Town Square

Childhood memories of Mitchell Park

Original post made by Greg Betts, Community Center, on Feb 12, 2007

Mitchell Park will soon be celebrating its 50th anniversary in April. The City's Community Services Department is planning a gala celebration. We would love to hear your favorite memories of playng and growing up around Mitchell Park. Remember the Auto-topia pathway and push-peddle cars? Remeber playing in the splash fountain near the tennis courts? What are your favorite memories?
- Greg Betts
Open Space & Parks Division Manager
City of Palo Alto


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Posted by Andrew L. Freedman
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 12, 2007 at 10:32 am

Andrew L. Freedman is a registered user.

Okay Greg (fellow Wilbur Warrior),

Here's one of my memories, or maybe I should say it was my dad's and mother's memory (you'll see):

It was 1959 or shortly after the park opened, I was about 3 1/2 years old and my dad took my older brother, Dean (one year older) and I to Mitchell Park, which was just about a mile from our home on Wellsbury Way.

According to my parents, everyone had a great time, first playing near the big bears, crawling through the tunnels in the sand area and then finally wading in the children’s wading pool.

Everyone was ready to leave - except for me. My dad asked me to come out of the wading pool and I refused. The more he demanded, the further out I walked in the pool. I refused to come out. Finally, my dad had to roll up his pant legs and come in after me. They told me I was screaming and being evasive, but they finally got me out. I don't remember any of it.


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Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 12, 2007 at 4:09 pm

I went to Wilbur Jr. High from 1959 to 1962. Mitchell Park was where the greasers hung out before school smoking cigarettes, defacing the restrooms and bending the bench backs to the ground. About once a month the Park & Rec guys would call the police.

The police would storm the park in their cars and drive down the gravel paths. It was always fun to watch the greasers running and wheezing to school. It was probably the most exercise they ever got.

Fun times!!

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Posted by Andrew L. Freedman
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 13, 2007 at 1:49 pm

Andrew L. Freedman is a registered user.

Okay, I wrote the tame memory ealier. Here are some other memories of Mitchell Park which, hopefully some of you folks will recall, too:

I began 7th grade at Wilbur in 1969. There were still some empty lots and new streets in Palo Alto. On weekends, I collect scrap pieces of wood, the ends of 2 x 4s, usually 4 – 7 inches long. These were perfect for burning in the barbeques at Mitchell Park. The cigarette smokers would arrive at about 7:15am and we’d light a small fire in the barbeques to keep warm during the colder winter mornings.

This was the time for the smokers to socialize. What was neat was that everyone, 7th – 9th graders, all got along. With our long hair, bell bottoms, Levi Jackets, cigarettes, we thought we were pretty much all grown up. At least that’s how we saw ourselves.

As a rule, if you were on the east side of the path – which was Mitchell Park – across from Wilbur’s boundary, it was okay to smoke. If you were on the Wilbur side, you’d get suspended no questions about it What a difference 4 feet makes, huh?

Like clockwork, at 7:30am, Wilbur’s Vice Principal, Mr. Leon (or “Skinhead” as we affectionately called him), would ride by on his bicycle. Looking back, it seems a little weird. I mean, he was the authority but as long as we stayed on the Mitchell Park side, it was okay to smoke. In fact, as he road by us all, we were all very cordial and would exchange good morning greetings

That same year, there was The Big Bust on the Hill at Mitchell Park, as it was later called. Palo Alto Police, using Narc’s on Bikes (and it happened to my friends and I at Hoover Park), made a huge bust of “pot smokers” at Mitchell Park after school. If I recall, almost 20 students were rounded up and taken to Juvenile Hall. I’m not sure of all the details about it, though.

Okay, so remember the boundary? Wilbur, the path, and Mitchell Park. One lunch period, instead of walking to the other side of the path, two 8th graders climbed up a tree to have their lunch smoke. Coach Cavanaugh saw them, ran out to the field, went over to the tree, and then, by their feet, yanked them down. Both of the students came tumbling hard to the ground.

All of us on the Mitchell Park side witnessed this and began shouting, “Hey man! That’s brutality, man.” The coach said, “Oh yeah! Well, these guys are going to the office, anyone else want to come?” He took them by the arms and all of us began to follow. We built up momentum on the way, telling everyone what had happened and by the time we got to the administration offices, there were at least 50 of us. We all began milling around shouting “Brutality” and had an unplanned “sit-in” right in front of the offices.

Mr. Leon came out but we weren’t satisfied with him so we were shouting, “Get Koolan (sp?) out here!” Mr. Koolan was the principal, but Mr. Leon had much more visibility.

By the time Mr. Koolan came out, the bell had rung but we hadn’t moved. Our demands were that the two students come out from the office and suffer no suspension. Seeing that we were not going to return to class, they relented.

Finally, Mr. Leon came out, said he wanted to talk to us so we went to the bleachers area. He acknowledged that the manner in which the kids were yanked out of the tree was inappropriate and they would not be in trouble. He said if we returned to class, no one else would be in trouble, either.

