Professorville

BWprewarhome
Pre-World War II homes, usually mid-range to top end. Look here if you want the same old-fashioned charm found downtown but with generally larger lots and larger, more distinguished homes.

Boundaries: Indefinite, but approximately Channing (or Addison), Middlefield, Embarcadero, Alma. Nucleus is the Professorville Historic District, an irregularly-shaped area north of Embarcadero. 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: The site of some of Palo Alto’s oldest and most interesting homes. Professorville is so called because some of Stanford’s earliest faculty built their homes here rather than on leased land on Stanford’s campus. Professorville homes are larger and grander than the tradesmen’s bungalows north of downtown, reflecting a professor’s greater affluence in those days. (Now many Stanford faculty would be priced out of Palo Alto without assistance from the university.)

Housing stock: While virtually all homes here are pre-war, they come in a variety of sizes and architectural styles. The area’s signature style may be the Craftsman, popular around the turn of the 20th century when Professorville was first developed. A reaction to the tall, formal Queen Anne Victorian, the Craftsman emphasizes horizontal lines. “Simple homes for simple living”. The Craftsman’s spreading appearance, lack of ornamentation, dark-stained wood interior, open floor plan and celebration of outdoor living indirectly inspired the ‘50s Eichlers that dominate South Palo Alto.

Professorville is also known for the Shingle and Colonial Revival of the same period, although in truth these homes don’t always draw sharp distinctions between architectural styles. Colonials remind us that Stanford’s earliest faculty came from the East, often transplanting their tastes intact to Palo Alto. There are also a handful of earlier Victorians as well as later Spanish Revival bungalows. Homes vary in size from just over 1000 sq.ft. into the 4000 sq.ft. range, with a few even larger.

Rather than give you the addresses of the many architecturally significant homes in the area, I’ll refer you to self-guided walking tours selected by two local history groups, the Palo Alto Historical Association and Palo Alto Stanford Heritage. Most of these homes are in the heart of Professorville, roughly between Cowper, Lincoln, Emerson and Embarcadero. Outside these boundaries beautiful homes can still be found, but the blocks on the eastern and western fringes close to Alma and Middlefield have more in common with the small ‘20s bungalow neighborhoods of downtown and Community Center.

Unlike downtown, Professorville has few if any apartment buildings or condos, although perhaps some of the larger homes have been divided into apartments.

Lot sizes: One of the distinguishing characteristics of Professorville’s Historic District core is its relatively large lots. While 5250 to 5600 sq.ft. is the baseline, lots of 7500 to 10,000 sq.ft. are common, one-third acres not uncommon and lots can exceed 30,000 sq.ft. or (rarely) even more. Outside the District, lots in the 5000 sq.ft. range are more common. Whatever the size, lots are typically deep (100 to 200 feet) and narrow (usually 50 feet) although the largest lots are “double lots”, bigger in part because they’re wider.

Affordabilty: There’s a wide range of home prices here, reflecting the wide range of homes.

In the Pantheon of top-end Palo Alto neighborhoods, Old Palo Alto and Crescent Park often take precedence over Professorville, particularly with buyers who have only a passing knowledge of the city. But Professorville can hold its own with both these neighborhoods.

However, Professorville also has a relatively affordable component. Most affordable are the single-family homes on sub-standard (less than 5000 sq.ft.) lots, although this is small segment (about 10%) of the market and much less a factor than in downtown just to the north.

Next up the scale are small old homes, usually on small standard-size lots and usually found on streets outside the Historical District such as High, Byron and Webster. Neighborhood ambience is more similar to downtown or Community Center than to the large homes on large lots that characterize the heart of Professorville.

The next two tiers are arbitrary, to a certain extent, but convenient divisions of the best Professorville homes.

First are homes outside the District but still large and classic in appearance. Some have the Professorville look but happen to fall outside the official boundaries, while others are a few years newer and take their architecture from the succeeding Revival styles.

At the top is the District itself where as a general rule the most appealing neighborhoods are found. Big sales in the District are something of an anomaly, but you’ll find new construction or a grand ‘20s-era home that looked like it belonged in Crescent Park.

Regardless of location, the best Professorville homes cost substantially the same as homes of similar size in Crescent Park and Old Palo Alto, although a handful of ultra-expensive homes in the latter areas push their average sales price higher than that of Professorville’s.

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: See Downtown and Community Center.

Shopping: See Downtown and Community Center.

Neighborhoods with similar ambience: The fringe areas resemble downtown Palo Alto and parts of Crescent Park and Community Center. The ambience of the Professorville Historic District is unique to the mid-Peninsula, although San Mateo Park also has large Craftsman homes and Berkeley near the University campus may be similar. You’ll find representatives of its characteristic Craftsman, Shingle and Colonial styles just across Embarcadero in the older section of Old Palo Alto. The older parts of West and Central San Jose are an excellent place to find Craftsman bungalows, and sometimes larger homes from the same era, all at a substantial discount to Palo Alto.

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

copyright © John Fyten 2004-14

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