When looking at photographs of Cubberley Community Center from the 1960s, when the facility served as a high school, it’s hard to notice anything different from how the grounds look today. The gymnasium still houses myriad mosaic animals on its facade, the doors still have their bluish tint, and a sign with the words “Ellwood P. Cubberley High School” still stands at the front of the property.
What those vintage photographs don’t show is the vibrant community that has evolved within Cubberley’s walls since 1990, under the City of Palo Alto’s lease of the campus from the Palo Alto School District.
The 35-acre center provides space to about 130 community groups and artists. On any given day, the campus is bustling with everything from after-school programs and sports games to dance lessons and music classes.
Slideshow: The Groups at Cubberley
Artist Servane Briand specializes in book art and printmaking in the space she leases with another artist, one of 24 art studios at Cubberley.
Most of her work has a natural twist to it: She uses beeswax as a coating and painting tool and works frequently in solar etching, in which she exposes a drawing to the sun on a polymer plate and then develops her etching using a traditional process.
Before moving to Cubberley three years ago, Briand worked in her bedroom.
“Cubberley has allowed me to work on bigger scale, to do projects that are more sophisticated,” she said, “partly because of the space, because you can lift things around and manipulate more, partly because I can have equipment, which I couldn’t have in my bedroom.”
Sharing a space also has provided her the opportunity to collaborate with her studio partner, she added.
“We acquire and share equipment and then inspire and influence each other, so that’s also been very good,” Briand said.
For Palo Alto Vineyard Church, one of three churches operating at Cubberley, the need for more space is what initially prompted the organization to move from its home at Mitchell Park Community Center 30 years ago.
Lead Pastor Susan Van Riesen said the church has gained much more than just space since relocating to Cubberley.
“A number of years ago, when they still had a number of homeless folks living at Cubberley, a lot of those folks came to our services. Some of them are still a part of our community. It has enabled us to be a more diverse congregation,” Van Riesen said.
Lori Rock, instructor and host for the weekly Senior Friendship Day program, which provides seniors the opportunity to socialize, have lunch and participate in language-learning classes, line-dancing and an exercise class operated by Stanford University, said her program also has benefited since moving from Lucie Stern Community Center to Cubberley in search of more space four years ago.
The program has gained more space, more parking spots and better access to public transportation — things that have attracted more program participants, she said.
Ollia Yenikomshian, executive director of the oldest program at Cubberley — the nonprofit Children’s Pre-school Center — called Cubberley a “hub for nonprofits.” Since its founding three decades ago, the preschool has operated in the same location on campus thanks to a rental stipend from the City. Yenikomshian said that under a city provision, nonprofits qualify for reduced rent, which has helped organizations that otherwise would not likely be able to find an affordable space in the community to provide services.
The future of these programs, however, is uncertain as the Palo Alto Unified School District prepares for the possible reopening of the school grounds if needed in the coming years. The City and school district have been working to approve a joint-use master plan by 2020 with the potential to accommodate community services as well as a new school. In June, the city’s Policy and Services Committee voted to support moving ahead with a request for proposal for a consultant, which will be voted on by the Palo Alto City Council in September.
Slideshow: The Geometry of Cubberley
Mike Cobb, former mayor and head of the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee, said he is skeptical about whether the property can accommodate both civic and school uses.
The City, however, cannot afford to not have Cubberley, he added.
“It provides services that Lucie Stern (Community Center) can’t provide, that Mitchell Park doesn’t provide. It’s a really irreplaceable resource in terms of providing resources to the community.”