Professorville residents have mixed reactions to plan for private club

Marissa Mayer's 'Corner House' would turn former mortuary into social space

Plans to convert what was once a funeral home into a private club for female workers are getting mixed reviews from the shuttered Palo Alto mortuary's neighbors, with some saying it would be a welcome addition and others saying it would only add to parking, traffic and noise problems currently plaguing their neighborhood of Professorville.

Now-former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer bought Palo Alto's oldest funeral home, Roller & Hapgood & Tinney, five years ago, but it was not clear at the time what she would do with the property. Plans revealed last week detail the conversion of the building at 980 Middlefield Road into the private club, which would offer working spaces, networking events, speaker series, conference rooms, a small gym, a gallery, coffee and snacks.

Dubbed "The Corner House," the new venue's mission would be to "provide a vibrant, welcoming space for traditional and non-traditional professionals to collaborate, work, learn, find support, build community, and spend time with their families, friends and neighbors."

According to the application, there would be about 150 members and guests using the site at any given time, though up to 400 people would be expected to show up for special events. Classes in music, performing arts, cooking, professional development, dance and fitness would be offered, along with outdoor events with amplified sound.

The club would be required to cease outdoor operations by 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and by 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Carina Rossner, who lives on nearby Webster Street, said the private club would not benefit the residential neighborhood. It is unlikely that many people in the neighborhood would be able to afford to join the club, she said.

"If you are asking for the favor of a (city) variance there needs to be a clear benefit to the community," she said, referring to the "planned community" zoning that requires the development to include a "public benefit."

She further asked if there is such a benefit, would it outweigh the impacts?

The club would be located next to low-income apartments where residents would derive no benefit and have already been impacted by noise from previous events held there, she said.

The neighborhood would be better served by an organization such as the now-closed Deborah's Palm, which was located on Lytton Avenue in Downtown North and offered services that were available to everyone, she said.

"As a working mother, I would love to be part of that," Rossner said of joining a women's group open to all.

The neighborhood would also be better served by a preschool, given the proximity to Addison Elementary School across the street, she said.

The area already has much traffic and parking from Addison Elementary. Construction at the school is already causing significant problems, she said.

Mayer has already faced criticism over her use of the shuttered mortuary. A year after she bought the property, Mayer hosted a lavish Halloween party at the site. One neighbor posted an open letter to her in 2014, asking her to refrain from doing so in the future.

"Your neighbors, your community, your friends have had to deal with some of the saddest and hardest experiences in their lives, in the exact spot where you will now be celebrating," the anonymous letter stated. "Not only is it disrespectful to the memory of our loved ones, it's confusing and upsetting to the community at large who lost their loved ones and grieved there."

But Addison Avenue residents Brenda Miller and Shirin Arnold said Wednesday they are not opposed to the club. Miller said she did not know much about it, but if it helps people it could be a good thing.

"Parking is terrible already. I don't see how it could get any worse," she said.

Arnold agreed.

"I think it's good for the community. We get the traffic from the school anyway," she added.

The project would include several exterior modifications to the 1951 building, including a new drop-off area parallel to Addison Avenue, a modified parking area, a new play area and revisions to the exterior facades.

The council was scheduled to consider (though not vote on) the preliminary plans and offer early feedback at its Sept. 10 meeting, but staff has asked that the discussion be continued to Oct. 1.


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35 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 8, 2018 at 9:50 am

They should be happy she is not turning the property into a condo complex. A private meeting space is not too much different from the previous use of the property. Did they expect her to turn it into a public park?

47 people like this
Posted by Eyes of the World
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 8, 2018 at 10:26 am

How about creating a multi-faith/multi-national gathering place for people of all backgrounds?

'The Marissa Mayer Healing Center for Global Harmony & World Peace'.

Then she can have her various lectures, banquets, seminars & what not...with an eye towards both the community & world at large.

And have a shuttle-service for attendees to eliminate any potential traffic & parking congestion.

12 people like this
Posted by Not navel gazing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2018 at 11:24 am

If there isn’t enough parking, attendees will inevitably negatively impact parking at and around Lucie Stern, which is already pretty maxed. If it were a community-benefiting asset the parking is still a problem.

9 people like this
Posted by Not navel gazing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2018 at 11:31 am

An integrative medicine learning and healing center, with scholarships for women wanting to get back in to a healing profession after kids, now that would give the space a kind of karmic continuity, might benefit her or her loved ones one day, and would not bring nearly as much traffic. Neighbors would benefit.

Our billionaires are unfortunately not as community minded as Los Altos’ billionaires. It would never happen, but I love your vision of a place for healing in some way.

31 people like this
Posted by Wake Up to Find Out...
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 8, 2018 at 3:14 pm

@Eyes of the World
Ms. Mayer is apparently unfamiliar with Jerry's song. it speaks volumes.

