At the southern end of Palo Alto lies a townhome complex with lots of history as well as a strong sense of community.
San Alma (named for the intersection of San Antonio Avenue and Alma Street) consists of 26 townhomes and eight below-market-rate condominiums, built around a 40-foot-tall American elm in 1974. In 2000, the by-then 60-foot tree was named Heritage Tree No. 6, noted for its historical significance as being on the site of the Don Secundo Robles adobe, dating back to 1840.
But it isn't the stately elm that pulls this community together.
"Ethnically, we're sort of a microcosm of Palo Alto," said resident Barbara Best.
They come from multiple countries such as Russia, Korea, China, Chile, India, Sweden, France, Mexico, the U.K. and the United States, said Best, president of the San Alma Association.
Calling San Alma home are school district employees, high-tech engineers and researchers, a small medical-services business owner, a professional dog trainer, a Stanford doctor, a professional volunteer who won the Lifetimes of Achievement Award from Avenidas, and a court translator.
Despite their varied backgrounds, the San Alma community often joins together in celebrations and activities. The neighborhood regularly holds community picnics and gatherings where, according to Best “neighbors young and old” enjoy each others’ company.
In addition to coming together for joyous occasions, the community also binds together in times of grief.
“We also held a memorial service at the pool area for our Palo Alto firefighter who passed away several months ago and it was well-attended by neighbors, friends, and family alike," Best said.
Some of the original homeowners from 1975 still reside in the complex, while newer families have cycled in over time.
“There are many families who have been there for over 20 years and more who've been here over 10 years,” Best said. She also noted that the community boasts many younger families now, and at least 20 children under 18.
San Alma was designed by architect John Brooks Boyd, who also designed homes for Joseph Eichler. The complex consists of a narrow semi-circular street, Ponce Drive, and a cul-de-sac, Hemlock Court. There's parking for 12 visitors, but most are encouraged to park along San Antonio Avenue or nearby Briarwood Way. The one- and two-story townhomes range from about 1,500 to 1,777 square feet, with small private backyards. The front yards, planted with liquidambar, crepe myrtle and olive trees, are considered part of the common area, along with the swimming pool, that is maintained by the homeowners' association.
The association board meets monthly, and all residents come to one annual meeting. But any resident may bring an issue to the monthly board meeting.
In the past, residents have come together to vote on paint colors and make other community-wide decisions, and recently, the community came together for the betterment of itself.
“One of our residents … organized nine meetings of neighbors to discuss topics such as sustainability practices, emergency preparedness, and ways to increase community involvement. It was a great way to bring the neighborhood together,” Best said.
It is not uncommon to see children from the neighborhood playing together in the cul-de-sac or in the community pool area.
"We have a small neighborhood,” Best said, “so it is easy for us to all know one another.”
Carol Blitzer, 2017
CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS: Crescent Park Child Development Center (Peekaboo), 4161 Alma St.; Discovery Children's House - Montessori, 303 Parkside Drive; Palo Alto Infant Toddler Center, 4111 Alma St.
FIRE STATION: No. 4, 3600 Middlefield Road
LIBRARY: Mitchell Park branch, 4050 Middlefield Road (temporary location during construction)
LOCATION: east of Alma Street, off San Antonio Avenue (including Ponce Drive and Hemlock Court)
NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION: Barbara Best, president, San Alma Association, 650-704-2160, firstname.lastname@example.org
PARKS (NEARBY): Greenmeadow Park (private); Mitchell Park, 600 East Meadow Drive
POST OFFICE: Cambridge, 265 Cambridge Ave.
PRIVATE SCHOOLS (NEARBY): Palo Alto Prep School, 4000 Middlefield Road; Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School, 450 and 470 San Antonio Road
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Fairmeadow Elementary School, J.L. Stanford Middle School, Gunn High School
SHOPPING: San Antonio Shopping Center