Nearly 20 years ago, Midtown resident Sylvia Gartner went to a city council meeting, waved a paper bag and said, "If I can't put something in here and take it home, it shouldn't be in the shopping center."
Her gesture was part of the Midtown Residents Association's effort to prevent the shopping area from being filled with computer startups or dot-com businesses. Gartner said that those didn't help the area, and the MRA wanted the shopping center to be "neighborhood-serving," Gartner said.
This focus on residential life is key to the culture of Midtown, which extends from Oregon Expressway to Loma Verde Avenue and Alma Street to West Bayshore Road.
Just ask the residents. Kerry Kenny moved to Midtown as a child in 1982 and lived there until college. As an adult with her own children, she moved back in 2005.
"We love being able to walk to get a great cup of coffee in the morning, ice cream in the evening, but also have the serenity of the quiet streets and lovely parks in the neighborhood," she said.
Affordability is another major selling point. Connie Butner arrived in 1993 lured by the lower prices and good schools, which she said is a draw for young families.
"We were attracted to the fantastic schools in the area, like Palo Verde and Gunn," she said. "This has a great community feel and most people know everyone else and want to help. It's the perfect place for us."
The Midtown Residents Association has focused on preserving the neighborhood feel that sets the area apart. Gartner was a founding member in 1994.
"We were all concerned about how Midtown was starting to look really ragged with businesses closed in the shopping district and boarded windows. So we all met at what is now Mike's Cafe and agreed that we needed to form an association to see what we could do to prevent the deterioration of our neighborhood," she said.
In addition to successfully asking the city council to keep the shopping district strictly commercial, members hold monthly meetings and block parties and threw their 10th annual ice cream social in September.
Much has changed since 1994 though, Gartner said, and not all for the better. Once known for its Eichlers -- homes with open floor plans and glass doors -- Midtown has gone through heavy renovation.
"So many people seem to want to buy up smaller houses and tear them up and make it almost unrecognizable from what it was before," Gartner said. "Things keep coming and going and now we have a couple karate studios and exercise places and sandwich places. I remember when there was Bergman's shopping mall. I really miss it."
On the other hand, Kenny said the renovations are an improvement, calling the mix of new homes and Eichlers "eclectic" and praising the expanded shopping center.
Jill Matzke, who moved to Midtown in 1995, said the development makes the area more attractive for new residents and loves the local Hoover, Greer and Mitchell parks.
"There's such a sense of safety, and we're a true residential neighborhood with a vibrant community. The neighborhood is full of life with children and the next generation moving in," Matzke said.
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 (moved to 3850 Middlefield Road during rebuilding)
LOCATION: between Oregon Expressway and Loma Verde Avenue, Alma Street and West Bayshore Road
NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION: Sheri Furman, 650-856-0869, firstname.lastname@example.org, 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