17 people like this
Posted by JP
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 9, 2018 at 7:08 pm

There is a need for comprehensive planning in this neighborhood. It's not a question of how one site is being used. Decisions cannot be made based on the needs, perception or opinions of one, two or a handful of individuals. For example, short term rentals without adequate parking contribute to the congestion while changing the nature of the community - it's becoming transient. Treating every new use as a one-off does not address the larger questions.

14 people like this
Posted by Olenka Villareal
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 10, 2018 at 10:41 am

As someone who had the services of both my parents at this site and as a current Addison Avenue homeowner, I say WONDERFUL!

Ms. Meyer purchased this site and with the many options she had, she is choosing to create a much-needed and lovely gathering space. Who can use it should be entirely up to her and as long as she follows our city’s (super strict) codes, I welcome her idea and invite fellow-Palo Altans to exhibit some kindness about it all.

4 people like this
Posted by PA Grandma
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 10, 2018 at 10:46 am

As you can tell, I am a senior citizen. Palo Alto now faces, and it is getting worse, a severe shortage of senior housing. I would suggest that if she really wanted to do something to benefit the community, she would work with Avenidas and the people who manage Channing House to build affordable senior housing.

5 people like this
Posted by Jim Baet
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 10, 2018 at 11:07 am

I think a woman’s club will be a great community service and of high philanthropic outcomes for the community. The corollary is the Palo
Alto Club on the N/E corner of Webster and Melville with a property of similar size and serves primarily retired men who gather for lunches and scheduled lectures and playtime events. With nearly all members grounded in the culture of our narrow area, speakers and concerns, discussed daily at our lunch gatherings, concern the needs and well being among our community. Members of the PA Club are among the most philanthropic of our community and philanthropy pursuits are a major topic of conversationms. We never have complaints about noise or crowds or parking impacts, I hope Marisa Mayer’s Club progresses rapidly and I offer my expertise as a volunteer to help with City Approvals.

Like this comment
Posted by Counterclockwise
a resident of University South
on Sep 10, 2018 at 1:45 pm

Um, that proposed club's in University South, not Professorville. Check the Weekly's neighborghoods map.

8 people like this
Posted by HM
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2018 at 2:34 pm

It's important that the immediate neighbors, including the residents of Webster Woods, be heard and respected in this process. A community center with outdoor and evening activities is very different than a mortuary. And, with all due respect to Ms. Villareal, I believe she lives several blocks away on the other side of Middlefield, I find her reference to her Addison Avenue address disingenuous at best.

1 person likes this
Posted by Ahmad
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 10, 2018 at 3:08 pm

I worked with Ms Mayer at Yahoo. Very sharp businesswoman.

Also attended her Halloween party at the former mortuary site in Palo Alto.

Great costumes all around + excellent food and drink.

Hoping to get invited again. That place rocked!

Some people just don't know how to party.

16 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 10, 2018 at 6:06 pm

Eric is a registered user.

While overall I think the club sounds like a fine idea, I oppose any planned community (PC) zoning based on supposed benefits to the community. The supposed benefits never materialize for the community. Get it through zoning approval without any variance and I'll support it.

Like this comment
Posted by keithbromberg
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 10, 2018 at 10:26 pm

keithbromberg is a registered user.

To address part of the requirement for a public, benefit, could the city ask Meyer to grant some parking rights on the property during weekdays to the school district, in order the mitigate the parking crunch in that neighborhood caused in part by Addison School?

16 people like this
Posted by R. Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2018 at 8:10 am

QUOTE: Some people just don't know how to party.

In good taste.

9 people like this
Posted by Shallow Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2018 at 8:38 am

Someone's private property should benefit me. After all, I have lived in Palo Alto for more than 10 years!! And how dare you take rights away from the dead? Pretty soon we will have to drive to Mountain View or even Sunnyvale to have our bodies properly prepares for the great unkonwn. Because Ms Mayer is well-known, I, as a very distant neighbor, deserve some say in what she does with her private property. Sure, it may be useful for dozens of successful women, but how does it benefit me? I don't identify as a woman, and I bought my house before you needed real money to do so. I pay at least $1000 in property taxes a year. So what's in it for me? How about a few more bike racks downtown and the city can sell the parking places in front of the club to ZipCar, which is proven to eliminate traffic problems.

8 people like this
Posted by Lookin' Good
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 11, 2018 at 9:28 am

>> Pretty soon we will have to drive to Mountain View or even Sunnyvale to have our bodies properly prepares for the great unkonwn.

Curious. How does a dead person drive themselves to Mountain View (or even Sunnyvale) to be prepared for the great unknown?

Or were you referring to cosmetic surgery and one's questionable appearance afterwards?

