Jackson Drive neighbors celebrate their 50th anniversary

Palo Alto neighborhood where everybody knows your name

For 50 years residents of Jackson Drive have organized a block party that includes not just old timers and new neighbors but also people who moved away. The party, like most other things on this short block in the Duveneck-St. Francis neighborhood, is treated like a family affair.

Four families who went to the beach together started the annual block party, Kay Schauer recalled. Now, about 70 people attend the event, which is scheduled for this month, and some return to rekindle the old relationships and the special camaraderie that is Jackson Drive.

In the old days, there were food committees and game committees and everything from bike relays to scavenger hunts, a ping-pong tournament and water-balloon tosses. People took their organizing seriously, residents said. Things are less formal now, since everyone is working outside the home. There's a potluck instead of proscribed dishes, and the food is more diverse: Spanish paella and Indian, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine are part of the eclectic menu.

Jackson Drive is a street like few others, residents said during a recent tea at Bob and Kay Schauer's home. It's a street with a core group of extroverts, and the culture is kindness, they said.

Fifty years ago, Jackson Drive was a place where stay-at-home moms spread blankets on the front lawn while they watched their kids over pitchers of homemade sangria. There were two bridge clubs, food and baby-sitting co-ops and a lending library in a cabinet located in a neighborhood tree. Neighbors posted messages on a bulletin board, and they held progressive dinners during which so many people came there were not enough chairs, Sue Dinwiddie recalled.

Now, mothers work. Neighborhood children-watching on the front lawn has given way to Neighborhood Watch. And a strong disaster-preparedness group of 10 families has become the neighborhood glue, Kay Schauer said.

As many as 56 children played on Jackson Drive, a block only 13 houses long. Now about nine kids ages 5 to 12 play there, residents said.

But the important things haven't changed. Consideration for each other is so strong that departing homeowners give established neighbors information about incoming residents. By the time they arrive, the new neighbors aren't strangers, Tia Millman said.

And some neighbors chose buyers based not just on the highest bidder but on the best fit for the neighborhood, the residents said.

Elise Singer and her family are among those "chosen ones," having moved in last November.

"I grew up on a block where there were hordes of kids. It's important to live in a place where there is a sense of community. Within a week of moving to Jackson Drive, neighbors were already watching each others' kids," she said.

Singer is thinking of remodeling her home to add openness to the front of the house "to build that sense of community." Other residents have also remodeled their homes with community gathering in mind.

Sue and Ken Dinwiddie remodeled part of their home to accommodate 25 dinner guests. During holiday potlucks, everyone goes to the Dinwiddies' house for dinner, they said.

Daughter Melissa lives in Mountain View, but she can't imagine having that same sense of connection in her 14-unit townhouse complex, she said. And she can't imagine her parents without Jackson Drive.

"If my parents ever move, it is going to be so freaky," she said.

For 10 to 15 years, Bob Schauer took nightly walks in the neighborhood. When street lights were out, he made sure the city fixed them.

"There's a tremendous feeling to protect anyone on the block. I just feel it's wonderful," Sue Dinwiddie said.

Millman said most people think of "home" as that place behind their front door.

"For me, when I turn onto Jackson Drive, I'm home," she said. "It feels like there's a desire to be close to one another, to care about one another, to do things for one another. Somehow, there's the aura of this block that attracts people."

Steve Schauer moved out in the 1980s, but he still feels the same way, he said. Part of that coziness is because of how the street is configured, he said.

"It's a curved street, and you can't see from one end to the other."

Millman said that what starts on Jackson Drive gets spread out into the world.

"You're not just kinder to your neighbors; you go out into the community and you are kinder to other people," she said.

Melissa Dinwiddie said the Jackson street magic comes from its "core group of extroverts who have an organizing gene."

And while people will come and go, as long as they pass along Jackson Drive's welcoming ways, the special connections neighbors have built will continue, she believes.

"It's a culture," Dinwiddie said. "And that culture isn't suddenly going to change."

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Like this comment
Posted by Perspectives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Perspectives is a registered user.

Lovely, but this is not really very different from a lot of other streets in Palo Alto. Not only my street, but many others I know have a similar kind of thing, and an article could be written on them as well. All a variation on a theme.

Seems a little weird to me to "exclusivize" this one street in a PAonline article. Has a bit of a my-street-is-better-than-yours end result, and it's actually unwarranted. I don't think Palo Alto needs to come up with more ways to squeeze people into exclusive bubbles. I mean, really- do we now need to promote people being "chosen ones" given all the other obstacles to get a house here?

Like this comment
Posted by bewareofthefacts
a resident of Duveneck School
on Aug 28, 2014 at 11:13 pm

The comment about that family being the "chosen one" isn't accurate and makes no sense since those in the know are aware that another family was actually chosen for that home by the seller...unfortunately, the highest bidder did win.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Triple El
on Aug 28, 2014 at 11:40 pm

Yes, we have annual block parties and a neighborhood Yahoo Group and directory too. It's nice for the neighbors to know each other and share information. And we know when someone in our neighborhood is not a neighbor.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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