Real Estate

Feeling the squeeze

Historic Mayfield grapples with urban angst about commuters, noise

It isn't marked on Google Maps, and its size is not extraordinary, but the Mayfield neighborhood is a busy and vibrant hub in Palo Alto.

Nestled in between Oregon Expressway, Park Boulevard, El Camino Real and Cambridge Avenue, Mayfield is home to a number of offices, shops and restaurants -- most of which line the popular California Avenue.

From Antonio's Nut House, one of Palo Alto's oldest bars, to contemporary burger joint The Counter and Cafe Pro Bono, an Italian eatery, there is a unique blend of cuisine and nightlife options that makes California Avenue a frequented destination on a daily basis.

But with popularity comes downsides. Alice Jacobs lives on Sherman Avenue with her husband and three children, whom she drives to and from school. She has only been a resident for four years, but she has already seen changes to the neighborhood, with an influx of construction projects and commuters arriving for work.

"It's stressful just getting out of my street," Jacobs said. "I feel blocked in. I can't drive down my street. Construction workers are coming in just as we're getting to school. They don't pay attention to us."

While noting the convenience of living close to Mollie Stone's Market and the post office, Jacobs expressed concerns about residing in an area that has transformed into a center of business activity and a nightmare to navigate in. A car almost backed into her son while they were biking on California Avenue. She once nearly ran into a cellphone-distracted pedestrian.

"That's the drawback of living here in this area of mixed-residential-commercial area," she said. "It's kind of souring our experience."

It's made parking difficult. Since the majority of housing complexes are condominiums and apartments, residents often have to find a spot on the street. On a typical weekday, commuters' cars add to the mess, with not enough parking spaces to go around.

The other issue, due to the rising cost of living and renting in Palo Alto, is that the homegrown businesses that have called California Avenue home for years are being forced out in favor of corporate or chain restaurants.

"Palo Alto's becoming very saturated," Jacobs said. "It's becoming cookie-cutter. It's sad."

It wasn't always this way. Unbeknownst to many, Mayfield has a long and rich history. It was founded as its own town in 1855, but in 1925 was annexed by Palo Alto. The story may have been different had Mayfield accepted Leland Stanford's proposal to build what would become Stanford University in the town of Mayfield. Known for its bars, the town did not like Stanford's request to be alcohol-free.

So Mayfield became an almost forgotten and overshadowed part of Palo Alto, and California Avenue became the taboo part of town. Bill Roberts, who lives in Menlo Park but has been coming to California Avenue for decades, said it used to be a center of prostitution.

"There used to be a Round Table there," Roberts said, pointing near the intersection of California Avenue and Ash Street. "I was eating with some friends at the Round Table once, and I saw a prostitute doing business in there. But those times are long gone. The city has done an awful lot."

According to Roberts, the city eventually broke up the illegal activity. Nowadays, California Avenue has become Palo Alto's "second downtown," and Mayfield is emerging as a vibrant neighborhood. Many of the restaurants have outdoor seating, giving off a relaxed, European-style ambiance that is welcoming and comforting to walk through.

While the hubbub of California Avenue and the popularity of the many shops and restaurants irritate some residents, others enjoy the location and relish the small pocket parks that provide a neighborhood feel. Pamela Brown has lived on Park Boulevard for more than a decade and has nothing but good things to say about Mayfield.

"It's peaceful," said Brown after finishing up a workout near Sarah Wallis Park, on the corner of Ash Street and Grant Avenue. "It's real convenient. I've never had a problem in 11 years."

Mayfield is prime real estate for a reason. It is steps away from the hubbub of the tech companies and startups of Silicon Valley and the convenience of Palo Alto's second downtown.


CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS (nearby): Casa dei Bambini Montessori School, 463 & 457 College Ave.; Escondido Kids' Club, 890 Escondido Road

FIRE STATION: No. 2, 2675 Hanover St.

LIBRARY: College Terrace, 2300 Wellesley St.

LOCATION: between Oregon Expressway, Park Boulevard, El Camino Real and Cambridge Avenue

NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION: Palo Alto Neighborhoods members: Joe Villareal, 650-326-7519

PARKS: Sarah Wallis Park, 202 Ash Street.

POST OFFICE: Cambridge, 265 Cambridge Ave.

PRIVATE SCHOOL: The Living Wisdom School, 456 College Ave.

SHOPPING: California Avenue

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