Blossoming magnolia trees grace the streets, offering sweet fragrances in early spring. An abundance of multi-colored azaleas, hydrangeas, roses, daffodils and tulips decorate plush, well-manicured gardens.
The atmosphere is charmingly serene in Old Palo Alto, an area between Embarcadero Road and Oregon Expressway, Alma Street and Middlefield Road.
"It's such a beautiful place to live," long-time resident Judith Steiner said.
On par with Crescent Park as the wealthiest part of Palo Alto, Old Palo Alto boasts a wide range of architectural styles ranging from English traditional, Tudor, Moorish and Spanish Colonial to Post-Modern designs.
Historically, Old Palo Alto has been a neighborhood without tract housing. The area began developing in the 1900s. "It was a period of individually built homes," Beth Bunnenberg, archives chair of the Palo Alto Historical Association, said.
The practice of maintaining an area where no two homes look alike continues today. "What makes the neighborhood so rich is that it has all kinds of architecture and now houses are being built and they're quite exciting looking," Steiner said.
Rare in Palo Alto, homes in old Palo Alto occasionally can have one-acre lots and more than 4,000 square feet of living space. Old Palo Alto has become an area with larger homes in recent years with Silicon Valley wealthy moving in and building large homes, residents said.
"The reason we moved is because my husband always like this area, the quiet tree-lined streets," said Reena Bhargava, who moved with two children into the area four years ago. Her husband, a computer scientist, runs a start-up company in Palo Alto. "My home's got such an Old World-charm to it, it's absolutely captivating. I want to retain that charm and yet bring it to the 21st century," she said about her anticipated remodel. "We've got this old European garden on the side. There's a lot that's really old-fashioned and unique and so it's really charming."
While it's becoming increasingly difficult to buy into Old Palo Alto because of high real-estate prices, long-time resident William Hughes said that he's glad to see younger families with children moving in. "It makes the neighborhood far more appealing when there are small children around," he said.
Today many who've made it in Silicon Valley and beyond call Old Palo Alto home, including Apple Computer President Steve Jobs, former '49ers quarterback Steve Young and Google co-founder Larry Page.
The area has a low turnover rate. People either live in the area for a few years or they stay forever, Steiner said. She has lived in the area for nearly three decades.
Residents love Gamble Garden, one of the first homes built in the area in 1902. Gamble Garden and Bowling Green Park right next door are the only two open green spaces in the area. More than 30 years ago Elizabeth Gamble gave the 2.5-acre estate to the city.
Long-time resident Georgina Bailie helps grow seedlings in the Gamble greenhouse. The volunteers contribute the plants to children in East Palo Alto, and to the Community Association for Rehabilitation.
Residents feel comfortable jogging and walking around the neighborhood. It's also close enough to walk to downtown Palo Alto and to California Avenue, Bhargava said, and yet secluded enough to also have the feeling of living in a quiet corner of the world.
CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS (NEARBY): Neighborhood Infant-Toddler Center, 311 N. California Ave.; Walter Hays Kids' Club, 1525 Middlefield Road
FIRE STATION: No. 3, 799 Embarcadero Road
LIBRARY: Main Library, 1213 Newell Road
PARKS: Bowden Park, Alma Street and California Avenue; Bowling Green Park, 474 Embarcadero Road; Kellogg Park, next to Bowling Green Park
POST OFFICE: Cambridge, 265 Cambridge Ave.
PRIVATE SCHOOL: Castilleja School, 1310 Bryant St.
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Addison or Walter Hays elementary schools, Jordan Middle School, Palo Alto High School
SHOPPING: Town & Country Village; Midtown
MEDIAN 2008 HOME PRICE: $2,085,000 ($960,000-$7,800,000)
HOMES SOLD: 35