Block by block: Outlooks on living in Palo Alto

About the above photo: Numerous trees line the street on Forest Avenue between Lincoln Avenue and Center Drive in 2018. File photo by Veronica Weber.

In celebration of the Palo Alto Weekly’s 40th anniversary, news staff wanted to examine what the city is like today in light of what has happened over the past four decades since the inaugural issue was published on Oct. 11, 1979. We started by reaching out to residents on four blocks in Palo Alto, from north to south: Poe Street, Churchill Avenue, Greer Road and El Cerrito Road. We asked them to tell us what living in the city is like for them and what fills their day-to-day lives. We also asked them to share their observations about the changes happening in their neighborhoods and the city. We’re grateful to them for sharing their stories, which you can read in their neighborhood profiles below.

If this project sounds familiar, it is: In what has become a tradition, we followed in the footsteps of previous Weekly reporters and editors, who for the newspaper’s 10th and 25th anniversaries also researched and produced similar overviews of Palo Alto.

One thing struck us as we reviewed their work: The most pressing problems of the region in 2019 may be more exaggerated today, but they took root decades ago. For the 10th anniversary edition in 1989, journalist Melinda Sacks wrote: “As housing prices climb astronomically” — referring to the average home price of $400,000 in 1988 — “the original residents are finding themselves living side by side with a new kind of neighbors. If not extremely wealthy, they are at least highly paid, often two-income, career-oriented professionals who don’t have nearly as much time for community activities as did the families who settled here earlier.”

One local real estate agent at the time noted that children who grew up in Palo Alto were unable to buy homes in the city, even then — a familiar refrain of today’s parents as well.

We hope you find our reporting relatable and valuable.

At the crossroads

The 100 block of Churchill Avenue

By Gennady Sheyner

About the above photo: A truck driver heads down the 100 block of Churchill Avenue in Palo Alto. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

The 100 block of Churchill Avenue may not be featured on any tourist maps, but few parts of Palo Alto better encapsulate the city’s most pressing challenges — and opportunities for change.

Located just east of Alma Street and the railroad tracks, at the edge of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, the block is the perfect showcase for every major mode of transportation the city has to offer.

Twice a day, hundreds of students ride their bicycles past the sizable single-family homes to get to and from Palo Alto High School, frustrating residents who need to leave or enter their driveways. Some Alma Street drivers turn on Churchill to reach Embarcadero Road, the major artery that runs parallel to Churchill to the west of Alma and merges with it several blocks to the east.

And every now and then, conversations get interrupted by the rumble of a train as it passes by, sounding its horn and prompting the crossing gates to go up and down.

In some ways, the block is typical Palo Alto: tree-lined sidewalks, immaculate lawns, eclectic architecture styles and residents who know how much the other homes in the area have sold for.

In other ways it’s unique. The block is ground zero for Palo Alto’s raging debate over “grade separations”: the redesign of the railroad crossings that, under some permutations, could threaten dozens of homes with eminent domain.

Just a few blocks west, across El Camino Real, is Stanford University, which is preparing for a growth spurt that could significantly affect traffic in the area and has also generated its share of controversy.

Residents here also have a front-row seat for another project that has polarized the community: the proposed expansion of Castilleja School, an all-girls school located four blocks away.

On the south side of Churchill, one home displays a “Stop Castilleja Expansion” lawn sign. Directly across the street, a homeowner shows support for the school’s growth plan through another sign.

Helen Tombropoulos, a cheerful 89-year-old with a generous garden that has seen better days, is in the latter camp. She moved here 40 years ago so that her daughter could attend Castilleja. More recently, she worked at Stanford as program manager of the university’s undergraduate program in mathematical and computational science. She retired last year and now looks forward to tackling one of her passions: gardening.

