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Bah, humbug! A dearth of downtown decorations

Original post made by Diana Diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger, on Dec 10, 2006

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – except in downtown Palo Alto. Yes, there are the little white lights on University Avenue that are there all year long, but I looked in vain for any other tree, ornament, twinkling new light or ribbon that would indicate that this is the holiday season – and nothing could be found. No Santa, no snowmen – not even a snowflake.

Some stores had their own lights hanging in their front windows, but the plaza in front of City Hall is empty and dark, Lytton Plaza is without a decoration, and there is not a wreath around.

I guess I am not surprised because we never have flags flying downtown – even on the Fourth of July. After 9/11 there was public demand that this city buy some flags but we were told all the American flags had been sold. We still haven’t any flags to fly on our main street.

For a town that thinks of itself as one of the nicest places to live, I am surprised more is not done to the downtown. At the very least it’s one way to attract shoppers, and the City Council has been proclaiming “Shop Palo Alto” for the last two years. Simply saying it is not enough.

When the downtown Business Improvement District was formed nearly three years ago, businesses were promised more tree lights and banners downtown. That obviously has not happened yet.

Back in the mid-1990s there were seasonal banners downtown, but they evidently wore out.

Other towns have decorations galore. Even some of the small rural towns manage to string colored lights across Main Street. And cities pride themselves on holiday displays. But not Palo Alto.

Comments (19)

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Posted by Tiny Tim
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2006 at 6:13 pm

Maybe the money is being saved for the new police hq. Or maybe we don't generate enough sales tax to pay for such luxuries!! I don't do my Christmas shopping in downtown Palo Alto and I don't eat at the restaurants. Maybe we should decorate though so that the homeless will feel included in the Christmas spirit. Bah Humbug!!

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Posted by Dave
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 10, 2006 at 7:26 pm


Come on, you know that this is a reflection of the PC strightjacket in PA! If X-mas decorations were to be put up, that might signify that PA supports Christmas; if American flags went up, that would signify patriotism. Can't have that - it might be embarassing to our elite leadership and City staff.

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Posted by santa
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 10, 2006 at 9:14 pm

Tiny tim is right, Downtown PA is a huge disappointment! Between the awful restaurants (are these places money laundering fronts?) and the even worse retail I gave up going there years ago. The Christmas decorations sure would look nice over all the people sleeping on the sidewalk though! Oh and one more observation... this area doesn't need any more sushi restaurants, we have more than they have in Tokyo as it is.

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Posted by Anonymous Coward
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 10, 2006 at 10:06 pm

Diana, Your readers should check out California Avenue. Many of the small merchants there have decked out their stores and restaurants. I'm a regular there and love the growing variaety of retail in the area, as well as the superb quality and variety of food served up at the restaurants.

Here are a few personal favorites:

1) Mediterranean Wraps - a wonderful Middle Eastern eatery with humble ambiance, authentic falafel and other specialties, and very reasonable prices. I love this place. the owners are friendly, the prices are right, and the service is fast.

2) Salsa - a new Mexican restaurant that serves up some very nice, authentic Mexican food. The service is great, and the prices are easy on the wallet.

3) Christian Science Reading Room - a quiet place to read one of America's best newspapers, the Christian Science Monitor. One wishes that more American newspapers could approach the consistency and quality of this small daily. There's no pressure applied, or solicitation done at the reading room. Just walk in and enjoy!

4) Create It! Ceramic and Mosaic Studio - a very cool place where you can paint your own pottery or build a mosaic - no experience required. They do corporate parties, kids and adult parties. Lots of fun, and a great place for personalized gifting.

5) Illusions - a new restaurant and club. Illusions serves up superb cuisine (the chef is Lebanese) that's reminiscent ofo the finer restaurants in old Lebanon, before the last few decade's war. Really special cuisine, served by attentive waiters. they even have entertainment on certain evenings. Reasonably priced, authentic cuisine, in a relaxed atmophere.

6) Caffe Riace (just off the California Avenue sector, on 200 Sheridan, a few blocks away). Really good Italian food, served up in an exterior court. They have a lot of heat lamps outside, which keep patrons toasty even on winter evenings. Homemade gelato!

7) Nora's Cafe - authentic French food at very reasonable prices. I love their nicoise salad - warm goat cheese on small toasts, in a bed of nicely dressed greens. Very nice entrees, and reasonable priced.

8) Keeble and Shuchat - one of the best camera stores around, with a superb, expert staff. Don't miss their "professional/digital store" on California, almost directly across the street from their main store (also on California).

9) Counter Burger - custom burgers served up with brew, in a warm atmosphere with large screen TV.

10) Antonio's Nut House - one-of-a-kind in Palo Alto. I love this place! Easy going, sawdust floor, pool tables, great people. Walk in, order a brew, sit down, chat or read the paper.

