Guest Opinion: A Cubberley grad recalls Palo Alto a half-century ago

Old adage is true: 'You can take the boy (or girl) out of Palo Alto, but you can't take Palo Alto out of the girl (or boy)'

Fifty years ago in June, many of my childhood friends and I graduated from Cubberley High School. When we gathered in Mitchell Park for our 25th reunion, I remember several classmates wondering where all the time had gone.

As I was preparing to attend our Golden Anniversary reunion, I couldn't help but wonder if the old phrase was true: "You can take the boy (or girl) out of Palo Alto, but you can't take Palo Alto out of the girl (or boy)."

Denny Freidenrich
When my high school classmates and I graduated in June, Lyndon Johnson was president and America's presence in Vietnam was growing by the day. A favorite TV program, "The Dick Van Dyke Show," had just aired its final episode, the Supreme Court ruled the Miranda Act was the law of the land and the U.S. Open golf tournament was being played at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

Those weren't the only things that happened that particular month. The House of Representatives unanimously approved the Freedom of Information Act, Stokely Carmichael first invoked "Black Power" in one of his speeches, and the American Football League and the National Football League announced they were merging. If that wasn't enough, Mike Tyson (a future boxing champ) and Julianna Margulies (of "The Good Wife" fame) were born that month. Who knew?

Because we were teenagers at the time, music meant a lot to us. The Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Lovin' Spoonful were among our favorite groups. Clearly, it was a heady time to say the least.

Some of my classmates wanted to become architects, doctors, lawyers, real estate investors or teachers. A few others dreamed of owning their own restaurant or sailing around the world. As near as I can tell, whether they still live in town or 3,000 miles away, most of my friends' dreams came true.

Not surprisingly, a few Cubberley grads didn't live long enough to see theirs materialize. One died months after graduation. Another was killed in Vietnam. Many have passed away due to medical complications. Every time I hear that another classmate has died, I wonder why I am still here and he or she is not?

When I think about the Palo Alto I knew as a boy, I remember swimming at the Greenmeadow Pool, taking dance lessons in 5th grade, playing football on Thanksgiving morning or riding my bike to Stanford. Most importantly, I think about the self-reliance my friends and I gained from those early "Leave it to Beaver" days. If there were helicopter parents back then, we kids were oblivious. Today, I know too many of them.

One of the most powerful lessons my friends and I learned was how to share. Whether it was splitting our money at the Peninsula Creamery, cutting a Kirk's Burger in half or passing around a comic book from Kepler's Bookstore, we knew what was expected of us. I guess you could say we grew up in a village long before the topic became a political issue 20 years ago between then-First Lady Hillary Clinton and the 1996 GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole.

Case in point: Even when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California (USC) in the late 1960s, I always managed to buy something every summer at Smith's on the Circle. When the cashier would tell me how much I owed, my response typically was, "Put this on my mom's account." It didn't matter that her account had expired, the people at Smith's knew my family. Anyone who tries that today probably will get arrested.

Life certainly was a lot simpler half a century ago. A typical Eichler home most likely sold for $30,000 back then, compared with the more than $2 million some fetch today. Gas cost approximately 30 cents a gallon 50 years ago. During the summer of 2012, it was nearing $5 a gallon at some local stations. When my kids ask me for $20 now, I sometimes hesitate. I realize that's not much by today's standards, but it was a lot when I was growing up in Palo Alto. How so? When I sold shoes at Rapp's on University Avenue, I got paid $6 for an eight-hour shift.

Several of my Cubberley classmates never left town. They either inherited their parents' home, or bought it from them, and then raised their children in the same neighborhood they grew up in during the 1950s and 60s. For them, the question about "taking Palo Alto out of the boy or girl" is moot.

But for the majority of us who moved away, only to visit every few years, the question is real. When I ask my friends Dr. Bob in Santa Cruz, Jeff in Nevada City, Dick in Michigan, Kathy in Connecticut or Ron in Oregon, they all acknowledge the impact growing up in Palo Alto had on their lives. Ditto for yours truly. Every time I sit down to write a column, I hear the voices of my friends and family loud and clear. This includes my two older brothers, both of whom graduated from Paly High in the 1950s.

People say Palo Alto doesn't look the way it did when we graduated from Cubberley in 1966; still, everyone I grew up with agrees it's great to come back "home" -- especially when it means reconnecting with so many childhood friends.

Denny Freidenrich writes from Laguna Beach, where he is a contributor to The Hill newspaper in Washington, D.C. He finds that ironic, considering he barely passed English at Cubberley.

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8 people like this
Posted by good place
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2016 at 5:19 pm


Things have gotten complicated for everyone probably but I think that this is a really good place for growing up. Thanks for your column, it's great that there is a bigger connection going as well, with all who have a one point called or still call Palo Alto "home."

8 people like this
Posted by Miriam Palm
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 6, 2016 at 10:08 am

Miriam Palm is a registered user.

Thanks for writing and sharing this, Denny. It brought back a lot of memories to me. I am Paly Class of 1962 and living in my childhood home that we bought 30+ years ago from my mother.

5 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 6, 2016 at 11:24 am

I stayed in Palo Alto for years after school. I worked for tech companies in Silicon Valley before there was a Silicon Valley.

One exploded three months after I started there. That funded pulling up stakes and moving to Maui where I now teach sailing to stay active.

I try to visit Palo Alto on my occasional trips to the Mainland. A lot has changed but a lot remains the same.