Helen Tombropoulos, a longtime resident of the 100 block of Churchill Avenue in Palo Alto, reminisces about her years in Palo Alto on Sept. 30. Photo by Sammy Dallal.
Helen Tombropoulos, a longtime resident of the 100 block of Churchill Avenue in Palo Alto, reminisces about her years in Palo Alto on Sept. 30. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

“Everyone talked about my garden, which has been totally devastated by gophers. I had 65 rosebushes that were almost as tall as that tree, but then the gophers attacked,” Tombropoulus explained during a recent tour.

Over the past three decades, her home has become a salon of sorts for international students, up to three of whom rent rooms at any one time. Her tenants have included scholars, musicians and athletes from all over the world, as evidenced by the collection of pillows on her living room couch, each pillow embroidered with an international flag: India, Pakistan, Korea, Taiwan, China.

“The Korean students started it and the others followed it,” Tombropoulos said.

She happily recalled the many visitors who have come through her doors: the guy from Norway who gave her a curry plant, the two students who met at her house and later got married; and Mahan Esfahani, a harpsichordist and graduate student at Stanford who went on to world renown. During his tenancy, Tombropoulos and her friends were “like groupies at his concerts,” she said. Last year, she took a trip to see him perform at Carnegie Hall.

Her proximity to Stanford has brought professional and personal joy to Tombropoulos, who has regularly biked and walked to the campus over the past 20 years and who still welcomes students to her home for parties.

During this time, the city’s downtown has become more lively and crowded, she said. But closer to home, she hasn’t seen much change. Interactions between neighbors have remained roughly the same, Tombropoulus said, noting that they are generally friendly, though not overly social. Most seem busy with jobs and families. Though the recent debate over the rail redesign and potential loss of homes has forced people to talk to one another, she hasn’t visited too many other people on the block and they haven’t visited her.

A crisis, a silver lining

For David Shen, who moved to the 100 block of Churchill about eight years ago, the rail project — which aims to separate the railroad tracks from local streets at crossings — has become both a thorny challenge and a golden opportunity. Shen, a Poughkeepsie, New York, native with a tech background, said he likes seeing the waves of children biking down his block twice a day. But he has significant concerns about the safety at the rail corridor.

Cars wait on Churchill Avenue as a northbound Caltrain passes by in March. The rail crossing is the focus of a redesign effort, to eliminate the intersection of the road and the tracks. File photo by Veronica Weber.
Cars wait on Churchill Avenue as a northbound Caltrain passes by in March. The rail crossing is the focus of a redesign effort, to eliminate the intersection of the road and the tracks. File photo by Veronica Weber.

“It really bugs me when I look down the street and see police lights flashing down by the train tracks because I know something happened,” Shen said. “And it has happened so many times.”

Recently, someone stopped his car right at the tracks. The train hit the car, though thankfully the driver got out and no one was hurt.

But while grade separation would solve the problem of roads intersecting with the rail line, it could usher in another challenge. Some of the alternatives that the city has been considering call for raising the tracks on a viaduct, a design that could require the city to seize properties on this block of 16 homes through eminent domain. Since 2017, Shen and his neighbors have rallied to try to prevent the city from pursuing such alternatives. A petition launched to that effect received 459 signatures.

David Shen, a resident of Churchill Avenue in Palo Alto, talks about his neighborhood, where residents have banded together to fight a possible taking of their properties as part of the construction of a new rail crossing. Photo by Sammy Dallal.
David Shen, a resident of Churchill Avenue in Palo Alto, talks about his neighborhood, where residents have banded together to fight a possible taking of their properties as part of the construction of a new rail crossing. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

Shen, an affable 53-year-old who now serves on the city’s Expanded Community Advisory Panel (which advises city officials on grade separation), said the discussion brought the block’s residents together, a key benefit at a time when so many people don’t take the time to meet their neighbors.

The Churchill block in many ways epitomizes the outsized influence that both Stanford University and Silicon Valley’s tech continue to exert on Palo Alto, for better and worse. Shen, who went to graduate school at Stanford and worked at Apple and Yahoo, is bullish on technology, particularly as it pertains to health and fitness. He is currently transitioning from angel investing to being a health-and-wellness coach and one of his passions is helping people understand their own motivations, which he says often stand in the way of healthy eating and exercising habits.