I think we all felt a sense of accomplishment. We knew the students shouldn’t have been smoking in the field at Wilbur but we also knew that the coach didn’t have a right to manhandle the students, ether.

Just one other thing – at brunched, they’d sell sliced Sourdough French bread – dripping with REAL BUTTER for a dime a slice.


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Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 13, 2007 at 4:10 pm

Good stories Andy. Looks like nothing changed but the hair length and what was put on it.

Were the Narcs On Bikes the same thing as the Red Squad?

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Posted by Andrew L. Freedman
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 14, 2007 at 8:36 am

Andrew L. Freedman is a registered user.

Hi Hulkamania (and all),

The Narcs on Bikes was a product of the Palo Alto Police Department in the late 60s early 70s. The Vice squad grew their hair long and grew mustaches and beards. They looked "cool."

I was 13 when 5 of my friends and I were at Hoover Park passing around a cigarett (the "devils weed"). We were caught totally off gaurd. It was a big thing back then. My brother and his friends, who were playing touch football in the field near the skating rink, where we were bust, were just as shocked as we were. They put 3 of us in one car and 3 in another. By this time, they had called in backup. They put the bikes in the trunk. We were trying to be cool, yelling out, "Hey, man, you - - - Pigs!"

By the time we were put in the holding cell in the new Police Department and City Hall (they had just moved from the Bryant Street Police station), the realization hit one of my friends who started to break down. He was scared of what his father was going to do to him. Of course, back in those days, there was no spankin' bill legislation being debated.


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Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 14, 2007 at 9:05 am

Ahhhh, the hippie cops. They got some friends of mine in Pardee park drinking some beers. Talk about stealth busts.

From the direction this thread has taken it looks like no one remembers anything about Mitchell Park. I always thought it was a neat place with lots of stuff to do. My brother would let his dog run loose around the tennis courts so he could pick up tennis balls that went over the fence.

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Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 14, 2007 at 9:20 am

Surprised that there aren't more comments on this.

I miss the wading pool. It was changed into the fountains when my youngest was at the right age and although he loved the fountains, the pool was more fun. I remember as a parent coming back from the park with a really cold back as the wind always seemed to come through the gaps in the planks behind the benches even on the hottest summer days. My kids loved to go there and always made new friends. We always kept swimming stuff in the car so that we could have a quick dip on the way home from errands and always stayed longer than planned, and I always came home with wet shorts because I couldn't resist getting my feet wet too and of course always got splashed. Then there was the summer that they had to close the pool because a little girl had got herself caught in the filtering system, I can't quite remember if it was a finger or her hair, but it has always made me a little scared of the filters in pools ever since.

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Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 8, 2007 at 12:26 pm

When Mitchell Park first opened up, it was marveled, oooed and ahhhed by the way it was laid out and for all of the special touches that went into it's planning........HAPPY 50TH YEAR!!!!!!!!!! I am proud to live in a city that has such a sence of awareness and that contrubutes so very much to the community.

WHEN the park first opened, I especially loved to watch people play the giant chess game that had life size tokens that they had to carry from one square to another..Also, the shuffle board game on the ground..My kids loved the wadeing pool..even if it meant getting splashed in the face occasionally because it was pretty crowded in the early years..( taught them a lesson on being humble!)..The little cars that you could drive thru the tunnels were the biggest sorry to see those go...
I smile when I remember my mother-in-law, at age 55, trying to learn how to ride a bike there for the VERY first time in her life...little wobbly, but she succeeded in keeping it up right on the trail!
The park was a great attraction to both the Jr. High next door ("RAY LYMAN WILBUR JR. HIGH) and of the J.P.CUBBERLEY HIGH SCHOOL down the block...There were a few "rumbles" there, but mostly you would see a lot of hand holding and people having fun gathering around the picnic areas and rolling down on the grassy hill.....Some Cubberley classes still gather there at the park for reunions..When the park expanded and opened up the center by the Library, the Park and Rec department went into full swing for the middle and high school age kids..a lot more activites could be planned at that facility, which was a big plus.
My family and I have attended many gatherings there at the bowl area, from the music to chili cook offs, to watching the dogs mingle in their special area..
Many good times there in a beautiful, clean and safe enviornment..This park is one of Palo Alto's jewels!

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Posted by Bob Hamilton
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2011 at 1:29 am

I suppose I was one of the greasers according to Hulkamania... I was a smoker, as were most of my friends, Bob Therrien, Butch Flash and others. We certainly weren't as menacing or destructive as described, but we were in the class of 62. Bob Therrien is a world reknowened artist, Butch is a wealthy businessman, and there was Gregg Rolie, who is still making music.
Mitchell Park was the hangout and I have very fond memories of it.
I did smack into Hans Koolan's VW on my way to Fremont High before we moved to Sunnyvale. That's a memory that's not so fond.