Pre-World War II homes, usually mid-range to top end. Look here if you want old-fashioned charm and easy access to many of Palo Alto’s best public facilities and the mid-Peninsula’s leading downtown.
Boundaries: Newell to Channing; Channing to Lincoln; Lincoln to Hamilton; Hamilton to Middlefield; Middlefield to Embarcadero; Embarcadero to Newell. Map boundaries are approximate due to my limitations as a map maker. Neighborhood boundaries may be subjective. Boundaries and other information on this site should be verified before being relied upon.
Overview: A grab bag of some of Palo Alto’s oldest neighborhoods, named after the wonderful community center that gives this city so much of its appeal. These are fine, often architecturally distinguished neighborhoods but most aren’t quite in the same league as upscale Crescent Park and Old Palo Alto. The nucleus of Community Center is north of Rinconada Park but there’s a large adjunct area that’s bordered by, and often resembles, downtown and sometimes Crescent Park. There’s even a large Eichler neighborhood, something usually found south of Oregon, but these aren’t typical south Palo Alto Eichlers.
Housing stock: For convenience I’ve divided Community Center into two areas. The first is the fairly regular grid between Rinconada Park and Channing, Newell and Melville, originally called Clara Vista, which I’ll call the “park neighborhood”. The second is a grab bag of neighborhoods north of Melville, which I’ll call “north of the park”. This second, “north of the park” area is the eastern fringe of the original Palo Alto tract, University Park, sub-divided in 1888, plus the later Boyce-Ashby Addition.
In the “park neighborhood” are a handful of homes that date from when it was first subdivided just after 1900, but most were built in the 1920s. They’re usually very small, with just one bath, although homes of 2000 sq.ft. or slightly more are not uncommon. One block each of Greenwood, Harker and Channing just off Newell are built with the sort of substantial 1940s ranchers that characterize much of Green Gables just on the other side of Newell. Many similar ranchers are scattered throughout the rest of the neighborhood amongst the pre-war homes; apparently there were lots of vacant lots here until the post-World War II housing boom. Adding to the eclecticism is a large development of 1973-vintage Eichlers built on the site of the former Harker Academy, now located in San Jose. These are typical of the very late Eichlers found in pockets in south Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Los Altos, bigger and more upscale versions of the ‘50s homes Joe is better known for. They’re usually four bedrooms of around 2000 sq.ft. although some are larger.
North of the park the homes and neighborhoods are even more of a mixed bag. This area has everything from bungalow courts to stately homes. Most date from the 1920s but a few are even older and many were built in the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s and even into the ‘60s as old homes were torn down, vacant lots filled and large lots subdivided. Often even the oldest homes are fairly substantial, near 2000 sq.ft. or larger, but just as often they’re tiny 2- or even 1-bedroom homes. Some uniformity appears in an early tract neighborhood along Fulton and Guinda between Melville and Addison, dating almost entirely from the 1920s. These homes are handsome but often modest in size, from 1200-1600 sq.ft. although some reach the low 2000s. Most have two baths and these must have been fairly upscale for the time, reflecting the prosperity of the 1920s. As we near Hamilton we’re in a transitional area with some homes dating from Palo Alto’s earliest days before World War I, often with just one bath. And just to confirm how arbitrary Multiple Listing Service boundaries can be, homes on the south side of Hamilton, the northern boundary of Community Center, are just as grand as their Crescent Park neighbors across the street, while Community Center from Guinda to Hale looks more like Crescent Park.
New construction is relatively common throughout Community Center.
History corner: The streets of Community Center from Forest to Addison look like they ran east until they hit something square and hard at what are now Boyce and Channing. According to a map of 1876, the hay and wheat fields Timothy Hopkins bought from Henry Seale just eleven years later to create Palo Alto ended at a district of large farms owned by people with names like Newell, Pitman and Greer who would later have Palo Alto streets named after them. These farms are shown in remarkable detail in an aerial “View of Palo Alto” dating from 1900 or so, apparently commissioned by Clara Vista’s developers to sell the first lots between Katherine (now Melville), Pitman (now Channing), Central (now Harker) and an unnamed street (now Hutchison).
Lot sizes: In the park neighborhood there’s quite a variety but two of the most common dimensions are 50×155 feet (7750 sq.ft.) and 60×162 feet (9720 sq.ft.). That’s about as big as lots get in this part of Community Center, and quite a few are smaller, some even less than 5000 sq.ft.
North of the park lots are generally small for the first several blocks, usually 50×112 feet (5600 sq.ft.). After that there’s no uniformity although the baseline is the 50×150-foot or even 50×200-foot lot that characterizes much of pre-war Palo Alto.
Affordability: Community Center is another Palo Alto neighborhood in transition, and with a correspondingly wide range of prices.
The park neighborhood seems to sell at a premium to north of the park, even though homes in both neighborhoods average the same size. North of the park there are many beautiful neighborhoods with rather impressive homes, but as a rule they’re on east-west streets that get cut-through traffic between downtown and 101. The park neighborhood is a bit more isolated. It’s also closer to Community Center, but that’s a mixed blessing since it too attracts traffic, especially on week-ends. In any case, this discount makes homes north of the park something of a bargain, although far from cheap, since they’re surrounded on three sides by significantly more expensive neighborhoods. Only its neighbor to the west, downtown’s South of Forest Avenue (SOFA) district, sells for about the same price.
Under this broad umbrella are a number of sub-markets. At the bottom is the perhaps 10% of Community Center homes located on sub-standard (less than 5000 sq.ft.) lots. These homes are invariably small and very old and include a number of interesting bungalow courts.
More expensive but still relatively affordable are several neighborhoods north of the park along Fulton, Guinda, Fife and Boyce. These homes are also usually small and on small but standard-sized lots.
Next is the vast mid-range of homes, on lots of more than 5000 sq.ft. but otherwise running the gamut: small teardowns; small, original but livable homes; and small but updated homes.
At the top end are the newer or remodeled and expanded homes.
At the very top end of Community Center is an area east of Guinda along Hamilton and Forest that looks like, and probably should be included in, Crescent Park. Not surprisingly it sells in Crescent Park’s exalted price range.
Schools: Palo Alto Unified School District, 25 Churchill Ave., Palo Alto CA 94306. Main number (650) 329-3700.
School attendance boundaries are subject to change and schools are subject to availability. Verify enrollment with the Palo Alto Unified School District.
Amenities: Main Library, 1213 Newell Rd. (650) 329-2436. Arts Center. Rinconada Park, 777 Embarcadero Rd. (20 acres): adult theatre, children’s theatre, adult pool, children’s pool, children’s museum, play area, tennis courts, picnic areas, restrooms. Also includes Lucie Stern Community Center, 1305 Middlefield Rd. (650) 463-4900. Children’s Library, 1276 Harriet St. (650) 329-2134.
Shopping: Convenient to Town & Country Village, University Avenue and Edgewood Shopping Center.
Neighborhoods with similar ambience: Locally, Downtown and the similar fringes of Crescent Park and Professorville. Also similar are pre-war San Mateo, Burlingame, Millbrae, Mountain View and West and Central San Jose.
Interested in buying in Community Center or in a similar area? Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
copyright © John Fyten 2004-14