But Shen, a former triathloner who now coaches swimming at Burgess Pool in Menlo Park, is hardly a utopian when it comes to technology. The internet, he said, makes people feel more comfortable socializing through the screen. Most people don’t even bother to answer their phones anymore, thanks to the advent of texting.

“People don’t know how to have a conversation anymore. Not even a ‘Hey. How are you doing? What’s going on?’ Nothing. Literally, they don’t even want to talk to you. Maybe there’s some retreat to familiarity: ‘I got my friends. I don’t need anymore.’”

David Shen, a resident of Churchill Avenue, right, speaks with Irene Au outside of his home on Oct. 2. Photo by Sammy Dallal.
David Shen, a resident of Churchill Avenue, right, speaks with Irene Au outside of his home on Oct. 2. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

Shen said he has always tried, when seeing someone new, to say, “How is it going?” These days, this quality makes him feel like an outlier.

Shen said social media also convinces people that they don’t need to call anyone anymore; everything they need to know about their friends they learn from Facebook. He also noted that many people see Facebook as “theater,” where they only post their most “perfect” images — a tendency that can lead people to feel like their lives are inferior. (Shen does not post on Facebook.)

Shen lamented the passing of an era where people welcomed new neighbors with cookies or cake. And while Palo Alto’s rail redesign effort, often called the “largest project in the city’s history,” remains a subject of grave concern for residents of this block, it also had one positive effect: forging bonds between neighbors, the old-fashioned way.

“It’s funny that it takes a crisis for that to happen, but in some ways we are thankful to the crisis for that part of it — that we do know all our neighbors,” Shen said.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at

A retreat from Silicon Valley

The 3900/4000 block of El Cerrito Road

By Elena Kadvany

About the above photo: Barbara Stark, 90, has been a resident of El Cerrito Road for 61 years, where she raised four children. Photo taken Oct. 4 by Sammy Dallal.

When Barbara Stark moved from Belmont to El Cerrito Road in 1957, Palo Alto felt like “country.”

Her husband built their house, which combined with the lot cost $20,000. Stark’s children would watch dairy cows give birth to calves at the nearby Piers Ranch. She knew all her neighbors, many of whom had children. She said at one point, 45 children under the age of 18 lived on El Cerrito Road. Kids were constantly outside playing in the neighborhood; the “only thing that would would send them home,” said Stark, 90, “would be hunger.” Residents got together for annual Fourth of July and Christmas parties (which still happen today).

Six decades later, the cul-de-sac behind Gunn High School is still quiet, secluded and tight-knit, but it hasn’t been isolated from the forces that have transformed Palo Alto. A five-bedroom house down the street from Stark is for sale for $5 million. Large two-story homes have replaced more modest single-family houses. As firefighters, teachers and police officers moved out, tech executives and their families moved in. Children play outside less. One neighbor’s basketball hoop, maintained for the sake of local kids, sits unused.

“We know all our neighbors. It’s really nice,” said Tom McCalmont, who lives at the turnaround at one end of El Cerrito Road. “But it’s now professionals. It’s all Google and Facebook and Apple (people). When we moved here in 2004, it had just started that transformation. We didn’t really realize what Palo Alto had become, and of course, then it accelerated over the last 15 years.”

Tom McCalmont, a longtime resident of El Cerrito Road, says he enjoys knowing all of his neighbors, who these days are more likely to work in the tech industry. Photo by Sammy Dallal.
Tom McCalmont, a longtime resident of El Cerrito Road, says he enjoys knowing all of his neighbors, who these days are more likely to work in the tech industry. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

McCalmont first came to Palo Alto to attend graduate school at Stanford University. He spent time on El Cerrito Road as he became close friends with Lois Prior, who lived on the street at the time. He described her as the “mayor of the cul-de-sac.” She would organize the annual Fourth of July block party and the holiday event. The neighborhood was more socioeconomically diverse at the time, he said, and reminded him and his now-wife, Darlene, of their middle-class upbringings in Ohio.

