Palo Alto looks to fix up abandoned Baylands site

After buying and 'dedicating' former transmission area as parkland, city prepares to make immediate improvements

Visitors to Palo Alto's newest parkland could be forgiven for thinking they'd wander astray.

Instead of walking trails, shaded benches and vista points, the marshy 36.5-acre stretch that Palo Alto added to its park network in June includes old pipes, obsolete power lines and two abandoned buildings that for years have been suffering from natural and man-made wear-and-tear. Instead of a welcome sign, there is a fence barring public entry.

Palo Alto purchased the former antenna field from International Telephone and Telegraph in the summer of 2016 and last June voted to "dedicate" it as parkland, thus ensuring that the Baylands site would not be used for any purpose other than open space and recreation. Shortly before the dedication, Mayor Greg Scharff celebrated the city's $250,000 purchase, which he called "the largest dedication of parkland that has occurred in 50 years."

"I think it's something we should celebrate in this community and let people know about," Scharff said during a May meeting.

Now comes the harder part: figuring out what to do with a site that for decades played a critical role in ship-to-shore communication but that in recent years has suffered from neglect and vandalism.

This week, the City Council took an early step in planning for the future of the former ITT site when it approved the spending of $400,000 to begin sprucing up the new parcel. According to Public Works staff, the money will be used to make immediate repairs to address some of the area's most critical deficiencies.

"Break-ins, theft and vandalism prior to the City's take-over left the ITT site with many safety issues and the most recent winter storms have caused an urgent need to protect it from further deterioration and damage from winter rains," a report from Public Works states.

The newly approved repairs aim to facilitate the site's conversion to recreational open space. The road leading to the site will be improved so that the "badly deteriorated asphalt" that exists today will be replaced with a smoother surface so that the public can walk or bike to the site. The road, which connects to the old transmitting building and warehouse, may also be extended to connect to other existing roadways near the Baylands.

City staff also plan to remove the rocks, abandoned pipes and other debris so as to rehabilitate the site and make it safer for hikers and bicyclists. According to staff, new soil and compacted base rock will be used to create space for walking and gathering near the old buildings. Crews will also be removing old utility poles, power lines, transformers and utility cabinets, the report states.

The city is also eying improvements to the buildings themselves. Public Works plans to add roof liner to the main building to prevent further rain damage and to waterproof the crawl space to prevent water damage from ponded surface water. And to bolster security, staff plans to cover up the windows and most doors at both buildings and to install a new fence adjacent to them to "deter unauthorized access and further vandalism."

While the council has yet to determine the future design of the new parkland, the city's long-standing policy called for removing the antenna field and restoring it to nature. The Baylands Master Plan has a policy that calls for replacing the antenna field with marshland and "incorporate this area into Byxbee Park."


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7 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 13, 2017 at 3:55 pm

Is there any lead paint, asbestos, electrical equipment chemicals or other toxic waste in these buildings? If so, who is responsible for cleaning it up and what is the schedule for doing that?

13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 13, 2017 at 6:14 pm

From what I understand is that this site has historical value. This radio station was the first on the Pacific coast to receive info about the Pearl Harbor attack. All you old-timers out there give us some more info.

2 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 13, 2017 at 6:18 pm

Odd place...I suggest renting out for film-making location.
Meanwhile, any additions/improvements/additional soft surface hiking/running/cycling trails in the Baylands are much appreciated.

1 person likes this
Posted by Bambi
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 13, 2017 at 9:34 pm

Perhaps the building could be a fun place to have a party down by the Bay.

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2017 at 7:53 am

The city can rent the space out for corporate events, and recoup some of the $400,000 in renovation fees. Plus the millions that we were charged for the Emily Renzal Marsh next door.

16 people like this
Posted by Bill Leikam - The Fox Guy
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 14, 2017 at 11:29 am

It should have been left for the incredible number of wildlife that lived out there before the "cleanup" began.

10 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 14, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Why are we keeping these dilapidated buildings? Wouldn't money be better spent clearing them and cleaning up the toxins rather than trying to rehabilitate them? If there is any history here, it would be better served by a historical marker or plaque. A connecting trail here would be easy to open and really great for people using the space who may not have time for longer loops.

4 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 14, 2017 at 12:47 pm

The City should consider enhancing the parcel and turning it into a homeless shelter.

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2017 at 1:36 pm

We desperately need parking lots at highway offramps with dedicated shuttle service to downtown, Cal Ave and Stanford. This space could work well. We could also use it for dedicated shuttles across the Bay and also to airports.

Palo Alto could pave the way for public transportation improvements with some innovative ideas.

