Palo Alto Weekly 25th Anniversary

Karla Kirkegaard and Peter Sarnow
Average, everyday people

by Alexandria Rocha

Eight years ago, Karla Kirkegaard and Peter Sarnow were recruited to work in Stanford University's microbiology department.

The married couple were then doing similar jobs in Boulder, Colo., and were busy raising their 1-year-old son, Lukas.

While German-born Sarnow's desire to work at Stanford fueled his interest to give California a whirl, Kirkegaard, who grew up in Fresno, was hesitant to return to the Golden State.

" I told him," Kirkegaard said, "everybody in California talks about money."
The family has now lived on the 800 block of Hamilton Avenue for about eight years. In that time, the couple admits to talking about money, not "all the time," as Kirkegaard told her husband, but "more than we used to."

The couple bought their home for $670,000 in 1996. A good deal, they said. Kirkegaard said the previous owners had lived in the house for 30 years, letting its décor become a bit outdated.

After moving in, they pulled up the green shag carpet and ripped off the green wallpaper. The house now has hardwood floors and simple white walls. They also took out the popcorn ceiling, because of asbestos, and remodeled the kitchen and the master bathroom.

Hamilton Avenue attracted the couple because of its relatively quiet streets, the mixed architecture of the homes, and the street's proximity to downtown.
The couple finds their neighborhood friendly. Everyone opens their doors on Halloween, offering haunted houses and decadent treats for the little ones. Kirkegaard said the neighbors "come to our parties and we go to their's." Passersby always stop to pay Lukas $1 for a cup of lemonade at his occasional stand, even though his price is 25 cents.

However, unlike other areas in Palo Alto, where the neighbors water each other's lawns and feed vacationers' animals, Hamilton Avenue's residents are happy with the initial welcome and the occasional get together.

" I find people are a little bit exclusionary," Kirkegaard said.

Though the quietness of the neighborhood initially attracted them, the street's traffic does pipe up around 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., when everyone's driving "to and from Stanford," Sarnow said. Unlike some Palo Alto residents who are disgruntled over the traffic situation, Kirkegaard said the flow of cars is reassuring.

" When I was single and lived alone, I liked people being around," she said.
They enjoy walking and biking downtown, but the couple wishes University Avenue was a pedestrian zone like downtowns in Boulder or Burlington, Vt.
In Boulder, the couple enjoyed how families could dine in a restaurant downtown while the children played in the enclosed thoroughfare speckled with benches, trees and vendor carts.

The couple also wishes Palo Alto was more affordable. "I think it's sad if you're a policeman in a town and you can't live in it," Kirkegaard said.

BOX: Biography Age: Karla Kirkegaard and Peter Sarnow, in their 40s Income: N/a Kids: Lukas, 9 Years in home: 8Price of house: $670,000 Community Involvement: Both volunteer at Lukas's school, and at the Peninsula Youth Theater Where'd you grow up?: Karla grew up in Fresno; Peter in Kanstanz, Germany Profession: Both professors of microbiology at Stanford University Do you consider yourself rich?: "How could you not living in our society?" Karla said. Mortgage payment: N/a Property taxes: N/a


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25th Anniversary • 1979-2004




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