After Prior’s husband died, she planned to sell her El Cerrito Road home. The McCalmonts decided to buy it and moved in from San Jose in 2004.

“I just had such great memories of Palo Alto and great memories of this house,” said Tom, 65. “It’s a very nice neighborhood. It’s very quiet and peaceful here.”

Tom, an electrical engineer, bore witness to the early days of Silicon Valley. He worked with a microcomputer startup for eight years and fell in love with the ethos of the tech industry.

“I love the openness of it … the way we reinvent ourselves in Silicon Valley,” he said. “Everywhere else you live in the country, they protect their industries and they don’t want to change. In Silicon Valley, we’ve seen generation after generation (of change) — first it was the PCs and semiconductors and then it was the internet and then it was Apple and iPhones and now it’s Facebook and Google.”

But there’s a dark side to that, he said, particularly skyrocketing housing prices that are making it harder for young people to put down roots in Palo Alto.

“Now young people very often think about leaving the area as opposed to coming to the area like I did when I came to graduate school,” he said. “I just miss the days when there was more opportunity.”

For Stark, Palo Alto feels fast-paced, packed with people and cars.

“When I come up Los Robles (Avenue) and drive into my cul-de-sac, it’s just like it was before. But as soon as I drive out it seems like there’s a lot of people,” she said. “The crowded conditions on the highway — I feel like I have to be on guard all the time when I’m out there.”

But in many ways, El Cerrito Road of 2019 has a similar feel to when Stark first moved there.

‘I just miss the days when there was more opportunity.’                   — Tom McCalmont, El Cerrito Road resident

The McCalmonts’ daughter and two granddaughters live next door to them. They take their grandchildren to nearby parks; they particularly love visiting the donkeys who live in Bol Park. One of Prior’s sons lives around the corner; he and Tom often go on bike rides together, including a climate ride down the California coast. Residents can hear the cheers from Gunn football games.

Most of the neighbors come to the annual holiday celebrations and talk when they see each other on the street. They also communicate frequently via an email group, letting neighbors know when to expect noise or extra cars from a party.

Residents say it’s an incredibly safe neighborhood. The only recent crimes have included a theft of items from an unlocked car and a nanny who saw someone try unsuccessfully to break into a home through a window, Darlene said. Some El Cerrito Road residents did, however, decline interview requests for this story, citing concerns about privacy and safety in their more secluded part of Palo Alto.

“In today’s world, people are just in general worried about privacy,” Tom said, noting that he has his own concerns about the proliferation of personal information online.

The McCalmonts are selective about how much technology they adopt in their day-to-day life. They eschew grocery delivery apps and Tom refuses to use Facebook because of concerns about how the company might use his information. But they use automation to control the lights in their home, and they order items from Amazon. Both their cars are electric; they run an engineering company that offers design services for solar, energy and electric vehicle industries.

They’re also avid readers, supporters of local theater (they have season tickets to Palo Alto Players) and like to frequent Palo Alto’s many restaurants.

Stark, by contrast, has a flip phone that she rarely uses. Her family knows to call her on the landline. She recalled using a party line shared by multiple people when they first moved to El Cerrito Road. At the time they also had no microwave oven — an appliance that hadn’t yet been invented — only one car and had just bought their first television, which she called a “big darn deal.” Now, she has a computer, which she uses for communication and informational searches but not personal finances.

She finds joy and community in HeartFit, a local cardiac therapy exercise class; a book club; and her church.

Despite the changes that have come to El Cerrito Road and Palo Alto more broadly, both Stark and the McCalmonts plan to stay in their homes for the long term. When the McCalmonts remodeled their house in 2008, they purposefully kept it at one story “so as we get older, we can stay here as long as we want,” Tom said.

