Palo Alto, north of Oregon Expressway, is filled with older homes, including Craftsman and California Colonials, some of which date back to the 1890s but most of which were built in the first four decades of the 20th century. South of Oregon Expressway, the homes, including many Joseph Eichler-designed or Eichler-style houses, were primarily built in the first 20 years after World War II.
While the city contains homes that now cost anywhere from $800,000 to well in excess of $10 million, much of Palo Alto's housing stock is in the style of California mid-century middle-class suburbia. It has highly rated public schools (See: PALY and GUNN), a high quality of life, and a vibrant downtown. The median home sale price for all of Palo Alto was more than $1.3 Million in 2006. According to the Coldwell Banker Home Price Comparison Index, Palo Alto ranks in as the 5th most expensive city in the United States, with an average home sales price of $1,677,000 as of 2007. The Coldwell Banker College Home Price Comparison Index ranks Palo Alto as the most expensive college town in the United States. As a result, unlike most other college towns of similar size, most Stanford University students live on campus.
Earliest recorded history stems from 1769, when Gaspar de Portolá noted an Ohlone settlement. This remains an area of known Indian mounds. A plaque is erected at Middlefield Road and Embarcadero Road to commemorate this area.
The city got its name from a tall tree, El Palo Alto, by the banks of the San Francisquito Creek bordering Menlo Park. You can still find half of this tree (the other half was destroyed when the creek flooded) along the foot bridge on Alma Street A plaque recounts the story of a 63 man, 200 horse expedition from San Diego to the mission at Monterey from November 7–11, 1769. The group overshot and reached the bay instead. Regarding the bay as too wide to cross, the group decided to turn around near 'el palo alto.'
About 1827 Rafael Soto, tenth child and son of De Anza Expedition settler, Ignacio Soto and María Bárbara Espinosa de Lugo to Alta California came to stay with Maximo Martinez at his great Rancho el corte de Madera for seven years. It was . South of the San Francisquito Creek, west of today's Hwy 280 and covered most of Portola Valley to Skyline extending to about Foothill College. Rafael and family settled in 1835 near the San Francisquito Creek near Newell & Middlefield. Selling goods to travelers in the area about 1830. His property, Rancho Rinconada del Arroyo de San Francisquito was granted in 1835 at a size of about and reduced over time and claim. His wife, Maria Antnio Mesa, met with problems maintaining ownership. Their daughter María Luisa married (1) John Coppinger in 1839 who owned a large area west of the same creek, Rancho Canada de Raimundo. It began at Almbique Creek, the north border of el Corte de Madera, and extended north for . Now part of Woodside, Bear Gulch Creek /Bear Creek flowed on his land in Portola valley and present San Mateo County. it also abutted Buelna's grant near Skyline. and Matadero Creek. Upon his death, Maria inherited it and married later a visiting boat captain, John Greer, who stumbled into the area. He owned a home on the property that is now Town & Country Village on Embarcadero & El Camino Real. Greer Avenue and Court are named for him.