11) Izzy's Bagels - the best bagels west of New York City, bar none (I've tried them all, this is no brag). Lots of other yummy stuff, too.

12) Printer's Cafe - a great place for a good meal and coffee - a California Avenue institution.

13) La Bodeguita del Medio - long been known as a wonderful gathering place for cocktails, cigars, and the local cuisine. A great place for great Havana-inspired cuisine.

14) Country Sun Natural Foods - everything you need to stay healthy - great organic produce, much of it locally grown, at reasonable prices.

15) Cafe Pro Bono (on Birch, just off California) - a cozy place that serves up carefully prepared cuisine and wonderful desserts.

16) Spalti - another good Italian restaurant on California Ave. Fantastic calamari salad, tasty entrees, delicious desserts.

17) Palo Alto Baking Company - stop in for coffee and soup/sandwich/salad, and then take home some of their delectable pastries, or cookies.

18) Homma's Brown Rice Sushi - really good sushi at reasonable prices, on Birch, just behind Keeble and Shuchat

19) Bistro Elan - easily as fine a dining experience as can be had anywhere in the Bay area - a world class restaurant.

There's LOTS more on California Ave. The "Ave." been hosting the Santa train for years, generating more gift donations that anyone else on CalTrain's line. There's a great "Trick or Treat" effort by retailers on All Hollows Eve, a Jewish Street Fair in the autumn, and so on.

Visit the Ave. and let the community know what you think. We're open to praise and criticism alike.

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Posted by santa
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 11, 2006 at 9:34 am

Yeah California ave is getting to be a better spot than university or downtown Los Altos. Palo a lot sol is good and the new burger place is a welcome addition. While I'm sure a lot of the neighborhood along with the police hate the nut house, I count it as one of my favorite places in this area! While the restaurants are good and getting better (although you better get there early because no restaurant in PA seems to stay open late)the retail still leaves a lot to be desired. Keeble and suchat is super overpriced and I cant remember the last time I went into that store and felt welcome. Parking is getting to be a problem but at least I have not have to walk over a bunch of homeless people to get to my car!

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Posted by Not My Holiday
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2006 at 2:51 pm

Getting back to the topic of Diana's original post, the dearth of Christmas decorations downtown, I for one, as someone who does not celebrate Christmas, appreciate having somewhere to go that doesn't assault me at every turn with the sights and sounds of someone else's religious holiday.

I have an idea: What if the City Council were to take all the money that could have been spent on Christmas decorations, and donate it to charities in honor of all the citizens of Palo Alto? Then there could be signs at various places such as, "The equivalent dollar amount of the inflatable Santa and 8 (or is it 9?) reindeer that would have been on this corner will feed, say, 100 children in Darfur for a week," or "The cost of electricity to light a tree in this plaza for a month will instead provide backpacks and school supplies for 30 homeless children." Or whatever the actual numbers would be.

Now that's the kind of Christmas spirit I could really appreciate.

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Posted by anon
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 11, 2006 at 8:03 pm

trees along with decorations are not strictly "religious." Most people think of holiday decorations (unless they feature a baby Jesus!) as pleasantly festive and conducive to enjoyment in business and retail areas and welcoming for shopping and dining trips-

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Posted by Andrew L. Freedman
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 12, 2006 at 9:15 am

Hi Folks,

I was raised in the Jewish faith and I LIKE THE CHRISTMAS DOCORATIONS! I would estimate that back in the '50s and '60s, more homes than not were decorated with lights here in Palo Alto.

To me, it's an expression of a feeling more than it may be of a faith. And when I drive through a neighborhood dec'ed out in lights, I get neat, warm feeling.


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Posted by anon
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 12, 2006 at 9:34 am

more businesses (restaurants,etc) in downtown with little bright white lights could add a festive feeling to downtown without getting to Christmas-y - a bright 'holiday feeling' would be inviting.

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Posted by Not My Holiday
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 12, 2006 at 11:19 am

Let me clarify, so I don't seem like a total scrooge. A winter holiday feeling, with lights, snowflakes, etc., is nice and festive. And there is some beautiful sacred holiday music that I make an effort to go hear every year, Handel's Messiah, Vivaldi's Gloria. But sometimes the decorations verge on the tacky and excessive, and much of the Christmas muzak in stores is just plain bad, and the cheerful clerks in the stores are saying "MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!" because they're told to. Sometimes it all makes me want to crawl under the covers and stay there until January.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2006 at 11:06 am

Yes, California Ave. is a great shopping/eating area. It's ironic that the city is going to spend money to "improve" California, when it's a far more attractive, shopper-friendly area than downtown.

I guess I missed the lack of holiday decorations on University because I never go there.

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Posted by Anna
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2006 at 2:45 am

Pat, You're off the mark about California Avenue's improvements. Tree replacement and re-paving are all that's currently scheduled, with possible lighting improvements (the Ave. is poorly lighted in the evening), and bulb outs to control traffic. It's all needed infrastructure.

