"It's such a beautiful place to live," long-time resident Judith Steiner said.
On par with Crescent Park as the wealthiest part of Palo Alto, Old Palo Alto boasts a wide range of architectural styles ranging from English traditional, Tudor, Moorish and Spanish Colonial to Post-Modern designs. Birge Clark, a well-known local architect who defined the city's early California style, built the Lucie Stern Community Center, and the old Palo Alto fire and police station, as well as several homes in Old Palo Alto.
Historically, Old Palo Alto has been a neighborhood without tract housing. The area began developing in the 1900s. "It was a period of individually built homes," Beth Bunnenberg, archives chair of the Palo Alto Historical Association, said. "A number of San Franciscans would come down to Atherton, Woodside and Palo Alto and build summer homes," she said.
The practice of maintaining an area where no two homes look alike continues today. "What makes the neighborhood so rich is that it has all kinds of architecture and now houses are being built and they're quite exciting looking," Steiner said.
Rare in Palo Alto, homes in old Palo Alto occasionally can have one-acre lots and more than 4,000 feet of living space. Old Palo Alto has become an area with larger homes in recent years with Silicon Valley wealthy moving in and building large homes, residents said.
"The reason we moved is because my husband always like this area, the quiet tree-lined streets," said Reena Bhargava, who moved with two children into the area three years ago. Her husband, a computer scientist, runs a start-up company in Palo Alto. "My home's got such an Old World-charm to it, it's absolutely captivating. I want to retain that charm and yet bring it to the 21st century," she said about her anticipated remodel. "We've got this old European garden on the side. There's a lot that's really old-fashioned and unique and so it's really charming."
While it's becoming increasingly difficult to buy into Old Palo Alto because of high real-estate prices, long-time resident William Hughes said that he's glad to see younger families with children moving in. "It makes the neighborhood far more appealing when there are small children around," he said.
Old Palo Alto has always had distinguished residents. Doctors, lawyers and company executives often moved into the area when it first developed. Many of Palo Alto's elected officials also live there.
Some of the area's more famous residents include Lucie Stern, wife of Louis Stern, one of the four nephews of blue jeans manufacturer Levi Strauss. After her husband died, she built a home for herself and her daughter in the area. She donated about $400,000 pre-inflation dollars to a dozen civic projects in Palo Alto.
In the past, writer of women's novels, Kathleen Norris, lived in the area with her writer husband, Charles G. Norris. Pedro de Lemos, artist and curator of the Stanford museum and art gallery, built his Spanish-styled home on Waverley Oaks. Rumor has it that co-founder of Google, Larry Page, now lives in the house.
Today many who've made it in Silicon Valley and beyond call Old Palo Alto home, including Apple Computer President Steve Jobs and former '49ers quarterback Steve Young.
Despite the obvious wealth of the neighborhood, residents want to be neighborly and good citizens of the community. "I don't care how much money they've got," resident William Hughes, a former Hyatt Corporation senior vice president, said. "They genuinely like me and I like them."
The area has a low turnover rate. People either live in the area for a few years or they stay forever, Steiner said. She has lived in the area for nearly three decades.
Although the name "Old Palo Alto" gives the area an antique feel, some area residents say it's a misnomer. "I understand from the real estate perspective it's a great brand. Sure it's older than south Palo Alto. It's older than areas south of Oregon, but it is not true old Palo Alto," resident and former Mayor Gary Fazzino said. "Professorville, downtown Palo Alto -- that's the original city." Fazzino calls the area by its earlier name, the "Seale Addition."
Regardless of what it's called, the folks who live there love it. It's "just the kind of community that's like living the American dream," Steiner said.
Residents love Gamble Garden, one of the first homes built in the area in 1902. Gamble Garden and Bowling Green Park right next door are the only two open green spaces in the area. More than 30 years ago Elizabeth Gamble gave the 2.5-acre estate to the city. James H. Inglis, 90, has lived in the area for more than 60 years and has volunteered at Gamble Garden every Wednesday morning for the last 20 years. "It's quite remarkable," he said, noting that the gardens have retained much of their character. The front looks much like it did when it was first built, according to Merrill Jensen, Gamble Garden horticulturist.
Long-time resident Georgina Bailie helps grow seedlings in the Gamble greenhouse. The volunteers contribute the plants to children in East Palo Alto, and to the Community Association for Rehabilitation.
Canopy, a non-profit organization, occasionally gives walking tours in the neighborhood. They have a self-guided tree walk available on their Web site at www.canopy.org/walks/oldpaloalto.html. Tupelos, red maples and valley oaks shown on the tour are among the trees that line the area's handsome streets.
Old Palo Alto has a reputation that crosses over the 101 Freeway into East Palo Alto for putting on generous Halloween traditions, residents said. There used to be a neighbor who would give out dollar bills at Halloween, resident Steiner said. Another would give kids great big Hershey bars, she added.
Residents feel comfortable jogging and walking around the neighborhood. It's also close enough to walk to downtown Palo Alto and to California Avenue, resident Bhargava said, and yet secluded enough to also have the feeling of living in a quiet corner of the world.
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