2 people like this
Posted by top secret?
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 14, 2017 at 3:43 pm

I had heard it was an top-secret experimental over-the-horizon-radar installation during WWII. Does anyone know the history?
Even if it was, I would support tearing it down and clearing the area.
Also, I walked a dog on a path in that area and my dog came home with 100 ticks. The ranger at the visitors center out in the Baylands said there were no ticks in the Baylands, but when I said where we had gone, they said, "Oh we don't know about over there. Yeah, the ticks hide on the back of leaves of low vegetation, like a bus stop, and jump on when an animal goes by." If there are going to be people and dogs there, better to have wider paths, and look into tick elimination.
Congratulations to Council for taking this opportunity!

3 people like this
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 14, 2017 at 5:46 pm

Bring back MacKay tower. It was a great landmark.

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2017 at 6:42 pm

"Is there any lead paint, asbestos, electrical equipment chemicals or other toxic waste in these buildings?"

I find it funny how people over react to threats of "toxins". I feel they use this tactic to sway the public's opinion. In this case to remove the building completely. Lead and asbestos are not hazardous unless inhaled or ingested.

Furthermore, if they are that afraid toxic material, they should probably move out of the Bay Area completely. After all Silicone Valley was one big orchard, sprayed with God knows what.

3 people like this
Posted by land
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 15, 2017 at 8:40 am

I think the telegraph building should be redone in the simplest way and then used for a really great coffee shop. It looks like mobile home and I am betting the people in the past were not that excited about sitting there for hours. ITtwould be neat to get some large pictures and the History of the building posted inside a nice new, large one room coffee with large windows looking in all directions. It would be so fun to name this and probably also impossible to have because of environmental laws.... Either that or still post historical pictures and put in a very large covered patio with bike pumps and dog water stations. Either one is fine. I am betting the building has a falling in foundation, mold and small rooms that are not really usable for the public and low ceilings. I am pretty sure the radio operators have a connection to the time and location, but not this actual building. Also, palo altoans should take a look at the Alviso pier and see if they like the designs of the decking and really pretty austere little walls and bridges out over the muck and mud.

4 people like this
Posted by TorreyaMan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 15, 2017 at 9:43 am

TorreyaMan is a registered user.

The historic aspect is dubious at best. Tear it down, and restore to nature.

5 people like this
Posted by land
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 15, 2017 at 11:37 am


Organic coffee shop then?

5 people like this
Posted by Asher Waldfogel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2017 at 11:41 am

Asher Waldfogel is a registered user.

It’s hard to find anything that’s more historic and regionally important in Palo Alto than this transmitter site and I hope it gets treated with dignity.

According to Jane Morgan’s 1967 book “Electronics in the West”, the very first electronics company in Palo Alto, Poulsen Wireless Telephone and Telegraph Company was started in 1909. Poulsen became Federal Telegraph. Federal built the transmitter station on the Baylands.

The radio transmitter operated for 90 years until Dec 31, 1999, when satellites replaced telegraph. Federal is the great-great grandfather/great uncle of every tech company in the region.

2 people like this
Posted by neighbour
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 15, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Thank you Asher for the history.
I think we should check what are left inside? Put any antiques in museums, make some sculptures along the traits/land, if there are enough items, a little museum there.

4 people like this
Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 15, 2017 at 9:44 pm

SO WHAT if Palo Alto finally purchased this land parcel...AT ANY COST, this land should remain low key.......NO HIGH RISE hotels. No buildings for respid use for the other tech companies. No other natural parcel this large is left in Palo Alto and it should be preserved for the future of the masses of people who have never been born yet. Cement buildings are all too common now as developers have pushed their way into our town.....I don't like being you????????

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 18, 2017 at 4:47 pm

"The City should consider enhancing the parcel and turning it into a homeless shelter"

I love the idea. But I wonder how Emily, Enid and Acterra would feel about it?

1 person likes this
Posted by kids
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 19, 2017 at 8:39 am


If there was just one little historic coffee shop, everyone would like it. Look to what is happening to the "wetlands" near Levi stadium and shudder. The golf course was great open space, much like Palo Alto's and now it and all the land and all the wildlife around will be turned into a BIG santana row with hotels. People will have nice purses and look well dressed. I would rather see kids on bikes, families running and birding and sludging in the mud. Hope this stays mostly like it is. It is so sad to see what is happening 10 miles down the road from this. They can build on marsh land so.... do not be naive .

2 people like this
Posted by WunderingAloud
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 19, 2017 at 10:26 am

I walk over there quite a bit, and this area is all very low. I wonder if that area could be used to channel and divert water during a flood when it will not flow out to the bay so it doesn't back up into EPA and PA?

1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 19, 2017 at 11:05 am

"The City should consider enhancing the parcel and turning it into a homeless shelter"

Sure. Out of sight, out of mind, eh?

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