To the west of Rafael Soto nr El Camino and following the Creek was the next grantee in 1839, Antonio Buelna and wife Dona Maria Concepcion. To the south of the Sotos was another family, cousins and later grantee owners; the Robles brothers. Espanolos, Castilian, they said, and named Don Secundino and Teodoro. The older born in 1813 at Presidio Branciforte (Santa Cruz). Sons of a Mexiacan Army Californio. In 1849 they bought their property from José Peña, his 1841 grantee of Rancho Santa Rita, named Rancho Rincon de Francisquito. See Bancroft plat survey link http://imgzoom.cdlib.org/Fullscreen.ics?ark=ark:/13030/hb329004cp/z1&order=2&brand=calisphere It was basically from San Francisquito Creek, Alpine Road and Bishop Ln. (behind Stanford Shopping Ctr.) & golf course. Then South along the Santa Cruz Foothills between Junipero Serra & Hwy 280 to the (Intersection of Matadoro Creek/ Hillview /Miranda) & then SW near the intersection of Page Mill & Arastradero Rd. where the Jone's House was), then east down Arastradero Rd. to the north property line of Alta Mesa Cemetery and Terman Park. Follow the trail of what was once the old stage road over Adobe Creek/Yuegas Creek to El Camino Real & then east on San Abtonio Rd. to the Bay marshes passing over the RR and what was once the Jeffry's House & Stables.The property then went along the bay to the Embarcadero, a major boundary in the day. Then up to the Stanford University gates, up Galvez and along Campus way to the hills near the golf course. That's the Robles Rancho, about 80% of Palo Alto and Stanford University. So why aren't they historically famous? It was Spanish California! It was whittled down by 1863 through courts to . Stories say their grand hacienda was built on the former meager adobe of José Peña near Ferne off San Antonio Road, midway between Middlefield and Alma St.. These 2 boys did well. Read their story and understand how they earned money to buy this land in 1847. They later were forced to sell 250 acres (1 km²) in 1853 the present Barron Park, Matadero Creek and Stanford Business Park to Elisha Oscar Crosby ~ Creator of the term 'Mayfield'. Their hacienda hosted fiestas and bull fights. It was ruined in the 1906 earthquake and its lumber was used to build a large barn nearby which it is said lingered until the early 1950s. In 1880 Secundino Robles, father to twenty-nine children, still lived near present day Sears Dept. Store and was bounded on the south by Mariano Castro's grant across the street on San Antonio Road.
From 1846–1848, the United States and Mexico were at war (see Mexican-American War and Battle of Palo Alto), which concluded with U.S. acquisition of California and New Mexico. Mexican land grants became targets of the Americans settlers and tycoons. They were much more passive and had no real ability to confront De Anza and his men. Palo Alto was destined to be an early settlement but was reconsidered due to low creek levels. They marched on and set up a camp (Presidio) in present day San Francisco.
Many of the Spanish names in the Palo Alto area represent the local heritage and descriptive terms and former residents. Pena Court, Miranda Avenue, which was essentially Foothill Expwy was the married name of Juana Briones and the name occurs in Courts and Avenues others in Palo Alto to Mountain View in the quadrant where she owned vast areas between Stanford Univ., Grant Road in Mountain View and west of El Camino. Yerba Buena was to her credit. Rinconada was the major Mexican land grant name.
The township of Mayfield was formed in 1855, in what is now part of South Palo Alto. In 1886, Leland Stanford came to the town of Mayfield, interested in founding his university there, and creating a train stop near his school on Mayfield's downtown street, Lincoln Street (now named California Avenue). However, he had one condition: alcohol be banned from the town. Known for its 13 rowdy saloons, Mayfield rejected his requests for reform. This led him to drive the formation of Palo Alto, originally called University Park, in 1887 with the help of his friend Timothy Hopkins of the Southern Pacific Railroad who bought of private land for the new townsite. Stanford set up his university, Stanford University, and a train stop (on University Avenue) by his new town. With Stanford’s support, saloon days faded and Palo Alto grew to the size of Mayfield. On July 2, 1925, Palo Alto voters approved the annexation of Mayfield and the two communities were officially consolidated on July 6, 1925. This saga explains why Palo Alto has two downtown areas: one along University Avenue and one along California Avenue. The Mayfield News wrote its own obituary four days later:
Many of Stanford University’s first faculty members settled in the Professorville neighborhood of Palo Alto. Professorville, now a registered national historic district, is bounded by Kingsley, Lincoln, and Addison avenues and the cross streets of Ramona, Bryant, and Waverley. The district includes a large number of well preserved residences dating from the 1890s including 833 Kingsley, 345 Lincoln and 450 Kingsley. 1044 Bryant was the home of Russell Varian, co-inventor of the Klystron tube. The Lee DeForest laboratory site, situated at 218 Channing, is a California Historical Landmark recognizing DeForest's 1911 invention of the vacuum tube and electronic oscillator at that location. While not open to the public, the garage that housed the launch of Hewlett Packard is located at 367 Addison Av. Hewlett Packard recently restored the house and garage. A second historic district on Ramona Street can be found downtown between University and Hamilton Avenues.
