Palo Alto Centennial
Publication Date: Wednesday, April 13, 1994

Gain John

Background: Born in Seattle in 1915, he moved to Palo Alto in 1924. A graduate of Stanford University in 1938, he divided his professional years between banking and accounting. He has also served as chairman of the Centennial book committee of the Palo Alto Historical Association.

Memories: "In the late 1920s, I remember watching the trolley go by my house on Waverley Street. I would look at the trolley's sign, and try to figure out how to spell "Peninsula," which was written on the side of each car. The word didn't quite make sense to me. It took me a long time to figure out exactly what the word meant.

"My friends and I liked to put pennies on the tracks and watch them get squashed. We also would put rocks on the tracks, and watch them get squashed too. Sometimes, we would put things on the tracks that were so big, the trolley conductor would have to stop the trolley and get out and move them."

Margarita Espinosa

Background: In 1910 her father moved the family here from New Mexico to take a teaching position at Stanford. Espinosa attended Castilleja School and Stanford University, where she majored in English. She returned to Castilleja as a teacher and eventually became headmistress, a position she kept until she retired at age 65. She then joined the Peace Corps and served in Korea. Today, she lives in Channing House.

Memories: "I started teaching at Castilleja about 1928. It was actually very much the way it is now. Much smaller, of course.

"Palo Alto was a nice place to grow up in. We had a big two-story house on Middlefield with a big back yard, an apricot tree and a peach tree. We had many neighbors and the children were always over at our place. We were very family-oriented. My parents liked to have the neighbor children come to play at our house.

"I remember walking downtown. We walked everywhere then. There weren't many shops, but there was the movie theater, and my family used to take us to see the films of Mary Pickford and Marguerite Clark. Of course they were very particular about what we could see, but the fairy tales were always fine.

"There was a streetcar that ran up and down University Avenue and my father used to take it to work at Stanford. I think many professors rode the streetcar to work then."

Louise Douglas

Background: She and her husband ran Douglas Sewing Machines and Fabrics. She grew up in Palo Alto. At 85, she is Palo Alto's oldest merchant. Her first job was at the soda fountain at Liddicoat's.

Memories: "I went with my mother when I was about 14 years old" to a dance hall at the corner of Lytton Avenue and High Street. "We danced the old-fashioned dances: waltz, polka, Scottish dances. My brother and I used to dance up there on Saturday nights. We did the foxtrot and waltzed and of course the Charleston, which my brother and I won a lot of prizes for.

"We bought a little house, a converted chicken coop on South Court. It was not in the city limits. We could look from our house to the Mayfield station. We bought the house for $1,200. We had an outdoor privy. We had electricity but I had to use a coal oil stove." Eventually they added on, and the superintendent of construction for the Stanford Theatre helped her husband put the back porch up.

"Our first telephone number was 453. There were only about 7,000 people in town then. We ended up in Palo Alto when my mother decided to move from San Francisco because of the fog. She took the bus to San Jose and they stopped in Palo Alto to change buses. She was here about an hour and she never did get to San Jose."

Heston Beaudoin

Background: Owner, with his wife, Florence, of Beaudoin's Dance Studio in Midtown. Came to Palo Alto in 1924 from Ogden, Utah. 85 years old.

Memories: "We drove into Palo Alto at night and came down University Avenue. The streetlights were arches. It was like driving through a tunnel of lights. It was fascinating to see all these lights.

"It was a beautiful town. We fell in love with it because of the trees.

"There was a streetcar that went down University Avenue from the stadium and down Waverley Street to Oregon. Every night the Stanford 'roughs' would pick up the car and take it off the tracks. Every morning the crew would have to put it back on the track."

In high school, "I bought two acres of land for $1,000 each acre on the corner of Colorado and Cowper. I worked for 50 cents an hour digging. My parents owned a grocery store. Bread was a dime, milk was a nickel a quart, coffee was 39 cents a pound. When the Depression came along I was making $65 a month. I had more money than I knew what to do with. I bought my mother a Maytag washing machine, tailor-made suits. My first income tax was 27 cents."

In 1931, he was laid off from the railroad. He says he didn't know how to do anything except office work and tap dancing. He built a dance studio on the property he owned. At first they taught just tap, then they got into ballroom. They've had about 35,000 students over the years.