Several swings hang from the mature pines, oaks and Liquidambar trees that line short St. Claire Drive, horseshoe-shaped St. Michael Drive and the St. Michael Court cul-de-sac. Children's bicycles, Razor scooters and helmets lie in driveways. Occasionally, parents place a "Slow: Children at Play" sign right in the center of the road, slowing St. Claire Gardens traffic nearly to a stop.
"It's a great place to raise your kids," Nancy Baer, a resident for 19 years whose children are now in college, said.
Although the south-of-Midtown neighborhood is framed by the thoroughfares of Cowper Street and Middlefield Road, children on bicycles form the majority of the traffic here. The neighborhood layout and larger two-story homes seem to foster a stable, smaller-town atmosphere.
Developed in the 1950s by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, the larger, two-story homes with three to five bedrooms apiece were intended for large Catholic families. Most of the original families have come and gone, but after an era of quieter streets, the neighborhood now also houses a growing number of renters and families with children.
"We have a wonderful mixture of seniors and younger families," Alan Davis said. A fourth generation Palo Altan, he moved into his current home on St. Michael Drive in 1971 and has fond memories of raising his children in his five-bedroom home.
"It's nice for bigger families. … Most houses have at least four bedrooms," Ronna Edwards said. She recently moved with her husband and children to the neighborhood after a member of her church sent out an e-mail announcing a neighboring house was available. She was pleased to find St. Claire Gardens a "nice, safe neighborhood" with lots of youngsters available to be her children's playmates.
With JLS Middle School just blocks away via Cowper Street, schoolchildren meet to bicycle to class together each morning and return together each afternoon, Edwards said. Parents organize carpools and bicycle pools, and neighborhood kids organize parties. A neighborhood newsletter, written by some industrious young residents, may be in the works.
Fliers go out every year for a Labor Day potluck and barbecue tradition started by Davis' wife. A band and a fire truck enlivened last year's festivities, Davis said, and close to 200 people attended to socialize over plates of hot dogs and hamburgers. A policeman who came upon a neighborhood Independence Day parade last year joined the line of cars, sirens ablaze, and took a picture for St. Claire Gardens residents, Edwards added. Neighbors hosted a variety of carnival activities, ranging from the traditional bobbing for apples to hopping in a bounce house.
But it doesn't take a block party or parade to draw residents out of their homes and into the company of their neighbors, six-year resident Jennifer Donat said. Older residents walk their dogs along the sidewalk and remember to say hello to her children, now in high school and elementary school. Pick-up games of Frisbee, football and basketball draw younger residents together, and Donat enjoys joining other parents supervising roaming children.
"If I see someone out the window, I run out to say hello," she said.
CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS (NEARBY): Mini Infant Center of Palo Alto, 3149 Waverley St.
FIRE STATION: No. 4, 3600 Middlefield Road
LIBRARY: Mitchell Park branch, 4050 Middlefield Road (temporary location during construction)
LOCATION: St. Claire Drive, St. Michaels Drive and St. Michaels Court
PARKS (NEARBY): Hoover Park, 2901 Cowper St.; Mitchell Park, 600 East Meadow Drive
POST OFFICE: Cambridge, 265 Cambridge Ave.; Main, 2085 E. Bayshore Road
PRIVATE SCHOOLS: International School of the Peninsula, 3233 Cowper St.; Keys School, 2890 Middlefield Road
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: El Carmelo Elementary School, J.L. Stanford Middle School, Gunn High School
SHOPPING: Midtown Shopping Center, Middlefield Road and Colorado Avenue; also Middlefield Road at Loma Verde Avenue