Palo Alto real estate

“With its multitude of attractive and accessible amenities, Palo Alto’s Downtown neighborhood offers a blend of quirky urban-meets-suburban and a wealth of housing styles.”

Initially created by Leland Stanford Sr. as a ‘dry’ community to serve the faculty, students and staff of adjacent Stanford University, the 8-block neighborhood of Downtown Palo Alto (MLS #242) had seen its demographic change over the hundred-plus years since its formation.

Once occupied primarily by youthful, temporary residents forbidden to drink alcohol, this borough was devised to provide ‘wholesome’ services to its inhabitants. For many decades, the Downtown borough, with its inexpensive apartments and condominiums, was the preferred locale for grad students, young professionals and those working at the university. As with all other neighborhoods in this desirable town, those inexpensive housing prices eventually went by the wayside. Today, Downtown attracts young, ambitious families searching for the sweet spot of urban-meets-suburban, and this borough is where they find it.

Architectural styles abound in Downtown, offering up homebuyers a plethora of choices. As a result of its ‘disjointed’ development, the borough has an inviting eclecticism, with most of its single-family homes reflecting early 20th century styles including Arts and Crafts, Tudor, and quaint bungalows while the multi-family housing available harkens back to post-World War II. As for square footage, homes here tend toward the smaller side, with most under 2,000 square feet and only a single bathroom. Although overall living space is small, the price per square foot, on the other hand, is generally high.

As the district’s demographic changed, so did the borough. In addition to the alcohol ban being lifted in 1971, traffic circles were installed in 2005, making the neighborhood’s lanes safer. In 1968, the city purchased a 2.5-acre residential block, leveled the homes on each corner, and created a sequence of small parks. Over time, the remaining homes were razed and the mini-parks were linked to create Johnson Park, named for Dr. Edith Eugenie Johnson, who had her practice in Palo Alto from 1907 to the 1960s. This neighborhood treasure provides a multitude of outdoor opportunities, including playgrounds, community garden plots, picnic areas and athletic courts.

Downtown has its idiosyncrasies, parking and noise issues, and smaller living spaces among them, but those who call this borough home love its heritage and accessibility to one of the Peninsula’s most vivacious downtown districts.

Neighborhood Price Point

$1,500,000 – $3,000,000

Favorable Attributes
  • Convenient stroll to Palo Alto’s charming and lively downtown shopping district
  • Residents enjoy outdoor and athletic opportunities offered by the 2.4-acre Johnson Park
  • Architectural styles vary from historic Arts and Crafts, Tutor and Bungalow as well as post-war condominiums
  • Access to highly regarded Palo Alto public schools
  • Quirky and eclectic, Downtown is brimming with heritage and history

History of Downtown, Palo Alto

In expectation of the impending construction of Stanford University, founder Leland Stanford wished to create a town just outside what would be the campus borders. Initially, Stanford considered the already established town of Mayfield, but was less than enamoured by its flourishing saloons.

Since Stanford wanted his town to be ‘dry’, he chose to look elsewhere and, to ensure no alcohol would be served, he would instill the edict that there would be no alcohol served within 2 miles of his beloved University. Mr. Stanford envisioned stately buildings lining pristine streets, with all businesses dedicated to commerce and temperance. As such, he sent his ‘right-hand man’, Timothy Hopkins, son of railroad mogul, Mark Hopkins, to begin the legwork.

In 1887, Hopkins purchased 697 acres of farmland from Henry and Thomas Seale, two brothers from San Francisco. After helping legally defend the land inherited she had inherited from her father, Don Rafael Soto, original owner of the Rancho Rinconada del Arroyo de San Francisquito, the Seale brothers had been gifted 1,400 acres by Soto’s daughter as payment.

While Stanford was back east on business, Hopkins named the section right outside the theoretical collegiate gates “University Park”. When Stanford returned, rather than finding his future town named Palo Alto after his already established stock farm, he instead had to pay $1,000 for the rights to the name, which was already being used in the district now called College Terrace.

In 1891, when the Leland Stanford Jr. University officially opened its doors, a street connecting the university to a proposed train station depot was underway and 87 residential lots had been sold with price tags between $122.50 and $287. In each property deed, Mr. Stanford had included a clause that stated if alcohol was served on-site, the ownership of that piece of land would revert back to Timothy Hopkins. (This eventually backfired, with an independent downtown district called “Whiskey Gulch” sprouting up just beyond Stanford’s imposed 2-mile mark.)

By 1893, the population of Palo Alto was 750 and on April 21, 1894, it was incorporated.