Staff Writer Elena Kadvany can be emailed at

A pleasant throwback

The 3000 block of Greer Road

By Linda Taaffe

About the above photo: Residents of Greer Road in Palo Alto have recently started quarterly block parties. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

When Ed and Gretchen Hillard moved out of their Eichler home on the 3000 block of Greer Road to live on their 5-acre homestead in Oregon in 2005, they were certain that the Palo Alto neighborhood where they had raised their three sons was destined to become wealthier, older and less diverse.

We were wrong, the Hillards said last week.

The south Palo Alto neighborhood is more diverse and has more young families than when they first settled in the area in 1983, said the retired couple, who moved back into their Eichler on Greer in 2011 to be closer to their family, which now includes grandchildren.

“None of what we thought would happen … happened,” Ed said. The block is still lined with Eichlers on one side of the street and other post-World War II homes on the other. And while there have been a few modest upgrades, there are no “McMansions,” he added.

The 3000 block of Greer Road in September 2004. File photo by Norbert von der Groeben.
The 3000 block of Greer Road in September 2004. File photo by Norbert von der Groeben.

“It was a nice surprise,” said Gretchen, who didn’t visit their rented-out Eichler much while they were in Oregon.

Since coming back, the Hillards have taken part in the street’s first block party — ever. Over the past year, the gatherings have become a quarterly event that have brought homeowners, renters and both young and old together.

“I think this is a sign that a different kind of people, people who want to be involved with one another, are living here. It makes me feel good,” Gretchen said.

Ed said he couldn’t be more pleased.

For years, he had been concerned that escalating housing costs were eroding the suburban, family-oriented culture that first attracted him to Palo Alto.

“The high cost of housing here is making it a narrower, less diverse community of wealthy, older people. It’s getting a club-like atmosphere,” Ed said during a 1989 interview for the Weekly’s 10th anniversary edition. At the time, Ed said he was contemplating whether to move somewhere “where there wasn’t such an emphasis on money.”

While housing prices are still high today, driven by the prosperity that Silicon Valley has fueled, Ed said, ‘We’re pretty upbeat about (the neighborhood) now.”

“There’s always loads of kids on bikes riding on the street,” he said of the 15-house block. “It’s a pleasant change socially.”

Ed said he still can’t imagine how young families can come in and afford $2.5 to $3 million for a house on a block originally built for working-class residents.

When Ed and his wife moved to Palo Alto more than three decades ago after he took a job with Hewlett-Packard Co., they could barely afford the $185,000 price tag on their Eichler. They had to employ “very creative financing” to swing it, and Gretchen’s father had to co-sign the note, he told the Weekly in 1989. “We hung on a thread for a year.”

Just down the street, David Liu is among the newest generation in the neighborhood learning what it’s like to “hang on a thread.”

The 32-year-old Google engineer purchased a home on Greer with his wife and two young children six months ago after living on a nearby block for the past two years.

Parents David Liu and Angela Fan, with kids Zoe and Andrew, enjoy a walk along Greer Road in Palo Alto, to which they recently moved. Photo by Sammy Dallal.
Parents David Liu and Angela Fan, with kids Zoe and Andrew, enjoy a walk along Greer Road in Palo Alto, to which they recently moved. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

Liu said he hasn’t done the exact math, but easily half of his paycheck goes toward the house.

“We drive cheap cars and don’t live extravagantly,” said Liu, who has rented in various parts of the city over the past eight years.

Schools played a big part in the couple’s decision to buy a home on Greer.

“We wanted to be in an area where our kids could go to Paly rather than Gunn when they got older,” he said. “We ended up in the neighborhood because we couldn’t afford anything anywhere else, but after moving in, we fell in love with the neighborhood. This is the first time we’ve thought we would stay anywhere for life.”

It’s close to Seale Park, the neighbors are friendly and his Google office is just a short skateboard ride away, Liu said.

“We’re only five houses away from where we used to live, but this end of the street is a world of difference. … It has a totally different community feel,” he added.