Palo Alto has a number of significant natural habitats, including estuarine, riparian and oak forest. Many of these habitats are visible in Foothill Park, which is owned by the city. The Charleston Slough contains a rich marsh and littoral zone, providing feeding areas for a variety of shorebirds and other estuarine wildlife (Jenks, 1976].
Palo Alto is located at (37.429289, −122.138162). It is in the south-eastern section of the San Francisco Peninsula. It is bordered to the west by Menlo Park, to the north by East Palo Alto, and to the east by Mountain View and Los Altos. The southern border is made of Stanford, California (Stanford University) and Los Altos Hills.
The official elevation is above sea level, but the city boundaries reach well into the peninsula hills. There are signs denoting the city limits on Skyline Boulevard (highway 35) and the Stevens Canyon trail (San Andreas fault rift zone).
In January, average temperatures range from to . In July, average temperatures range from to . The record high temperature was on June 15, 1961, and the record low temperature was on December 23, 1990. Temperatures reach 90°F (32°C) or higher on an average of 9.9 days. Temperatures drop to 32°F (0°C) or lower on an average of 16.1 days.
Due to the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west, there is a "rain shadow" in Palo Alto, resulting in an average annual rainfall of only . Measurable rainfall occurs on an average of 57 days annually. The wettest year on record was 1983 with and the driest year was 1976 with . The most rainfall in one month was in February 1998 and the most rainfall in one day was on February 3, 1998. Measurable snowfall is rare in Palo Alto, but 1.5 inches fell on January 21, 1962.
As of the census of 2000, there were 58,598 people, 25,216 households, and 14,600 families residing in the city. The population density was 955.8/km² (2,475.3/mi²). There were 26,048 housing units at an average density of 424.9/km² (1,100.3/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 75.76% white, 2.02% African American, 0.21% Native American, 17.22% Asian, 0.14% Pacific Islander, 1.41% from other races, and 3.24% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.65% of the population.
There were 25,216 households, of which 27.2% had resident children under the age of 18, 48.5% were married couples living together, 7.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 42.1% were non-families. 32.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.30 and the average family size was 2.95.
In the city the population was spread out with 21.2% under the age of 18, 4.9% from 18 to 24, 32.4% from 25 to 44, 25.9% from 45 to 64, and 15.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 95.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.6 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $90,377, and the median income for a family was $117,574. Males had a median income of $91,051 versus $60,202 for females. The per capita income for the city was $56,257. About 3.2% of families and 4.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 4.0% of those under age 18 and 5.0% of those age 65 or over. The reason for the difference between the household income and the family income can be explained by the fact that some areas of Palo Alto are populated by graduate students, who do not necessarily have to live on the Stanford campus.
Old Palo Alto, known among locals as Professorville, is traditionally thought of as the most affluent and desirable Palo Alto neighborhoods. Located between Alma Street and Middlefield Road and between Embarcadero Road and the Oregon Expressway, Old Palo Alto is known for its tree lined streets and old, larger, historic houses. See further information about Professorville in the History section of this article.
Other notable corporate citizens:
In addition, Palo Alto has a lively retail and restaurant trade, and the Stanford Shopping Center and downtown Palo Alto (centered around University Avenue) are popular destinations.
See also: Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce list of Major Employers (archived)
Water and Gas Services (WGS) operates gas and water distribution networks within the city limits. Natural gas is purchased from PG&E or third parties and delivered to Palo Alto via PG&E's gas transmission pipeline network. The city operates gas meters and the distribution pipelines. Water comes from city-operated watershed and wells, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, and the City and County of San Francisco Hetch Hetchy system. The city is located in Santa Clara Valley Water District, North Zone. Hetch Hetchy pipeline #3 and #4 pass through the city.
