As one of the most highly sought-after neighborhoods in Palo Alto, Professorville continues to expand for real estate purposes to attract buyers, but not every resident is happy about including adjacent areas into their historic district.
Originally defined by a small cluster of homes on Lincoln and Kingsley avenues as well as the intersecting blocks of Bryant, Ramona and Emerson streets, Professorville, named after the Stanford professors who chose to reside there, and its historic district, has grown to include Waverley Street to the east side of Cowper Street. These sections were added to the community in 1979 and 1993. More recently, and likely due to Realtors cashing in on its reputation, Professorville is now referred to as the section of homes between Addison Avenue, Webster Street, Embarcadero Road and Emerson Street.
"It might seem that living in a historic district should add some sort of distinction," said Barbara Wallace, whose Professorville home has been in her family since it was constructed in 1896. "But, in fact, the rocketing value of the land and houses can put preservation into conflict with the preferences of homeowners with big budgets to substantially alter their new homes. Because Palo Alto does not have enforceable protections for Professorville -- it takes advisory action on exterior changes -- the district continues to see occasional demolitions, relocations of houses on their lots and replication rather than preservation of exterior elements."
Many houses within the historic district have elements no longer used in modern construction, features that have historical value and add to the neighborhood's desirability, including paneling, trim and other fixtures that could be retained when modernizing the interior or exterior of a home.
Homes are often shingled, with large bungalow-style porches that wrap around the front of the homes. Lots can be small, with cottage-style homes, or larger with two-story Craftsman or farmhouse style homes set on them.
"I am thrilled when neighbors value the historic district they choose to join and find ways to live in their houses, or rehabilitate them, while striving to preserve historic fabric," she said, adding that an appreciation for Professorville's history and origin is becoming muddled with each change.
"The physical Professorville is changing rapidly as new residents adapt old houses to new times," she said. "Many homeowners appreciate the historic architecture and the connection to early Stanford and early Palo Alto, when resident faculty members joined other Palo Altans in organizing their city and schools. Nowadays, a sale often precedes a lengthy period of construction, commonly including interior remodeling, window replacement, additional living space, and basement excavation. Such changes may satisfy the owner's desires but argue with the historic integrity of the district."
Despite its internal controversy, Wallace said she's lucky to live within the "dynamic neighborhood," noting the long-term friendships of some residents and recent block parties on Scott Street and Lincoln Avenue. "We appreciate city support for these events organized by enterprising residents," she said. "The student residents of 160 Lincoln brought together people who had lived near each other for years without meeting."
Thirty-two-year resident Perry Irvine lives in one of Professorville's early-expansion areas and was originally drawn to the neighborhood due to its proximity to his work and Palo Alto High School where his children were attending at the time. He believes the community's proximity to downtown, shopping, public transportation and schools are just a few of the reasons the area has become desirable, despite the busyness of Waverley Street. "Different architectural styles and older homes," he said, are part of Professorville's charm, but while its unique features have made Professorville an attractive neighborhood for buyers and investors, the current real estate market has made it prohibitive toward many buyers.
"Palo Alto and especially the older parts, are coveted, being close to most of what Palo Alto has to offer, including excellent schools," he said. "The major problem, as I see it, is that the cost of housing limits the potential purchasers."
Both Irvine and Wallace have noticed a handful of younger families moving into the area. "It is now lively with children, as it was in the earliest days, when the original families built the neighborhood, and as it was in the 1950s and '60s, when booming families found affordable houses," Wallace said. "I see families with young children at Heritage Park. When the adjacent Palo Alto History Museum opens in the old Palo Alto Clinic, another fantastic resource will be a short walk from Professorville."
Melissa McKenzie, 2017
CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS (NEARBY) Addison Kids' Club, 650 Addison Ave.; Downtown Child Care Center, 848 Ramona St.; The Learning Center, 459 Kingsley Ave.; Downtown Children's Center, 555 Waverley St., Discovery Children's House, 437 Webster St.; Duveneck Kids' Club, 705 Alester Ave.
FIRE STATION , No. 1, 301 Alma St., and No. 3, 799 Embarcadero Road
LIBRARY: Downtown branch, 270 Forest Ave.
LOCATION: Bounded by Addison Avenue, Webster Street, Embarcadero Road and Emerson Street.
PARKS: Scott Street Mini Park, Scott Street and Channing Avenue; Heritage Park, Homer Avenue and Waverley Street.
POST OFFICE: Hamilton, 380 Hamilton Ave.
PRIVATE SCHOOLS (NEARBY): Castilleja School, 1310 Bryant St.; AltSchool, 930 Emerson St.;
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Addison Elementary School, Jordan Middle School, Palo Alto High School
SHOPPING: University Avenue; Town and Country Village