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Posted by BE REAL
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 14, 2006 at 5:53 am

It is amazing how our city is run. Most money gets spent on SALARIES of employees.
Actually come to think of it these decorations do not cost much. The biggest drain on the city is large amounts spent on employee salaries and benefits.
The city has no funds evne for small things. When a bing thing comes by the city is on its knees asking for bond support.
OH ! ... PALO ALTO !!

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Posted by Diana Diamond
Palo Alto Online blogger
on Dec 14, 2006 at 11:25 am

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Be real -

As to the cost of the Christmas decorations, I know Walgreen's and Longs have both before- and after-Christmas sales of the little white lights -- 99 cents for 300. They work fine! The city could be 100 strings -- that's 30,000 lights -- for $107!

The Business Improvement District people have been told by the city that installing lighting equipment (plugs) on the lampposts on Hamilton or University would cost a couple of a million dollars.

California Avenue store owners (or the business association there) partially solved the problem by stringing lights around trees on California and then running the cord overhead so that individual buildings could provide electricity to one or two trees. I am sure downtown merchants wouldn't mind doing this (or merchants along Bryant and Ramona) if it sparkled up the streets.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2006 at 1:38 pm

Oh yes, lets spend money on decorations instead of fixing potholes, another police officer, etc. If businesses - which are there to attract customers and make money - want to put up decorations, let them. If they attract customers with decorations, fine. But, why should the city do so?

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Posted by another anonymous coward
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 14, 2006 at 5:08 pm

I'd like to second the comment about the decorations -- most decorations are secular/seasonal and have nothing to do with the religious holiday of Christmas but with the season, and frankly, pagan celebrations and winter rituals that may have been adopted alongside but are not Christian or religious (to the point that we should even come up with a different word, it seems to me).

In fact, most of the things the secular public associate with Christmas have nothing whatsoever to do with the religious holiday (which for orthodox traditions isn't even celebrated on our Christmas day). When I was growing up, the association of the secular Christmas decorations/icons with Christmas was actually regarded as kind of antireligious because they detract from what was from the religious perspective the real meaning of Christmas. Thus, being too caught up in the non-religious trappings of Christmas was regarded as unChristian and worldly (i.e., has nothing to do with Christmas from a religious standpoint and may detract from the religious). Even Santa Claus was looked at a little askance.

So, if the lack of decorations has anything to do with the PC-police, tell them they can relax! (Or go reclaim the joy from the seasonal celebration for themselves.) I'm not sure I think the reason downtown didn't get decorated was because of political correctness, the Stanford Mall seems decked out and inviting. There's a Santa and a little Santa's village over by Macy's I think.

I used to live over by University, and I have to admit, it's not nearly such an inviting place now as it once was. A few decorations would have been worth the investment.

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Posted by another anoymous coward
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 16, 2006 at 9:55 am

Perhaps "yuletide" or "yule" are the traditional all-encompassing terms for seasonal activities and decorations. It's sure a lot more festive than "holiday" -- and I think that's traditionally how the word "yule" was used.

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Posted by Another mother here
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 29, 2006 at 12:38 am

I LOVE California Ave, always have...miss a lot of the old business' that once thrived there..but as life happens, the district has seen many changes come about...
One thing I have noticed every year (since it's placement by the train station) is the fountain that sometimes is filled with soap suds that mimics an abundance of snow...!! ( NO! I did not do it..!) I have wondered tho if it gums up the system..? Anyway, it looks great, I think! Gives the Avenue a bit of winters flavor...although it is looking like this year it may freeze over, as cold as our weather has been here lately!

I grew up here in Palo Alto also and can remember the decorations strung across the University Ave streets.....It was wonderful..the whole world lit up in the eyes of this toddler..I only wanted it to go on darkness..all warmth feeling...Somewhere along the way, the grinch came by....................all the bells were gone. All the wreaths disappeared. Somewhere Steve Staigner of the Palo Alto Historical Society must have pictures of the energy and friendliness that abounded here in our in 2006 we are lucky to get the twinkling of the little white lights without complaints from others who seem to want to settle to live with a black and white decorative theme............BORING!...Lighting up the Avenue should be year round to bring a cheery atmosphere..(the colored ones are preferred at Christmas time by many)..How many of you have driven down Christmas tree lane just to see some holiday lights? They are the same year after year, (as per the homeowners agreement when the house was purchased to continue the tradition)..but just to see some LIGHTS and grasp a tiny bit of holiday cheer ~ It lights up many faces and hearts.

What ever happened to all those University Ave. decorations?? Did they end up in our landfill????? Gee, that wasn't too earth friendly....Or are they stashed away somewhere in the City's storage?? That is where the Sweedish wooden statues (that sat on the bench with their dog) on Embarcadero Road went for awhile........

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards

on Jun 5, 2017 at 3:31 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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