Board questions historic analysis of Castilleja expansion

Members of Historical Resources Board demand further evaluation of home slated for demolition

As Castilleja School moves ahead with its divisive expansion plan, project proponents often cite the long and accomplished history of the Palo Alto institution, which opened its Bryant Street campus in 1910 and which is now looking to rebuild it.

But on Thursday, it was the project's opponents who were touting the historical significance of Castilleja and its founder, Mary Lockey. The school's expansion plan calls for demolishing a home on Bryant Street that is named after Lockey. And though the home at 1263 Emerson St. has undergone numerous additions and modifications in recent decades and has not been deemed "historically significant" (Mary Lockey never actually lived there), several residents argued at the hearing of the Historic Resources Board that its removal could diminish the historic character of the school and the neighborhood.

Some argued that the recently released draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the school's expansion should have included a full historic analysis of the home, as well of the neighborhood around the school. The board largely shared these concerns and, in doing so, added another wrinkle to the tense approval process that's been slowly making its way through city review.

Though board members didn't take a vote, they agreed that the Environmental Impact Report should further evaluate the Lockey house and the broader neighborhood for historic significance. As such, they requested that the analysis be revised as such.

The board's comments came less than a month after the city's Planning and Transportation Commission discussed the draft report and similarly found the document to be lacking. At its Aug. 14 meeting, the commission requested more information about traffic counts, bike routes and other design alternatives, including one that would not require the construction of an underground garage.

Thursday's hearing on the environmental analysis was far more subdued than the one last month, which brought hundreds of supporters and opponents of the Castilleja plan to City Hall. But much like at the first meeting, project proponents highlighted Castilleja's laudable mission of educating young women while opponents focused on potentially harmful impacts to the neighborhood.

Kimberley Wong, who lives on Emerson Street, was one of several speakers who brought up the Lockey Alumnae House and suggested that the structure should be preserved. The fact that this house is associated with a person of significance should qualify it for the National Historic Register, Wong said.

Andie Reed, who lives on Melville Avenue, argued that the report also failed to consider the historical significance of the residential neighborhood around Castilleja. The school's proposal would lead to both a change in land use and to changing traffic patterns — factors that she argued would alter the character of the neighborhood.

"Please recommend retaining the residential feel of our neighborhood and leaving this house intact," Reed said.

City staff, however, has taken the position that the house is not eligible for the California Register because of a "lack of integrity." A report from Planning Director Jonathan Lait notes that Castilleja had remodeled the home after acquiring it in the 1990s. The city's 1998-2000 historic surveyed found the home to be "potentially eligible" for the state register but not for the National Register.

Kathy Layendecker, associate head of school at Castilleja, said the all-girls school is "steeped in tradition" and that it has "created a clear and concise proposal that protects the historic elements of our campus through our project."

"The buildings we hope to replace have serve Castilleja well for 60 years," Layendecker said. "We want to create new places that will last even longer."

The project calls for reconfiguring about 84,000 square feet of academic space by demolishing seven existing buildings and building a three-story building with an underground level. The new campus would also have a 50,000-square-foot underground garage. As part of the project, the school is also proposing to increase its maximum enrollment from 415 to 540 students, with no more than 27 new students added each year.

But members of the board suggested that in evaluating future impacts, the consultants who studied Castilleja's expansion plan did not sufficiently consider the school's past. Board member Deborah Shepherd pointed to the "unique relationship historically between the school and the community.

"It's a very delicate balance. But it's a story worth telling, and we should be careful not to lose it," Shepherd said.

Board member Michael Makinen agreed. The school's contributions to education in the city constituted a significant "event" by state standards, potentially making the area worthy of recognition as a historic district, he said.

"All these things should be considered in the historic report. I don't think they're adequately addressed here," Makinen said.

The 60-day comment period on the EIR will conclude Monday. Comments can be submitted to

Related content:

Castilleja's ambitious development plan would create significant traffic woes


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30 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 13, 2019 at 10:35 am

The anti-Castilleja group will find anything to use against Castilleja in their quest to not allow the school to modernize and modestly expand. It is completely predictable that these same folks would come out and determine that these non-historical homes are historical according to this fervent group.

When is the Palo Alto city council going to say enough is enough to them? Castilleja is the only entity in Palo Alto that has responsibly demonstrated traffic calming and care for their neighborhood. It is obvious that nothing will ever be good enough for their NIMBY neighbors.

Stand up city council and planning commission! Enough!

30 people like this
Posted by Enough!
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 13, 2019 at 10:44 am

I agree with the comments above. Castilleja has gone above and beyond to present thoughtful, comprehensive plans for modernizing the campus. The neighbors do not speak with a single voice and do not represent the neighbors that were and the neighbors that are to come. The school has been part of our community for over 100 years, it has a strong association with our city and a right to modernize just like so many of the houses (not even speaking about the commercial buildings and other institutions of education) in the neighborhood.


