Although it's impossible to tell now, Palo Alto Orchards was an endless source of fruits. Just ask Larry Smith, who was born in Palo Alto in the 1940s and moved into the neighborhood in 1973.
"When I was a really little kid, there were a lot of apricots all over Palo Alto and adjacent communities," he said. "South Palo Alto was ... all filled with orchard trees."
Hidden between El Camino Real and Arastradero Road, Palo Alto Orchards is a patchwork-quilt of 1950s cottages, modern two-story houses and the towering Plaza International apartments. But the heart of Orchards territory is the cul-de-sacs that bear the names of the original developers — McKellar and Kelly construction firm — and their wives, Suzanne and Lorabelle.
In 1950 McKellar and Kelly were offering homeowners one-story homes with a choice of layout, for under $10,000.
The neighborhood demographic mainly consisted of young post-WWII veterans setting up house with housewives. A household that didn't consist of children was a rarity.
"It was a quiet, personable neighborhood with a lot of kids," Smith said. "The kids are all grown now, but there is a new generation of kids."
Although the demographic of the neighborhood hasn't shifted much, Smith pointed out that the houses certainly have. "Over 30 years, I haven't noticed a significant change," he said, "but when I walk around to adjacent streets, there are a lot of big, oversized, almost garish homes going in.
"They sort of look like Donald Trump is moving in," he added with a laugh.
Lisa Michael, who moved here in 1995, was drawn in by the lead-to-nowhere streets. She wanted her own house where she could raise a 5-year-old girl. She noticed how close Suzanne Drive was to shopping on El Camino and other main roads. Yet, the area seemed untouched by noisy traffic.
"It's all dead ends," Michael said. "So, no one's driving through there unless they want to be in the neighborhood. The streets are very wide. There's a very open feeling to it."
Just outside of the neighborhood lies Juana Briones Park. Residents of all ages are delighted about the facelift on the 4.1 acres of open space. The renovation includes rebuilt pathways, new furniture and playground equipment. Michael is glad there's now a play area for older kids, like her 8-year-old son.
Getting to the park, however, may be difficult. No longer a little two-lane road, the Charleston/Arastradero corridor has long been a pedestrian-safety concern as cars speed between El Camino and Highway 280. Residents heading to the park or bus stop must walk a block to the nearest traffic light and then back-track.
Henry Lum, former chair of the Palo Alto Orchards Neighborhood Association, said he has seen the elderly scurry — sometimes with strollers — as fast as they can across the street. He and other residents continue to push for another crosswalk with regulatory lights or at least visible signage.
Besides staying on top of landscape issues, the association has spent the last few years stirring up more neighborly socializing. Block parties and occasional neighborhood gatherings, sometimes at Independence Day and Labor Day, have become a regular and beloved occurrence.
CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS: Palo Alto Montessori School, 575 Arastradero Road; Young Life Christian Pre-School, 687 Arastradero Road
FIRE STATION: No. 5, 600 Arastradero Road
LIBRARY: Mitchell Park branch, 3700 Middlefield Road
NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION: John Spiller, firstname.lastname@example.org
PARKS: Juana Briones Park, 609 Maybell Ave.; Terman Park, 655 Arastradero Road
POST OFFICE: Cambridge, 265 Cambridge Ave.
PRIVATE SCHOOL: Bowman International School, 4000 Terman Road
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Juana Briones Elementary School, Terman Middle School, Gunn High School
SHOPPING: El Camino Real, San Antonio Shopping Center
MEDIAN HOME PRICE (2007): $1,959,000 ($1,636,000-$2,200,000) — none sold in 2008
HOMES SOLD (2007): 4
MEDIAN 2008 CONDO PRICE (NEARBY): $495,000 ($388,000-$600,000)
CONDOS SOLD: 5