INTERACTIVE TIMELINE: The Palo Alto Weekly celebrates the city's 125th anniversary by remembering the moments, people and events that highlight the city's entrepreneurial spirit and creativity. View the timeline that incorporates photos and videos on our Atavist page.
The last time Palo Alto celebrated an anniversary milestone -- its centennial in 1994 -- Facebook didn't exist. Neither did Google. And the subject of how to reconfigure four railroad crossings was a debate way off in the future.
"I bet in the future, computers will be everywhere. ... Maybe transportation will be different," contemplated Emilie Mead, a junior at Gunn High School at the time, who was among those who left a message in the city's centennial time capsule for future generations to read.
For Rebecca Wunder, the first girl to play on Gunn's football team, the future represented more opportunities for women.
"When you read this, girl football players may be more common, but now it's really not normal," Wunder wrote in her time-capsule message.
The girls' thoughts from a quarter of a century ago, plus the rest of the contents from the recently opened time capsule, will be on display on Sunday, April 28, during a celebration commemorating the 125th anniversary of Palo Alto's incorporation on April 23, 1894. The event also launches a new annual city holiday: Palo Alto Day.
The event will provide residents the opportunity to reflect on how the city has changed over the past 25 years. While computers have come to define much of Palo Alto's culture, including everyday life, women are still a rare site on the football field.
Palo Alto historian Steve Staiger said that while many issues, such as traffic and growth, have remained top conversations throughout the city's history, the cost of housing today is the one thing that's most different from 1994. If he only had one item to put into a time capsule today, it would be an advertisement from a local paper showing housing prices, he said.
"When the first house sold for $100,000 in the 1970s, it was a really nice house, and you went 'Wow.' But now it's shocking. You can't find a home for less than a million," Staiger said.
The scale of things, he said, has changed more rapidly.
"In the '50s, there were big traffic jams when Stanford had a football game and at 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday," he said.
Palo Alto was primarily a bedroom community serving San Francisco, he explained.
"Today, this is a destination work place," he said. "There's thousands of more people here in the daytime; it's much larger than the sleep population. That's very different than before."
Now, it's a traffic jam coming to Palo Alto in the morning from both the north and south, and at the end of the workday, its reversed, he added.
Steve Player, who moved to the city in 1967 after graduating from Stanford University and served as president of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce during the 1994 centennial celebration, described Palo Alto as a very different place than it was two-and-a-half decades ago at the start of the dot-com boom, which created a real estate frenzy as billions of dollars in venture capital showered the area. It's a phenomenon that might have slowed slightly during the market crash in 2000 but has never really stopped.
"We already had a lot of things here. There was HP, Varian ... so we weren't a small town, just a different town," Player said. "I think the energy the new techies brought to town is positive, but now it's a little bit of a different environment.
In the morning when the commuter trains arrive, hundreds of "young, energetic" tech workers unboard and fill up downtown. It wasn't like that before, he said.
The tech industry's success also has created a lot of young homebuyers who can afford to purchase a home, tear it down and rebuild, he said.
"That used to be unusual, but now, you buy it and it's gone. Neighborhoods are changing," he said.
The current president of the Palo Alto Chamber, Judy Kleinberg, who is organizing this weekend's celebration and helped launch Palo Alto Day, said the influx of workers has revitalized downtown: There are more people staying in hotels, dining out and shopping.
But, like Staiger and Player, she recognizes that there are new, or at least more intensified, challenges.
"We've always had startups downtown, but the concentration of extraordinary ones have changed the face of those who can live here," she said.
And for those trying to a launch a startup in a city known as the birthplace of Silicon Valley, the landscape also has changed for them.
"In some ways it's probably harder, and in some ways, it's a lot of easier," Susan Packard-Orr, daughter of Hewlett-Packard co-founder David Packard, told the Weekly in May 2018. "My father started his company in 1939. He didn't have any of the (resources) available now. There weren't any venture capitalists, so he borrowed money from the bank. Tech startups now are surrounded by marketing firms and design firms and a CFO you can hire one day a week. ... There's this whole infrastructure out there now for startups in Silicon Valley that wasn't there at all."
Staiger said the past 25 years also have allowed the city to finally reach an age where it's old enough to spark genealogy inquiries from those who've discovered that they had ancestors living here as far back as four generations. Genealogy inquires are on the rise, he said — right after requests for information about Palo Alto's Midcentury Modern home builder Joseph Eichler, the Grateful Dead and Cubberley High School's 1967 social experiment in fascism called The Wave.
Palo Alto Day celebration on Sunday
To honor Palo Alto's 125th anniversary, the city is hosting a community party from 12:45-3:15 p.m. on Sunday, April 28, at King Plaza in front of City Hall at 250 Hamilton Ave. The official ceremony will start at 2 p.m.
The event will feature music, cupcakes, a historical retrospective and reflections on Palo Alto's past, present and future. Contents from the time capsule, buried in the elevator shaft of City Hall during Palo Alto's centennial year in 1994, will be on display at City Hall.
What's a quasquicentennial?
While not commonly used, there are words for milestone anniversaries, derived from Latin roots. Palo Alto marked its 100th birthday, known as its centennial, in 1994. This year, the city is celebrating 125 years, called a quasquicentennial.
In another 25 years, in 2044, Palo Alto's residents will observe the city's sesquicentennial, or 150th birthday.