The city operates its own electric power distribution network and telemetry cable network. Interconnection points tie the city into PG&E's electric transmission system, which brings power from several sources to the city. A claim to fame is the city's exemption from rolling blackouts during the summer 2000 power shortages. Palo Alto is a member of a joint powers authority which cooperatively generates electricity for government power providers such as the city of Santa Clara, city of Redding, and Modesto Irrigation District. Roughly the same group of entities operate the Transmission Agency of Northern California (TANC). TANC transports power (called wheeling) over its own lines from as far as British Columbia through an interconnection with the federal Bonneville Power Administration. A local oddity is a series of joint poles on Arastradero Road near Page Mill Road. The primary conductor cross arms are marked PGE and CPA (city of Palo Alto) to identify each utility's side of the shared cross arms.
Palo Alto has an ongoing community debate about the city providing fiber optic connectivity to all residences. A series of pilot programs were proposed. One proposal called for the city to install dark fiber which would be made live by a contractor. Internet connectivity over fiber optic lines is not universal or city-wide as of spring 2006.
Services traditionally attributed to a cable television provider were sold to a regulated commercial concern. Previously the cable system was operated by a cooperative called Palo Alto Cable Coop.
The former Regional Bell Operating Company in Palo Alto was Pacific Telephone. The company is now called AT&T and was previously called SBC and Pacific Bell. One of the earliest central office facilities switching Palo Alto calls is the historic Davenport central office (CO) at 529 Bryant St. The building was sold and is now used as offices. The former CO building is marked by a bronze plaque and is located on the north side of Bryant Street between University Avenue and Hamilton Avenue. It was called Davenport after the exchange name at the introduction of dial telephone service in Palo Alto. For example, modern numbers starting with 325- were Davenport 5 in the 1950s and '60s. The Bryant CO, located at , contained several floors of clattering Western Electric Step-by-Step switching equipment that historically handled calls for homes and businesses in Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto, and Palo Alto. The Step-by-Step office was scrapped and replaced by stored-program-controlled equipment at a different location about 1980. Stanford calls ran on a Step-by-Step Western Electric 701 PBX until the university purchased its own switch about 1980. It had the older, traditional Bell System 600 Hz+120 Hz dial tone. The old 497-number PBX, MDF, and battery string were housed in a steel building at 333 Bonair Siding. (The building still stands but Stanford's present-day PBX switch is elsewhere.) From 1950s to 1980s, the bulk of Palo Alto calls were switched on Number 5 Crossbar systems. By the mid-1980s, these electromechanical systems had been junked. Under the Bell System's regulated monopoly, local coin telephone calls were ten cents until the early 1980s.
During the drought of the early 1990s, Palo Alto employed water waste patrol officers to enforce water saving regulations. The team, called "Gush Busters" patrolled city streets looking for broken water pipes and poorly managed irrigation systems. Regulations were set to stop restaurants from habitually serving water, run off from irrigation and irrigation during the day. The main goal of the team was to educate the public in ways to save water. Citations consisted of Friendly Reminder post cards and more formal notices. To help promote the conservation message, the team only used bicycles and mopeds.
In the 1960s, rapid growth began to fill in the blank spaces on the Palo Alto map. Unincorporated areas and orchards still dotted the map. Prune and apricot orchards became suburban streets. The size and expertise of public safety services has evolved along with this constant growth in population. The city was among the first in Santa Clara County to offer advanced life support (ALS) paramedic-level (EMT-P) ambulance service. In an arrangement predating countywide paramedic service, Palo Alto Fire operates two paramedic ambulances which are theoretically shared with county EMS assets. The Palo Alto Fire Department is currently the only fire department in Santa Clara County that routinely transports patients. American Medical Response holds the Santa Clara County 911 contract and provides transportation in other cities. Enhanced 9-1-1 arrived in about 1980 and included the then-new ability to report emergencies from coin telephones without using a coin.
