Crescent Park

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Pre-World War II homes, usually mid-range to top end. Look here if you want a home (quite possibly large and old) on a lot (quite possibly huge) in one of most beautiful, prestigious and expensive neighborhoods on the mid-Peninsula.

Boundaries: Newell between Channing and San Francisquito Creek; San Francisquito Creek; Middlefield between San Francisquito Creek and Hamilton; Hamilton to Lincoln; Lincoln to Channing; Channing 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 Web site should be verified before being relied upon.

Overview: One of Palo Alto’s crown jewels. Every Palo Alto neighborhood is expensive, even the ones that don’t look it. This one looks it. Stately homes, most of pre-World War II vintage, some on half-acre lots, grace beautiful magnolia-lined streets. That’s the best of Crescent Park, but in fact this area includes a wide range of housing and neighborhoods. Crescent Park boundaries are somewhat arbitrary and often transitional. The same kinds of homes (some very impressive) line both sides of Hamilton Avenue, the dividing line between Crescent Park and Community Center. Boundaries aren’t always clear cut further east either, along Lincoln and Newell.

Crescent Park can be divided into three distinct neighborhoods. Just east of Middlefield is an area that resembles downtown, not surprising since it’s part of the original University Park subdivision. Like downtown this neighborhood is charming but not prepossessing, a mixture of condos, apartments and bungalows often on small lots. But once past Guinda you enter an area of grand old homes on very large lots. Crescent Drive, the geographical heart of “prime Crescent Park”, is an exact half-circle north of University, configured to fit the shape of the creek. This and the surrounding blocks are the most consistently impressive in Crescent Park. Not every house is a tour de force but the area exudes money and quiet good taste. Further south, between Hamilton and Channing the streets become slightly less upscale, the homes and lots a bit smaller but still very appealing. Much depends on the block: some are pre-war and consistent with the Crescent Park image, while others have a post-war look not unlike Crescent Park Addition on the other side of Newell.

Housing stock: As the overview suggests, Crescent Park has a surprisingly wide range of home sizes and styles for an area with such an upscale image. Just east of downtown it’s mostly bungalows dating from around 1900 to the 1920s. Although small, these homes often offer interesting architectural details. From Seneca east to the Creek are the quintessential Crescent Park estates, grand homes built in the ’20s and ’30s. Architecture is heavily weighted toward Tudor and Spanish Revival (or “Early California”), with the occasional Monterey Colonial thrown in. Between Hamilton, Channing, Newell and Lincoln the homes are still usually very nice and often well over 2000 sq.ft., although there’s a sprinkling of very small houses. Most date from the late ’30s although Pitman was developed in the middle ’50s with upscale ranchers. Cul-de-sacs abound including five around St. Albert the Great Church, with traditional homes built from the late ’30s through the ’40s. Three cul-de-sacs or short streets off Newell just to the east are built with ranchers from the late ’40s to mid-’50s. There’s a development of newer homes on Ashby and adjoining Hamilton, built in the mid-’80s on the old Crescent Park school site. One little-known aspect of Crescent Park is the handful of bungalow courts, private streets with tiny homes that once, I suspect, housed the servants. Now these homes offer Crescent Park on a condo budget, albeit an expensive condo budget.

Lot sizes: There’s quite a variety. East of downtown the lots hover around 5000 sq.ft., with sub-standard lots not uncommon. Quintessential Crescent Park has a number of lots around 20,000 sq.ft., with some smaller and a handful larger. South of Hamilton lots are typically under 10,000 sq.ft. The last streets built in that area—Pitman, Sharon and Kings Lane—have lots in the 7s or even 6s.

Affordability: As with most of Palo Alto’s best neighborhoods, Crescent Park has as many as three price tiers.

At the top are big homes on big lots. As you’d expect, they’re startlingly expensive.

There’s a second tier of neighborhoods with still-imposing homes that are a bit smaller and on smaller lots. A large sub-set of this tier is the ‘50s ranchers south of Hamilton. They’re almost affordable by north Palo Alto’s exalted standards and can sell for much the same as the similar ranchers of Crescent Park Addition on the other side of Newell, although much depends on the ambience of the immediate neighborhood.

