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January 20, 2006

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, January 20, 2006

Palo Alto Orchards Palo Alto Orchards (January 20, 2006)

Cozy, cul-de-sac living in Palo Alto

by Terry Tang

Although it's impossible to tell now, Palo Alto Orchards was an endless source of fruits. Just ask Virginia and Jack Van Nuys, who were steps away from nine apricot trees. They often invited friends to their McKellar Lane residence to take their pick.

"We dried the apricots ourselves," Jack said. "We almost killed a tree with the sulfur fumes."

Having so much fruit was just one of the many pluses the couple enjoyed while raising four children in the Orchards.

Hidden between El Camino Real and Arastradero Road, Palo Alto Orchards is a patchwork-quilt of 1950s cottages, modern two-story houses and the towering Plaza International apartments. But the heart of Orchards territory is the cul-de-sacs that bear the names of the original developers -- McKellar and Kelly construction firm -- and their wives, Suzanne and Lorabelle.

In 1950, the Van Nuyses, with a 4-month-old daughter in tow, managed to snap up a non-Eichler tract. McKellar and Kelly were offering homeowners one-story homes with a choice of layout. According to Jack, three-bedroom and two-bedroom abodes went for about $9,250 and $8,800, respectively.

The neighborhood demographic mainly consisted of young post-WWII veterans setting up house with housewives. A household that didn't consist of children was a rarity. Jack recalled "lots of small fry around." If he could alter one thing about the area today, it would be an increased presence of kids.

During the '50s and '60s, neighbors often organized get-togethers and even set up a volleyball net. It was easy as the isolated Suzanne Court was like having a private street. They often went for strolls or drank coffee together on a resident's lawn.

"[Today] both mothers and fathers are working," Virginia said. "There isn't much time to socialize with your neighbors."

Lisa Michael, who moved here a decade ago, was drawn in by the lead-to-nowhere streets. She and her husband wanted their own house where they could raise a 5-year-old girl. She noticed how close Suzanne Drive was to shopping on El Camino and other main roads. Yet, the area seemed untouched by noisy traffic.

"It's all dead ends," Michael said. "So, no one's driving through there unless they want to be in the neighborhood. The streets are very wide. There's a very open feeling to it."

Just outside of the neighborhood lies Juana Briones Park. Residents of all ages are delighted about the facelift on the 4.1 acres of open space. The renovation includes rebuilt pathways, new furniture and playground equipment. Michael is glad there's now a play area for older kids, like her 5-year-old son.

Getting to the park, however, may be difficult. No longer a little two-lane road, the Charleston/Arastradero corridor has long been a pedestrian-safety concern as cars speed between El Camino and Highway 280. Residents heading to the park or bus stop must walk a block to the nearest traffic light and then back-track.

Henry Lum, chair of the Palo Alto Orchards Neighborhood Association, said he has seen the elderly scurry -- sometimes with strollers -- as fast as they can across the street. He and other residents continue to push for another crosswalk with regulatory lights or at least visible signage.

Besides staying on top of landscape issues, the association has spent the last few years stirring up more neighborly socializing. Block parties at Easter, Independence Day and Labor Day have become a regular and beloved occurrence.

Palo Alto Orchards facts @facthead:CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS: @fact:Palo Alto Montessori School, 575 Arastradero Road @facthead:FIRE STATION: @fact:No. 5, 600 Arastradero Road @facthead:LIBRARY: @fact:Mitchell Park branch, 3700 Middlefield Road @facthead:NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION: @fact:Henry Lum, @facthead:PARKS: @fact:Juana Briones Park, 609 Maybell Ave.; Terman Park, 655 Arastradero Road @facthead:POST OFFICE: @fact:Veterans Hospital Bureau, 3801 Miranda Ave. @facthead:PRIVATE SCHOOL: @fact:Bowman International School, 4000 Terman Road @facthead:PUBLIC SCHOOLS: @fact:Juana Briones Elementary School, Terman Middle School, Gunn High School @facthead:SHOPPING: @fact:El Camino Real, San Antonio Shopping Center

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