When Cynthia Tham picked up her daughter from El Carmelo Elementary School on a recent weekday afternoon, her return home was anything but quick. Between stopping at the school library to chat with a teacher and taking a detour to a neighbor's house to coordinate a play date, her stroll became lengthy as she caught up with friends and neighbors.
But it didn't bother Tham -- instead, that's part of what makes Midtown such an appealing place to live, she said.
Resting comfortably between Oregon Expressway, Loma Verde Avenue, U.S. Highway 101 and Alma Street, Midtown is Palo Alto's largest residential neighborhood. With about 5,000 families living in a mix of Eichler, Craftsman and even English Tudor-style homes, Midtown has the familiarity of a small town with the accessibility and amenities of a major city.
Convenience is king for residents of Midtown, which is minutes away from California Avenue's shopping district, a major freeway and a Caltrain station.
Tham and her family moved into their home on Colorado Avenue 20 years ago for its location.
"I ride my bike to work and so does my husband. Midtown is the closest thing to convenience without a car," she said.
Tham and her family take full advantage of the walkability of Midtown, especially the short 10-minute stroll to El Carmelo Elementary School, where her youngest daughter attends school. El Carmelo is a vital neighborhood link, bringing residents together for school functions, community meetings and play dates between classmates, Tham noted.
"A lot of the kids (in Midtown) grew up together, so us parents all go to the park at the same time every day and pick the kids up from school at the same time," she said. "You automatically start building relationships."
Tham is currently a parent volunteer with El Carmelo's language-ambassador program, which connects bilingual school parents to families who move to Midtown from abroad and need help adjusting to the school and neighborhood. The neighborhood's eagerness to welcome newcomers has strengthened community bonds and personal relationships, making for a more diverse neighborhood, Tham said.
"A lot of people here pitch in to help one another. I think people really want to make a community here," she said. "I don't know if it's true everywhere else, but I've noticed people are eager to be a part of a team."
Louise Furutsuki describes Midtown as a neighborhood with an ever-evolving mix of folks from different backgrounds, occupations and cultures. A Midtown resident since 2003 and the current business liaison for the Midtown Residents Association, she said that while the neighborhood has grown more full and busy over the years, the changes she has noticed have been mostly positive.
"When we first moved here, there were mostly older families and older couples (on our street)," Furutsuki said. "About 30 percent of newcomers (move here) with grade school kids or kindergarteners. At this moment, it's half-half. But more kids are a good thing; it makes the place more vibrant."
The Midtown Shopping Center, with its assortment of small and large businesses, is one of the area's main highlights, according to Furutsuki.
"If I need a pharmacy or notary public or take-out food ... it's all here," she said.
Convenience has its drawbacks as well. Finding a place to park at the Midtown Shopping Center and at other neighborhood shops has grown increasingly difficult as new businesses have moved in, Furutsuki said.
Increased residential construction has caused concern among some people and has been a topic of discussion at the Midtown Residents Association, she said.
"The new construction has been unsettling for a lot of folks, but the town is renewing and evolving," she said. "It's a sign of the times."
Despite the change, residents of Midtown have managed to maintain a sense of community and warmth toward one another.
"What I love about this community is that the people are very low-key," Tham said. "The feel (of the neighborhood) is the same it's always been: It feels like a pretty normal neighborhood."
CHILD CARE 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
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, 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; The Girls' Middle School, 3400 W. Bayshore Road
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: El Carmelo, Fairmeadow, Hoover, Ohlone and Palo Verde elementary schools; Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School; Gunn and Palo Alto high schools
SHOPPING: Midtown Shopping Center, Middlefield Road and Colorado Avenue; also Middlefield Road at Loma Verde Avenue