Before the 1980s, Palo Alto police shared a single radio channel with Atherton and Menlo Park, (154.950 MHz). While located in Santa Clara County, in one sense, the police had closer ties to San Mateo County because of this arrangement. Until the 1970s, a Motorola FMTRU-series DC-remote base — possibly a backup system — was housed at EOC on Newell Rd. The police station was housed in a stone building (still) marked Police Court at 450 Bryant St. The building is now a senior citizens center. In the late 1970s, FCC regulations changed to allow sharing of television frequencies in major US metropolitan areas. About 1980, the city built their own voted repeater system on TV-sharing frequencies for Police. Fire systems evolved from stand-alone base stations to a voted modern, system using DTMF station ringdowns. The current city systems are models of good level discipline.
In modern times, police have enjoyed a reputation for professionalism and quick response times and are headquartered in the City Hall high rise. The Department is staffed by just under 100 sworn officers ranking from Chief, Captain, Lieutenant, Sergeant, Agent (corporal) and Officer. The staff is supplemented by approximately 10 Reserve Officers and numerous non-sworn employees who support the Department. The Department has been recognized for its prowess at criminal investigation and critical incident resolution including handling numerous large scale protests in town.
The larger population and difficult target hazards of the campus are now addressed by the resources of Palo Alto Fire, which handles daily calls for service. Stanford University Department of Public Safety ran their own fire department and dispatched their own police calls until about 1980. Prior to that time, Stanford Department of Public Safety Sheriff's Deputies used County Frequency 7 (154.740 MHz). The University's radio equipment had been upgraded after protests against the Vietnam War tested readiness and limitations of the agency in the 1960s. At the time, the channel (Frequency 7) was also shared primary dispatch for Los Altos and Mountain View police. Under the county radio identifier prefix system in use at the time, Stanford units were identified by a prefix 26. A typical Stanford DPS patrol unit might identify as twenty-six-ess-eight (26S8), for example. The University's Frequency 7 police base station had a call sign of KBF249. In the early 1980s, Stanford turned their dispatching for fire and police over to the City of Palo Alto. Before the early 1980s, Stanford Fire units were dispatched by university staff on County Frequency 8 (154.400 MHz) and used identifiers including Engine 95 and Rescue 95. Fire equipment ran calls out of the station that is today identified as Palo Alto Station 6: a.k.a. 711 Serra Street or Quad 9 Building 300. The need for a new fire station may have partly been dictated by needs for a large ladder truck because of the arrival of Escondido Village high rise buildings. Prior to the construction of this station, fire units worked out of a building that is now marked, "Old Fire Truck House." The old fire station is located on Santa Teresa Street near Tressider Memorial Union: Quad 2 Building 620.
Along the 4000-block of El Camino Real in Palo Alto exists a community built in the late 1940s known as Barron Park. Barron Park remained outside the city limits until a 1970s zeal for annexation brought it into the city. As an unincorporated area, police services were handled by the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department. Fire services were the domain of the volunteer Barron Park Fire District, (BPFD). Based on the age of their equipment, the Barron Park subdivision is believed to have been built in 1949. The district housed two firefighting vehicles in a steel shed (the fire station) behind Lanai Florist at 4050 El Camino Real. The shed still stands today. Only one fire unit had a radio: a 1950 GMC/FMC pickup marked, "Barron Park Fire District Number Two," and used the radio callsign, "High Pressure 90." A second unit, a 1949 White/Van Pelt, was not radio equipped. In practice, it was referred to on the radio as, "The Big One." As it had no official identifier, volunteers would tell county fire dispatch over the radio, "The Big One is also responding." Barron Park Fire operated its radios on the county-dispatched primary fire channel then referred to as Frequency 2. The department was self-dispatched. The department's seven-digit emergency number rang at the BPFD Chief's house. If the call was a fire, the Chief pulled an exclusion key on the emergency line telephone and dialed zero. This grounded one conductor of the seven-digit emergency number's phone line and actuated a relay which turned on a Federal-brand, air-raid style siren at the site where the firefighting vehicles were parked. As the siren would cycle through its repartee, all available volunteers would go to the station. At the station, the first to arrive would lift the receiver of an extension of the seven digit emergency phone and the Chief would tell them what the call was. The first volunteer would write the call on a blackboard so late arrivals could know the location of the event. Typical of fire calls in any area, a large fire will generate many reports. The telephone technology used by many volunteer fire departments at the time — including BPFD — used an electromechanical device called a line turret. This was a predecessor to modern conference calls and call waiting. After the Chief answered the first call, if a second person called the seven-digit emergency number to report a fire, the second caller would be bridged onto the first call. This allowed a single, rotary-dial telephone to answer multiple lines. In a typical volunteer department, emergency phones would be wired to the homes of several volunteers and they would take turns maintaining watch over the phone. It also led to confusion because the second caller might get conferenced with an earlier caller who was halfway through the process of reporting a fire. When Barron Park was annexed to Palo Alto about 1979, The Big One was donated to San Jose City College Fire Academy program where it was subsequently scrapped. High Pressure 90 was sold at auction and still resides in the area of Barron Park. Today the area receives city services and is part of the city of Palo Alto.
