College Terrace


Pre-World War II homes, usually mid-range to top end.  Look here if you want old-fashioned charm and easy access to Stanford and to Palo Alto’s second downtown, California Avenue.

Boundaries: El Camino Real, California Avenue, Stanford Avenue, Amherst. Map boundaries are approximate due to my limitations as a map maker. Neighborhood boundaries may be subjective. Boundaries and other information on this Web site should be verified before being relied upon.

Overview: College Terrace is another of Palo Alto’s funky-in-an-interesting-way neighborhoods, with a healthy dose of charm. Originally home to the workers who built Stanford, College Terrace started out humble but offers some fine old homes too and in fact, a little of everything. Commercial and multi-family dominate the area just west of El Camino. Then Yale and Williams are mostly multi-family with a handful of single-family homes. West of Williams it’s almost entirely single-family but even these neighborhoods have great variety in home size, age and architecture. Most north-south streets have some sort of traffic-calming devices to discourage commuters, so getting through College Terrace can be an adventure unless you’re an insider. This highlights a major fact of life in College Terrace: you’re surrounded (embraced?) by Stanford and its adjacent Research Park.

Housing stock: As noted, duplexes and apartment buildings abound from El Camino to Williams, as well as a handful of townhouses built during the condo boom of the ’70s and early ’80s. West of this there’s single-family of amazing variety. Most homes were built in the ’20s and ’30s, although a few date from just before the turn of the last century. Entry-level College Terrace is the numerous “shotgun” homes, small one- or two-bedroom homes on narrow sub-standard lots. Often their pre-war charm has been abetted by remodeling and they sell at an unbelievable price per square foot. Entry level also includes the numerous small and original pre-war homes on standard lots. However, homes that are newer or expanded and updated can be almost as expensive as Palo Alto’s established top-end neighborhoods. There are only a handful of ranchers, with bungalow courts the only “tract housing”. College Terrace has a few large old homes, not grandiose but still ample, sometimes divided into apartments.

History corner: College Terrace was Palo Alto before Palo Alto was Palo Alto. To absorb this, it’s helpful to know that a tract is a neighborhood “platted” (officially mapped) by a sub-divider, while a city is an amalgamation of tracts. Both the Palo Alto tract (later the College Terrace neighborhood) and the University Park tract (the nucleus of the city of Palo Alto) were sub-divided in 1888. Leland Stanford developed University Park tract with the intention of turning it into a city named after his famous Palo Alto Stock Farm. Unfortunately this key piece of information never reached his agent, Timothy Hopkins, until after other developers had appropriated “Palo Alto”. Negotiations ensued. By 1892 Stanford had “Palo Alto” back, and in 1893 the University Park tract was incorporated as the city of Palo Alto. Palo Alto tract was renamed College Terrace and eventually annexed to the old town of Mayfield—which was itself annexed to Palo Alto in 1925. You will not be tested on this.

Lot sizes: Not an area noted for its large lots, although a few reach 10,000 sq.ft. The standard lot is 6250 feet. Along with Downtown one of the few Palo Alto neighborhoods with many sub-standard (less than 5000 sq.ft.) lots, including “shotgun” lots of standard depth (usually 125 feet) but only 25- or 30-foot width.

Affordability: College Terrace homes sell in a tremendous range of prices.

College Terrace is in transition, as are many Palo Alto neighborhoods. But unlike some transitional neighborhoods, College Terrace has charm and an upscale image, two assets that usually boost prices. Relatively small lots keep home sizes and prices down to a certain extent but newer and/or larger homes can sell in the same price range as other premium neighborhoods with small lots, such as Southgate.

On the other hand, the high percentage of even smaller “shotgun” lots and bungalow courts ensures that at least a part of College Terrace will always be relatively affordable. And there are still many humble homes on small but standard-sized lots.

Schools: Palo Alto Unified School District, 25 Churchill Ave., Palo Alto CA 94306. Main number (650) 329-3700.

Finding your neighborhood school    PAUSD school evaluations

School attendance boundaries are subject to change and schools are subject to availability. Verify enrollment with the Palo Alto Unified School District.

Amenities: Mayfield Park, 2300 Wellesley Street (1.1 acres): library, child-care center, grassy area. Weisshaer Park, 2300 Dartmouth Street (1.1 acres): two tennis courts, grassy area with benches. Werry Park, 2100 Dartmouth Street (1.2 acres): grassy area, climbing structure. Cameron Park, 100 Wellesley Street (1.2 acres): picnic tables, climbing structure. College Terrace Library, 2300 Wellesley St. (650) 329-2298. Convenient to Page Mill Rd. YMCA, 755 Page Mill Rd. Bldg. B. (650) 858-0661. Group exercise studio, racquetball courts, free weight area, stretch and conditioning studio.

Shopping: There’s a small shopping district just off El Camino, and California Avenue is on the other side of El Camino.

Neighborhoods with similar ambience: Locally, Palo Alto’s Community Center, downtown and the similar, more modest parts of Crescent Park and Professorville. To the north, pre-war San Mateo, Burlingame and Millbrae. To the south, downtown Mountain View and parts of San Jose’s Willow Glen and Rose Garden. In fact, San Jose has a number of similar, old-fashioned neighborhoods.

Interested in buying in College Terrace or in a similar area? Please contact me at

copyright © John Fyten 2004-2014.

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