5 people like this
Posted by Creole54
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 8, 2016 at 11:10 am

Good story! I grew up in East Palo Alto and recall locations you mentioned in article. I graduated from Paly in 1972 and even the 70's were remarkable!

13 people like this
Posted by longtime resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 8, 2016 at 12:15 pm

From the same generation as you - a 1960s Cubberley graduate. Things I remember fondly: mothers could stay home in those days because the father's income was enough to live on comfortably; the little dairy on Louis Road; how exciting it was when Mitchell Park and the Mitchell Park library first opened; seeing President Eisenhower and Charles DeGaulle driving through the streets of Palo Alto in an open convertible with a motorcycle escort (we got out of school to watch the small motorcade); taking the local #6 bus downtown or to the new Stanford Shopping Center and getting lunch at the counter in Woolworth's (there was a Woolworths downtown OR at the shopping center); or getting ice cream at Blum's; going to the Wilbur Jr. High swimming pool during the summer; Bergman's Department store at Midtown for clothes, shoes, wrapping paper and gifts, sewing notions and toys; getting some fabulous Chinese food at Ming's on El Camino and out-of-this-world barbecued ribs at Stickney's at Town and Country Shopping Center; and the family taking Sunday drives south on El Camino and seeing orchards with fruit stands from Mountain View and Sunnyvale south (especially wonderful in June when the tree-ripened bing cherries were ready!!! They didn't cost a fortune and they were everywhere!) Many more memories, but these are a few.

5 people like this
Posted by Gary Ruppel
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 8, 2016 at 12:18 pm

Thanks Denny. I graduated from Cubberley in 1959 as one of the not so many students that started in 1956 the year it opened. My father was principal at Paly so Cubberly made it easier for me to attend. I live one block from were I grew up as a kid. Palo Alto remains a great place to live.

3 people like this
Posted by longtime resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 8, 2016 at 2:58 pm

Denny, were your dance lessons at Beaudoins by any chance?
So generations danced there! Tap, ballet, Hawaiian and ballroom dancing were all offered. I recently noticed the building that was the dance studio, on the corner of Colorado and Cowper, was taken down. The house next door is still there. I understand the studio was built by Mr. Beaudoin and his father in the 30s when that area was just fields.

4 people like this
Posted by Gardener
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 8, 2016 at 7:06 pm

What a wonderful , well-written story! we live on East Meadow. You have brought back so many wonderful memories! It is so much more difficult to live her these last 5-10 years. Thank You for sharing!

4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 9, 2016 at 2:56 am

What did people at their 50-year reunions in 1916 say about growing up in the 1860s? "When my high school classmates and I graduated in June, Andrew Johnson was president..."

Was life really "a lot simpler half a century ago," or is it rose colored glasses? Yes, times have certainly changed. Populations (World, US, California) have more than doubled. The dollar has shrunk. Technology marches onward. Many predictions proved overly optimistic or overly pessimistic. But we're still stuck with the human condition.

I graduated Cubberley '72 and regard Palo Alto as a special place and the 60s as a special time. Though whatever place and time we spend our formative years will leave an indelible impact on our lives. Revisiting and reconnecting does tend to bring a flood of thoughts like those expressed in this story, a version of which was published by the SJ Merc on June 17. The author wrote a similar piece in 1996 after his 30-year reunion.

Intriguing paragraph about learning self-reliance -- free-range childhood. We seem to have many more fences now, if not leashes yet. Don't know how today's kids will eventually view their upbringings. On the price of gas, while there have been fluctuations, looks like a gallon is still earned in 20 minutes or so at a menial job, and a gallon goes further these days unless comparing a '66 VW Beetle to an Escalade. And learning to share: I think we simply discovered that we had more fun when we shared. You can't have a good discussion of your comic book unless you let your friends read it. I'm especially curious about whether most of our "dreams came true." Classmates who show up at reunions are a self-selected sample. Narratives can be tailored. Where my dreams have been elusive, I've managed to move the goalposts without too many people noticing.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Coach
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 15, 2016 at 10:52 am

Concerned Coach is a registered user.

@ Denny Freidenrich

Thank you for this great story. I am trying to remember some of the great coaches that worked so hard for us at Cubberly. Let me know when we come up with all the names.

Thanks in advance!

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Coach
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 15, 2016 at 10:53 am

Concerned Coach is a registered user.

* Cubberley*

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Posted by Denny Freidenrich
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 17, 2016 at 5:38 pm

Thanks for all the comments. Several of you mentioned places I'd forgotten. Couple of answers:

1. To "longtime resident" ... Yes, I remember DeGaulle passing thru Palo Alto. No, I took dance lessons at the Greenmeadow Club House next to the pool;

2. To "musical" ... Yes, I've written versions of my piece before; and,

3. To "Concerned Coach" ... Here are a few names of coaches I remember: Len Doster, Victor Comacho, Bud Presley and Harlan Harkness. Others included Merkley, Peters and Yelton.

Again, thanks everyone for your comments. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @freidomreport.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 18, 2016 at 2:21 am

@Denny, yes, wonderful story. I was already a bit introspective, since we just had a well-attended all-class reunion of sorts at Cubberley on July 9. Coach Bob Peters was an honored guest. Coach Jim Yelton was celebrated in memoriam. Thank you Hans de Lannoy, Master of Ceremonies, and the dozens of others who organized the event. Wistful.

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

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