St. Claire Gardens, nestled in the heart of Palo Alto, might not be as famous as Old Palo Alto or Midtown, but it's a neighborhood that hosts annual Labor Day picnics for its residents, watches out for both the young and young at heart, and has a tree so large and full of lights that even Palo Alto city staff recognize it.
Judy Ocken has lived in the St. Claire Gardens neighborhood for 40 years, and to this day, she still can't believe it's true, she said. The neighborhood has evolved and grown over the years just as the Ocken family has. When the Ockens first moved into the neighborhood, they didn't ever think that the St. Claire Gardens' streets would be where their future children would ride their bikes.
"We didn't have children at the time and we weren't even sure if we wanted to and yet we moved into a neighborhood that is such a family neighborhood. Someone must have been watching out for us," Ocken said. "We had no idea what we were getting into."
The tree-lined neighborhood is located conveniently close to Midtown and its stores and restaurants.
As children and families grow, the neighborhood experiences changes in population as many leave the area, but others come there to raise their families. Currently, Ocken has noticed an uptick middle-school-aged kids. On the other end of the age spectrum, seniors can be seen throughout the neighborhood walking their dogs.
"It's a feeling of a community where people know each other but they don't live in each other's houses. There's a fair amount of privacy, but if you need somebody to talk to or need something done, there is always someone around," she said.
St. Claire Gardens resident Bill Baerge and his wife Marti, agree with this observation about the tight-knit nature of the neighborhood. Even though Marti is ill and needs care from her husband, she still makes it a point to attend the ladies' neighborhood lunches. These lunches take place once a month and are usually held at either one of the women's homes or at a nearby restaurant.
"We like the people here. We feel like we are among friends and people that have somewhat shared values," Baerge said.
A neighborhood favorite is one of the trees in front of the Baerge residence. It is large enough that it hangs out over the street and beautiful enough for the city arborist to consider it a "heritage tree," Baerge said.
"We put up 1,000 or so LED lights up there and I turn them on whenever I think of it, not just at Christmas," he said. "The neighbors often tell me how much they like it."
The neighborhood also hosts annual picnics on Labor Day hosted by Alan Davis and his wife. Davis rents tables and cooks hamburgers and hotdogs. The neighborhood park is closed off for the event, and only St. Claire Gardens residents are able to attend. This is a tradition that has been taking place for the last 15 years that unites and engages the neighborhood community.
St. Claire Gardens is a neighborhood where families and individuals at all stages of life can live peacefully all the while feeling respected and welcomed.
CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS (nearby): Mini Infant Center of Palo Alto, 3149 Waverley St.; Sibel's Family Childcare Home, 786 Allen Ct.
FIRE STATION: No. 4, 3600 Middlefield Road
LIBRARY: Mitchell Park branch, 3700 Middlefield Road
LOCATION: St. Claire Drive, St. Michaels Drive and St. Michaels Court
PARKS (nearby): Hoover Park, 2901 Cowper St.; Mitchell Park, 600 East Meadow Drive
POST OFFICE: Cambridge, 265 Cambridge Ave.; Main, 2085 E. Bayshore Road
PRIVATE SCHOOLS: Keys School, 2890 Middlefield Road
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: El Carmelo Elementary School, J.L. Stanford Middle School, Gunn High School
SHOPPING: Midtown Shopping Center, Middlefield Road and Colorado Avenue; also Middlefield Road at Loma Verde Avenue