From the start, everyone has been welcoming, he said. The former owner of their home organized a neighborhood block party for them when they moved in.

“I’ve never had that anywhere else. It really kind of shocked me,” Liu said. “I knew almost all of my neighbors off the bat. Now, I walk by them and know who they are and talk to them.”

Liu said his life revolves around his children: The family enjoys going to Seale Park almost every day and spending time in the community. They had spent the previous weekend at a community harvest festival and planned to crash a block party in another neighborhood the following weekend, he said.

“It’s completely different owning a home than renting,” Liu said. “Before, we knew we wouldn’t be anywhere longterm so we approached the community somewhat differently. … We weren’t as invested.”

A yard to bring people together

Cynthia Typaldos, who has rented a home on the other side of the street from the Lius for nearly a decade, said the neighborhood wasn’t always as closeknit.

It took a tragedy to bring the community together, Typaldos said. After an aging neighbor fell in her yard on Christmas Day and died from her injuries, neighbors realized that they had never taken the time to get to know each other.

Another resident decided she wanted to change that and organized a block party.

That initial outreach has snowballed: Over the past two years, the block party has evolved into a quarterly potluck at Seale Park.

Typaldos said she now knows almost everyone on the block.

“Typically when I walk outside, I end up talking to someone I know. There’s a lot of walkers in this neighborhood,” said Typaldos, who is often outside enjoying the native garden she has cultivated in the front yard.

Former engineer Cynthia Typaldos sits with her dog, Bunny, outside their home on the 3000 block of Greer Road, where she knows almost everyone. Photo by Sammy Dallal.
Former engineer Cynthia Typaldos sits with her dog, Bunny, outside their home on the 3000 block of Greer Road, where she knows almost everyone. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

The yard is one of the main reasons she settled in the neighborhood after moving back to the Bay Area from the Midwest, said Typaldos, a former engineer at Sun Microsystems and now founder of AdoptMeApp.

She removed all of the yard’s ivy and transformed the space into a garden showplace that since 2017 has been included in the annual Going Native Garden Tour organized by the California Native Plant Society Santa Clara Valley Chapter and the UCCE Master Gardener Program of Santa Clara County.

David Liu said Typaldos’ yard was something of an icebreaker when he moved in. His 3-year-old son, Andrew, was immediately attracted to the garden and so the family would visit it at least once a day. Liu said on one particular day, Andrew became very concerned when one of the bird figurines in the yard broke. The next time they visited, Typaldos had gotten 11 more figurines and placed them in the yard for Andrew to play with.

Eyal Firstenberg, his wife, three children and dog are the newest family on the block. Firstenberg said he chose the neighborhood sight unseen before moving out from Israel to work at a tech company in Santa Clara in August.

Firstenberg said his company’s relocation consultants had suggested that his family settle in Sunnyvale where the rents are lower and there are many Israeli transplants.

“Where we are in life, we opted to go where there was better education offered for our kids,” he said.

Firstenberg said he was surprised by the number of young families living in the neighborhood and the diverse mix of people in Palo Alto.

“What I like is that it is so diverse in terms of race, people, everything,” he said. “Everyone is kind and respectful. I like the fact that it’s so international with all different cultures.”

But Firstenberg said he’s shocked by the high cost of living here.

‘Everyone is friendly, but everyone is busy.’  — Eyal Firstenberg, Greer Road resident  

“I feel like $200,000 is lower class in Palo Alto,” said Firstenberg, who pays four times as much rent for his Palo Alto home than he collects in rent from his home in Israel.

“I think the only way to afford it here is if one person is working in the tech industry,” he said.

Firstenberg said it’s also a bit difficult to meet neighbors here.

“You kind of have to force it if you want it,” said Firstenberg, who recently met some of his neighbors in late August when a Canada goose caused a power outage, which brought people out into the street.

“Everyone is friendly, but everyone is busy,” including himself, he said. “I have to go to work, then I come home and take care of my kids. I don’t have any free time between anything. Day after day, I do the same thing all the time.”