Finally, the homes—largely bungalows—just east of downtown are downright “cheap”, with the caveat that no Palo Alto house is cheap. Those on standard (5000 sq.ft. or more) lots sell for about what their counterparts downtown sell for, as do the roughly 8% of Crescent Park homes on sub-standard 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: Eleanor Pardee Park, 851 Center Dr. (9.6 acres): tot lot, play area, sheltered picnic tables and benches, multi-purpose stage area, jogging path.

Shopping: Downtown Palo Alto.

Neighborhoods with similar ambience: Let’s look at the three tiers again.

Tier three, the bungalows, resembles downtown Palo Alto, Community Center and the more affordable parts of Professorville and Old Palo Alto. Just to the north in Menlo Park’s Willows are two similar neighborhoods, Middlefield Park and North Palo Alto.

Further north, connoisseurs of the ‘20s bungalow should look in Redwood City’s Mount Carmel, Wellesley Crescent and Wellesley Park. They’re attractive areas with reasonable prices and sometimes, depending on the location, a good K-8 school. Redwood City also has a few pockets, not as well preserved, just west of El Camino between Woodside Road and Jefferson. If you’re willing to go still further north, check out the extensive pre-war neighborhoods of San Carlos, San Mateo, Burlingame and Millbrae. Most neighborhoods are good yet surprisingly affordable compared to Palo Alto. The one exception is San Mateo east of the tracks, something of a mixed bag but definitely worth a look, especially if you’re on a budget.

To the south, downtown Mountain View offers both an ambience similar to third tier Crescent Park and also an excellent downtown. Old Los Altos also has a good selection of small but attractive pre-war homes. Santa Clara’s Old Quad is a very large and very old neighborhood with a variety of architectural styles. Like Crescent Park it’s close to a major private university, Santa Clara, but the business district is almost invisible and the neighborhoods not always well preserved. Just to the south are three treasure troves of interesting ‘20s bungalows: San Jose’s Rose Garden, Hanchett Residence Park and Willow Glen, as well as the slightly older Naglee Park. These beautiful neighborhoods are highly prized but still affordable compared to Palo Alto. Central San Jose also has a number of lesser-known and even more affordable early suburban neighborhoods such as Chapman & Davis, Vendome Park and St. Leo’s, offering some of the ambience for much less money.

Tier two, Crescent Park’s midrange, can also be found in other Palo Alto neighborhoods such as Old Palo Alto and the better parts of Community Center. Also look at Menlo Park’s Allied Arts. To the north, Atherton’s Lloyden Park is a beautiful yet affordable (by Atherton standards) subdivision of mostly interesting, mostly ranch-style homes, dominated by a huge Moorish Revival house that I suspect is the original estate—its dramatic appearance reminds me of an old movie theatre (I’ve since discovered that it’s the carriage house). Redwood City’s Edgewood Park also has much of the Crescent Park ambience. Still further north, check out San Mateo’s San Mateo Park and Burlingame’s Burlingame Park and Easton Addition.  To the south, the pre-war areas of North Los Altos offer a genteel experience, as do the larger homes of Old Los Altos. San Jose’s Rose Garden, Willow Glen and Naglee Park also have some fine homes.

As you might expect, the top tier of Crescent Park doesn’t have many comparables—this is a rarified atmosphere. Big estate-type homes can also be found in Old Palo Alto and Professorville. Further north, you’ll find a handful of these homes in Redwood City’s Edgewood Park, and even a few in Mount Carmel. San Mateo Park is another alternative. You’ll also find these grand old homes in Atherton and Hillsborough although on much larger lots. To the south, Los Altos still has a handful of old estates mixed in with the ranchers—there’s a long row of them along Fremont—as does Los Altos Hills.

Interested in buying in Crescent Park or in a similar area? Please contact me at jfyten@cbnorcal.com.

copyright © John Fyten 2004-14

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