"You're in the middle of three cities, but you still have a little piece of land back by the creek where you feel you're in the country," Deolinda Avila said of Monroe Park, which she has called her home since 1968.
Monroe Park is a small, quiet area at the southernmost tip of Palo Alto, roughly bounded by Adobe Creek, the railroad tracks, and El Camino Real. There are no sidewalks on Monroe Drive, the main road that runs in a circular loop, and numerous trees mark it as a calm enclave despite its proximity to the El Camino commercial zone.
Monroe Park is best described as a neighborhood on the margins. "We're really a three-city neighborhood: residents of Palo Alto and Mountain View who go to Los Altos schools," said Linnea Wickstrom, a resident since 1974.
The odd location of Monroe Park has created a variety of peculiar issues for its Palo Alto residents, who have decided to step up and create a homeowners' association.
"We're considered fringe by Palo Alto, and by Los Altos. I don't know that Mountain View knows we exist," said Wickstrom, who helped organize support for the group, which will provide a way for Monroe Park residents to act as their own advocates.
At times it's easy to forget that part of Monroe Drive is technically in Mountain View, said Pat Rotondo, who moved to the neighborhood in 2005. "It doesn't dawn on you until you notice these subtle little things. The garbage people and the mail truck turn around at my house. It's kind of amusing."
Jonathan Luk, another relative "newcomer," didn't realize Los Altos was the local school district at first, but "both school districts are really excellent, so we weren't really concerned," he said.
Complications occasionally arise when children are denied admission into Los Altos recreational programs, such as Girl Scout troops, Wickstrom said.
Another drawback of Monroe Park's situation beside El Camino is its proximity to the commercial zone and high-density housing, which are constantly being shifted and redeveloped on the neighborhood's edges.
But Wickstrom assures that "none of the high-density housing built on El Camino directly encroaches on the neighborhood. One advantage of being a little bit insular is that not a lot of things can be built back in here."
Houses have been coming up within the neighborhood lately, adding to the eclectic look of Monroe Drive, where small, decades-old bungalows stand beside brand-new, two-story houses. The area is still considered more affordable than most other parts of Palo Alto.
Single-family homes still dominate the area, but the residents come from many different walks of life, some long-ago retired and others raising young children.
"The city park gives a central point to the residents," Wickstrom said. "There are people circulating around the community all the time."
"Everyone's always walking their babies and dogs around," Luk, who now has three children under the age of 6, said.
Avila, whose extended Portuguese family settled in Monroe Park even earlier, believes that although some of the neighborhood faces may have changed, the basic feel of the area has not.
"It's still a close, secluded world here, away from the noise and the traffic."
CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS (NEARBY): Growing Tree Montessori Preschool, 450 W. Charleston Road
FIRE STATION: No. 5, 600 Arastradero Road
LIBRARY: Mitchell Park branch, 3700 Middlefield Road
NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION: Monroe Park Neighborhood Association, Linnea Wickstrom, president, 650-941-1143
PARKS: Monroe Mini Park, Monroe Drive and Miller Avenue
POST OFFICE: Cambridge, 265 Cambridge Ave.
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Los Altos School District — Santa Rita School, Egan Junior High School; Mtn. View-Los Altos Union High School District — Los Altos High School
SHOPPING: San Antonio Shopping Center
MEDIAN 2008 HOME PRICE: $1,205,000 ($1,089,000-$1,440,000)
HOMES SOLD: 5
MEDIAN 2008 CONDO PRICE: $869,000
CONDOS SOLD: 1