Boundaries: Alma, El Camino Real, W. Meadow, Page Mill. 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: This is seriously entry-level Palo Alto—there isn’t another Palo Alto neighborhood this consistently affordable—but with a certain funky charm. There’s much more variety in housing and land uses here than in the typical south-of-Oregon neighborhood, with less of the generic tract feel. Ventura is often old-fashioned and can be quite pleasant, but commercial uses intrude on some streets and large apartment buildings dominate others. Noise from El Camino and trains impacts the western and eastern fringes respectively. Tiny houses, almost always well under 1000 sq.ft., say that Ventura has been affordable from the start. First developed in the 1920s as the southern fringe of Mayfield, a town predating Palo Alto and absorbed by it in the 1920s. Ventura is home to a telling contrast between Santa Clara Valley’s previous role as “The Valley of Heart’s Delight”, an agricultural powerhouse, and its current gig as Silicon Valley: a large structure built in 1918 as a cannery is now home to Fry’s Computers. California Avenue, Palo Alto’s second downtown, is just to the north.
Housing stock: There’s a little of everything here, and it varies according to which part of Ventura you’re in. In fact, the Ventura district borrows its name from one of four tracts in this area, and the variety of “zones” or micro-neighborhoods is even greater.
First, between Page Mill and Chestnut, is Sunnyside Addition, a charming old-fashioned name for an area heavily impacted by commercial and light industrial uses. The old Quonset huts of Hewlett-Packard’s first plant, built in the 1940s, were here until recently, Fry’s is still here and this stretch of Park is entirely commercial. Olive and Chestnut are residential, mostly very small late-’40s tract homes with a few ’20s bungalows thrown in. Pepper is mainly pre-World War II, and even Page Mill still has a few small homes fending off progress, but someone has bought up a number of homes on both these streets and seems to be planning something big.
Next is the Bartley Tract, from Fernando south to Wilton, a mostly residential area that might be called “prime Ventura”. The commercial uses that impact Sunnyside to the north are absent here except on El Camino, while the apartment buildings that dominate Ventura to the south are small and infrequent. This is still an area of very small 1-bath homes on small lots, but 1920s bungalows lend some old-Palo-Alto-on-a-budget charm…with the understanding that “budget” is relative in Palo Alto, and that this isn’t Crescent Park or even the downtown neighborhoods. As a rule, pre-war homes are close to El Camino, while the modest and more generic tract neighborhoods, some of Palo Alto’s earliest, are closer to Park.
The next “zone” south is the Ventura Tract on Curtner and Ventura. Civilization missed this area before 1950—almost everything here is multi-family from the ’50s and early ’60s, and big and imposing by Palo Alto standards. Curtner has a handful of homes, while Ventura and Ventura Court shelter a very small early-’50s sub-division. The former elementary school in this neighborhood has been turned into a community center.
Between here and W. Meadow are two more “zones”, and they’re quite dissimilar. Closer to Park is an early post-war development called Walnut Gardens, built in 1952 and typical of the era with its small 3/1s of 1002 and 1050 sq.ft. But two farmhouses on Park (formerly 3rd Street) dating from 1912 hint at an older history for this neighborhood, as do the row of old homes along Meadow. They, and an old enclave close to El Camino, say this area was a busy crossroads well before the post-war housing boom. Homes along this stretch of Wilkie (formerly 1st Street) and Meadow can go back to the turn of the 20th century. The old street names are significant because they tie this area to the long-gone town of Mayfield. Before World War II, Meadow was probably as far south as Mayfield and progress extended until you hit Bailey (now Shoreline), the northern boundary of Old Mountain View—with nothing but orchards in between.
Much of the eastern half of the Ventura district is in a flood zone. This may necessitate flood insurance and make remodeling and expansion more difficult. Contact the Palo Alto Building Department at (650) 329-2496 for more information.
Lot sizes: Mostly in the 5-6000 sq.ft. range.
Affordability: As I said, this area is seriously entry-level, at least by Palo Alto standards.
That’s overall. In addition, I’ve distinguished between homes on Park Blvd. along the railroad tracks, and those in other Ventura locations. Homes on Park make up a sizeable percentage of Ventura’s housing stock, and their relative affordability makes them a great way to get into Palo Alto.
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: Ventura Center, 3990 Ventura Ct.: child care center, police substation, adult education center, YMCA computer lab for middle and high school students, youth community services. Boulware Park, Fernando Avenue: shaded picnic areas, two tot lots, lawn, basketball court. 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: Much shopping along El Camino. Walking distance or a short drive to California Avenue’s eclectic collection of shops and cafes.
Neighborhoods with similar ambience: Depends on which part of Ventura, but other places with a heavy percentage of apartments and commercial include Redwood City just west of El Camino; San Carlos and Belmont between El Camino and Industrial; and downtown San Mateo.
Interested in buying in Ventura or in a similar area? Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
copyright © John Fyten 2004-14