Ed Hillard said that with so many residents busy working in the tech industry, Palo Alto has become what he considers “a company town.”

Gretchen quickly reminded him that he, too, once worked in the tech industry. But Ed said that the ethos of HP was different from that of today’s tech firms.

“I hope (this generation) becomes as involved in the community as HP did,” he said.

Associate Editor Linda Taaffe can be emailed at

Still a nice place to live, but with fewer parties

The 300 block of Poe Street

By Sue Dremann

About the above photo: Sally-Ann Rudd, a resident of Poe Street in Palo Alto since 2014, walks in her neighborhood on Sept. 26. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

In a quiet corner of Downtown North, Poe Street is a stone’s throw from San Francisquito Creek. Owls roost in the tangle of nearby trees and nighttime marauders — raccoons — paw the banks seeking a late-night snack.

Condominiums and older single-family residences mingle with showier remodels in a mix of materials and styles: gingerbread, Craftsman and Gothic stone. Neat yards and lush gardens are landscaped with native plants, Japanese-garden-inspired rock gardens and hydrangea-covered fences.

The 300 block of Poe Street, like the creek, feels well-settled in its place. But the area has seen its share of changes. Many residents are relative newcomers. Nearly half of the homes on the block were bought since 2013, according to Santa Clara County Assessor’s office. As older residents have left, there’s been a loss of diversity among its denizens, both in terms of professions and income levels. A more homogenous group of tech workers and executives have moved in, residents told the Weekly.

These days, face-to-face connections have largely been replaced by chats on social media, a few of the neighbors observed. Residents of Poe, which is within walking distance of the University Avenue retail district, seem to spend more time actively socializing downtown or with friends outside of the neighborhood.

Those who connect most strongly with neighbors are apt to bond over the traffic and parking problems that have affected the neighborhood, and there have been periodic efforts in Downtown North to protect the neighborhood’s sense of calm and safety.

April Eiler and Palmer Pinney, longtime residents of Poe Street in Palo Alto, say that their neighborhood is not as cohesive as it once was, as new homeowners and renters have moved in. Photo by Sammy Dallal.
April Eiler and Palmer Pinney, longtime residents of Poe Street in Palo Alto, say that their neighborhood is not as cohesive as it once was, as new homeowners and renters have moved in. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

April Eiler, 77, a 42-year resident, and her husband, Palmer Pinney, 84, raised their blended family here. He moved into the home when they married in 1979, she said. He is a tech editor and wrote high school textbooks; she worked for the Stanford University Dean of Students in administration and is a retired dance teacher and an active poet. Steve Jobs was one of Eiler’s dance students when he was 19 or 20 years old, she said.

Four decades of living in the same home have given them a long view of the changes to their neighborhood and the city as a whole. People talk less frequently to each other; the most outgoing residents, the ones who hosted the parties, have become old and moved away.

“Palo Alto in general used to be funkier,” Pinney said. “The people across the street used to have chickens.”

San Francisquito Creek is Eiler’s favorite thing in the neighborhood.

“There are raccoons, foxes, mallards, wood ducks, herons and, supposedly on two occasions, a mountain lion using it as a corridor and source of food. And then there are the creek people: teenagers who smoke there, alternative adults who sleep there and a few brave souls who try rafting when the water is high. There are also free blackberries if you don’t mind poison oak,” she said.

Gazing out the living room window into the bright sunshine, she reflected on how the homes have changed.

“One by one, they have torn down the little houses and built big houses,” she said.

The couple renovated their own small home in 2001 and built a two-story stucco house with an arched entryway. The home is large enough to accommodate their children and grandchildren when they come to visit and for get-togethers with their friends. The Waverley Writers group, which originated in Palo Alto, sometimes gathers at their home for a potluck dinner in the summer.