I agree, "Stand up city council and planning commission! Enough!"

34 people like this
Posted by Not historic
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 13, 2019 at 11:12 am

Nice try. So now they are playing the "historic" card. The house is not historic in any sense. The article makes that clear.

32 people like this
Posted by Old palo neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 13, 2019 at 12:42 pm

It’s very interesting how most of speakers in the HRN meeting in favor of Castilleja’s expansion are all employed by Castilleja. The assurances that they are very cognizant of retaining the history of the school though willing to raze any home with historic character if it happens to give them what they want are not convincing. I’d rather Castilleja “play” the historic card if they aren’t going to stand by it!

For those believing that Castilleja are trying their best to be good neighbors, explain to us why the project they planned is so large in scope as to cause significant impact to the neighbors and our roadways? Also please explain why these same people think that Castilleja is doing their best to ”listen” to their neighbors when all they have done is push forward their garage plans even when the flow and traffic issues will be worsened. Please stop listening to their words and judge the school by their actions. I see nothing in their actions that support to preservation of buildings, trees or peace in the community. Everything Castilleja has done so far is to divide the neighborhood, discredit any valid concerns of the neighbors and push their agenda no matter what the cost!

I believe Ms Lockey would be aghast that the school has not followed the code of ethics that she raised her girls to live by!

25 people like this
Posted by Another neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 13, 2019 at 1:23 pm

Castilleja appears to be in the grip of developers, and others who make money from development.

At first they hired former Planning Commissioner Steve Emslie (who never met a development he didn't like) and it was a sign they knew right away thatbthey would need city planning insiders to get this behemoth approved.

Now they are touting Women's Education, as though that has anything to do with a huge underground garage (not open to the public).

24 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2019 at 1:43 pm

There seem to be a lot of commercial vacancies around Palo Alto near the 101 corridor. It makes no sense for Castilleja to expand in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Why can't they explore one of those sites? They still could have the Palo Alto address brand they crave while having a more accessible site.

30 people like this
Posted by sfvalley
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 13, 2019 at 2:42 pm

sfvalley is a registered user.

Dear readers of today's Weekly article: the reason the expansion opponents focused their discussion on the historic aspects is because it was in front of the Historic Resources Board. There are many aspects of the DEIR that are inaccurate or inconsistent. Please read the DEIR and the comments on the City's website. BTW: The neighbors are neither against Castilleja nor against the school upgrading and modernizing; that's a myth disseminated by the school. The neighbors want the school to leave the residential block of Emerson intact (no underground garage) and lower their profile, reduce not increase traffic, limit the number of students, staff, events, and the many other impacts to the neighbors.

12 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 13, 2019 at 5:23 pm

Anon - there are a lot of houses for sale in PA. The anti-castilleja folks could move and keep the Palo Alto address they clearly crave. Castilleja pre-dated all of them.

22 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 13, 2019 at 5:47 pm

This article is the definition of a strawman argument. Whether the Lockey house is historic or not is irrelevant to this discussion. What is very relevant is that Castilleja wants to build a parking garage with an entrance on Bryant St, which should be absolutely prohibited given that Bryant is a bicycle boulevard. Years of traffic improvements have directed traffic away from Bryant and Castilleja would undo it all.

No parking garage entrance should be allowed on Bryant. Castilleja needs to go back to the drawing board.

9 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 15, 2019 at 6:49 pm

Next, the [portion removed] crew will claim there is a rare banana slug or termite or fish fossil on the property mandating that the school stop construction! Then there will be some spurious claim
About student diversity. On and on and on...

Casti is a wonderful neighbor who goes to great lengths to insure safe traffic flow on Bryant and plenty of on-street parking for these “aggrieved” neighbors. I know this because I live 2 blocks from school and see it every day.

[Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Another neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 16, 2019 at 12:47 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]

3 people like this
Posted by Family Friendly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 17, 2019 at 7:36 am

[Post removed.]

9 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 17, 2019 at 9:10 pm

Fact: "Castilleja expansion will create “significant and unavoidable” traffic problems, environmental report says"

Web Link

10 people like this
Posted by Old Palo Alto Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 18, 2019 at 10:57 am

Bravo to HRB!! I am glad to see that the HRB is standing up to the pressure of Castilleja supporters to focus on the true issue. That is to preserve what is historically significant for the neighborhood and the City. We can't allow Castilleja to continue to use their enormous financial and political weight to push their agenda without any regard to the City's laws and regulations. I hope City Hall will really evaluate the facts and come to the conclusion that the expansion does not make sense for this community. Reject the expansion and stop wasting City and residents resources to argue about a project that doesn't make sense.

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