, 265 Cambridge Ave.; Main, 2085 E. Bayshore Road
PRIVATE SCHOOLS: Keys School, 2890 Middlefield Road; HeadsUp! Emerson School, 2800 W. Bayshore Road
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: El Carmelo, Fairmeadow, Hoover, Ohlone and Palo Verde elementary schools; J. L. Stanford Middle School; Gunn or Palo Alto high schools
SHOPPING: Midtown Shopping Center, Middlefield Road and Colorado Avenue; also Middlefield Road at Loma Verde Avenue
MEDIAN 2008 HOME PRICE: $1,390,000 ($720,000-$2,721,750)
HOMES SOLD: 66
MEDIAN 2008 CONDO PRICE: $474,575 ($415,000-$725,000)
CONDOS SOLD: 11