‘Palo Alto in general used to be funkier.’      — Palmer Pinney, Poe Street resident

Both are still physically active. Pinney bikes regularly, so living near downtown is convenient, he said. Eiler, who is “probably the oldest hip-hop dancer I know,” dances in all kinds of genres, including lyrical and tap. She took up the latter at age 75. On weekday mornings, she joins a group called The Morning Lineup, which rents a room at the Menlo Park Academy of Dance.

For a while there were neighborhood parties, but old-fashioned neighborhood get-togethers are now few. Busy, working newcomers are not around much. Eiler also has less incentive to stroll around her neighborhood.

“The pets have died; the children have moved on. We all knew the parents of children who knew our children,” she said.

Technology now has a major role in how they interact with their neighbors and keep up with the world. Eiler uses Nextdoor to keep abreast of neighborhood goings on; Pinney uses Google to do research.

“It would take 10, 20, 100 times longer if I had to go to the library,” he said.

But despite voicing the same complaints heard throughout the city — too much traffic, too many people and everything’s expensive — they want to remain.

“We have our house, friends and things we belong to,” Eiler said.

A quieter neighborhood now

One newer neighbor who comes closest to being like the old, outgoing residents Eiler and Pinney recall is Sally-Ann Rudd. She, her husband, Ronjon Nag, and their two children, now teens, moved to Poe Street in 2014. Before that, they lived on Cowper Street starting in 1996.

The couple, who emigrated from England, took a little two-bedroom house that was falling down and built a two-story home. They landscaped their front-yard garden with colorful, flowering plants. On a recent hot afternoon, the family’s two cats lounged under the backyard patio table, taking refuge from the sun.

Sally Ann Rudd, a resident of Poe Street since 2014, often meets friends in downtown Palo Alto, which is nearby. Photo by Sammy Dallal.
Sally Ann Rudd, a resident of Poe Street since 2014, often meets friends in downtown Palo Alto, which is nearby. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

Nag and Rudd are both in their 50s and liberals. Nag, an inventor and tech entrepreneur, said he identifies with academics and people in tech. He’s curious and a risk taker. Rudd, a former librarian and former Knight Ridder information associate, has been politically active and advocated for slower city growth. A lover of sewing, she is one class away from getting a certificate in custom dressmaking from Canada College and is thinking about starting a small business.

Rudd is also active in the community. She volunteers at Palo Alto High School and with the school’s theater boosters and socializes with people in local politics. She used to attend City Council meetings about traffic and parking, but she felt that the council wasn’t very responsive, she said.

Living near downtown provides a vibrant backdrop for her frequent meetings. Her go-to place is the coffee bar in Il Fornaio restaurant where the din isn’t overwhelming, she said.

Downtown North’s open spaces are among her favorite things in the neighborhood.

“I like the creek, which is like a little slice of wild through our urban environment, and Johnson Park which was invaluable when my kids were small. It was wonderful having a park almost on the doorstep,” she said.

An outgoing person with a hearty laugh, Rudd still knows a good number of people in the broader neighborhood, but fewer than she did 20 years ago due to people moving away. There used to be a more active neighborhood association, with parties in Johnson Park, where a couple hundred people would attend, she said.

The neighborhood was once home to people of varied professions, and Rudd and Nag said they wish there was more career diversity. There are multi-family apartments in the neighborhood, however, which add to the economic mix, and one-bedroom condominiums among the four-to-six-bedroom homes.

Rudd said it’s unfortunate that the high cost of housing has kept many from moving onto the block.

“In the 1990s, teachers could afford to live in this neighborhood. There was a homeopathic physician and the owner of a Great Clips franchise,” she said. “The homeopathic physician sold and went to Healdsburg.”

Nag and Rudd said they plan to stay in Palo Alto, at least until their children graduate from high school. They are happy with where they live, but their future, as they inch toward becoming empty-nesters, could lie elsewhere.

“Palo Alto has changed a lot,” Rudd said. “We are in San Francisco a lot. In San Francisco, we go to the theater a lot and to museums. You can get around in San Francisco on public transportation. I like the idea of getting around on a bus.”

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at

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