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 11, 2018 at 9:40 am

^ There's an app for that.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2018 at 10:21 am

Posted by Ahmad, a resident of Mountain View

>> I worked with Ms Mayer at Yahoo. Very sharp businesswoman.

I've been working on a new rhetorical term. Something like:

"argumentum ad aurum"

or, possibly,

"argumentum ad opulentos"
"argumentum ad dives"

We live in a new Gilded Age. MM is super-rich. Ergo, ...

>> Also attended her Halloween party at the former mortuary site in Palo Alto.

>> Great costumes all around + excellent food and drink.

I suppose "The Munsters" costumes were too obvious? Bloody Marys to drink? Sounds "great".

Posted by R. Davis, a resident of Crescent Park, 1 hour ago

>> > Some people just don't know how to party.

>> In good taste.

Would it make a difference if the chapel was officially deconsecrated?

Web Link

Since the chapel presumably was nondenominational, I don't know who would do it or if anyone would care, but, I imagine that some people who had services for their loved ones there might feel somehow disrespected by the party.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris Gaither
a resident of Mayfield
on Sep 11, 2018 at 1:55 pm

I think a women's center, or any kind of communal and meeting center for any and everyone, with gatherings, lectures, etc. is a great idea!

Just a little creepy to be in a former funeral home But, perhaps the remodel will be done in such a way, there are no reminders of what the place was at one time for many years.

Go forward, and create something different in the community. Parking is always going to be an issue, as long as people keep coming to Palo Alto, and beyond.

12 people like this
Posted by Joaquin
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 11, 2018 at 2:14 pm

>> I imagine that some people who had services for their loved ones there might feel somehow disrespected by the party.

Had Ms. Mayer used a 'Day of the Dead' theme as they do in Mexico, her party might have been less controversial and perhaps better received by those who are criticizing it.

A traditional motif celebrating all who have passed on would have also been reflective of our state's rich cultural heritage going back to the days of the
pre-California Republic Mexican occupation.

The native costumes would have been fun to behold and the pinatas could have been filled with all kinds of tech gadgets that companies hand out at trade shows.

Viva la Raza.

10 people like this
Posted by Neighbor Near By
a resident of Addison School
on Sep 11, 2018 at 3:36 pm

Adequate parking is a must. Otherwise, the rest of the plan sounds OK to me. And, I am a nearby neighbor.

However, the more disturbing trend is the loss of neighbors in properties being bought up by wealthy individuals.

Marissa Meyers on her block now owns at least 4 parcels - including the mortuary one block down - perhaps more.

Another wealthy neighbor down one block on Webster Street has bought at least 6 parcels and homes.

Niether of these individuals is out and about interacting with anyone in their neighborhoods. So in essence, we are truly losing our neighborhood to two people who have zero interest in being traditional neighbors and community members. They are interested in purchasing properties around them to create their own bubble worlds, of which we neighbors seem to be a nuisance.

The use of the mortuary is less worrisome to me than the trend of one or two people owning many houses on one or two blocks. We need a variety of people as neighbors to be a well functioning community, and that is currently being threatened.

I guess they are "allowed" to do it, but it certainly is self serving and self centered - not about community building or connecting.

14 people like this
Posted by Arnold
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 11, 2018 at 9:48 pm

Why can't it just revert to a women only mortuary?

2 people like this
Posted by danny
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2018 at 2:58 pm

well, as I said here 5 years ago, we were all dying to know what she was going to do with the property.

Now Marissa has a few thousand suitors wanting to "help" her by taking it over.

I myself would be more interested if she has a twin sister who is unmarried.

But from my genius, Marissa should start out small with the property. She should let Stanford Florists flower shop have a small space while they are duking it out in court with Larry Ellison and Mrs. Wong over the Stanford Florists building downtown. They could invite Martha Stewart to make guest flower arrangements and teach Marissa how to do them. They could make a killing doing funeral arrangements.

6 people like this
Posted by Keep It As It Is
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 15, 2018 at 2:31 pm

With funereal costs continually on the upswing, how about just keeping the building as it is and offering discount prices for memorials, casket sales and embalming services?

Perhaps even limited usage based on PA residency. Like at Foothills Park.

Like this comment
Posted by danny
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2018 at 7:48 pm

(add to my post above)

...and Marissa has a $40,000 annual tax bill on the property which could go up. She has enough to pay it this year, and over the past 5 years. But in the future, she might want to sell it for a profit to tax-exempt Stanford University so they can put in more faculty, administrative, and student condos and exclude un-selected people. Like the Munger residences, they could call it the Marissa residences where real estate moguls are trained to take over real estate and make them tax-exempt where only select people can live. Like the VI where many Stanford retirees live, they can charge a $4 million dollar entrance fee.

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