The city is also served indirectly by State Route 84 which traverses the Dumbarton Bridge to the north. None of the highways on the Peninsula side of the bridge have been upgraded to freeway status due to opposition from residents of Palo Alto, Atherton and Menlo Park. The freeway opponents fear that upgrading Highway 84 will encourage more people to live in Alameda County (where housing is more affordable) and commute to jobs in the mid-Peninsula area, thus increasing traffic in their neighborhoods to the south of the bridge. Also, Palo Alto has only one major crosstown arterial, Page Mill Road / Oregon Expressway, which completely connects the two freeways. Because of these two defects in the regional road network, Palo Alto is notorious for severe traffic congestion at rush hour.
Palo Alto is served by Palo Alto Airport of Santa Clara County, one of the busiest single-runway general aviation airports in the country. Palo Alto Airport (KPAO) is used by many daily commuters who fly (usually in private singled engine aircraft) from their homes in the Central Valley to work in the Palo Alto area.
Train service is available via Caltrain with service to San Francisco and San Jose. Caltrain has two regular stops in Palo Alto, one at University Avenue (local and express) and the other at California Avenue (local only). A third, located beside Alma Street at Embarcadero Road, is used to provide special services for occasional sports events (generally football) at Stanford Stadium. The University Avenue stop is the second most popular (behind 4th and King in San Francisco) on Caltrain's entire line.
The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) provides primary bus service through Palo Alto with service to the south bay and Silicon Valley. The San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) provides service to San Mateo County to the north. The Stanford University Free Shuttle (Marguerite) provides a supplementary bus service to and from the campus, and the Palo Alto Free Shuttle (Crosstown and Embarcadero), which circulates frequently, and provides service to major points in Palo Alto, including the main library, downtown, the Municipal Golf Course, the Caltrain University Ave. Station, and both high schools.
There are no parking meters in Palo Alto and all municipal parking lots and multi-level parking structures are free (limited to two or three hours any weekday 8am - 5pm). Downtown Palo Alto has recently added many new lots to fill the overflow of vehicles.
In 1989, Palo Alto received a gift of a large, whimsical wooden sculpture called Foreign Friends (Fjärran Vänner) — of a man, woman, dog and bird sitting on a park bench — from Linköping. The sculpture was praised by some, called "grotesque" by others, and became a lightning rod for vandals. It was covered with a large addressed postcard marked "Return to Sender." A former Stanford University mathematics professor was arrested for attempting to light it on fire. It was doused with paint.
When the original heads were decapitated on Halloween, 1993, the statue became a shrine — flowers bouquets and cards were placed upon it. Following an anonymous donation, the heads were restored. Within weeks, the restored heads were decapitated again, this time disappearing. The heads were eventually replaced with new ones, which generated even more distaste, as many deemed the new heads even less attractive.
A few months later, the man's arm was chopped off, the woman's lap was vandalized, the bird was stolen, and the replacements heads were decapitated and stolen.
The sculpture was removed from its location on Embarcadero Road and Waverley Avenue in 1995, dismantled, and placed in storage until it was destroyed in 2000. Ironically, the statue was designed not as a lasting work of art, but as something to be climbed on with a lifespan of 10 to 25 years.