When Palo Alto resident Jennifer Sullivan's 4-year-old son was reading Babar books, he initiated an idea that would continue to grow in their Community Center neighborhood for 30 years.
"Mom, we should have a big feast," he said, referring to the feast enjoyed by the beloved storybook elephant.
Well, maybe not a feast, but Sullivan thought that a neighborhood block party might do. Three decades later, the party on Fulton Street between Lincoln and Addison avenues is still growing. More than 75 people attended this year's event on Labor Day.
Mariachi music, maracas, margaritas and Mexican food from a taco truck provided the backdrops for the gathering of friends old and new.
Chris Rojahn, the "Mayor" of this block of Fulton Street, has lived in the neighborhood since 1972. The street is still much the way Palo Alto neighborhoods used to be, with very little turnover. People don't leave unless they are forced to either by age or death, he said.
In a hyper-busy Palo Alto, the block party helps keep residents connected, Rojahn said.
"I know I'm going to see people I don't see all year long. Most of them are professionals of one sort or another. Everybody's busy. The block party gives us a chance to catch up with people. It's an opportunity to hear about the kids," he said.
Although the block celebrated 30 years of festivity, one longtime resident was venturing out for the first time. Sue Cooper has lived in the neighborhood since 1966, but she never attended the party before. She was glad she came, she told the Weekly.
David Rohrbaugh, Sullivan's husband, said the block party helps draw out some of the neighborhood's shier residents.
"If you talk to them here, two weeks from now you will invariably be talking to them again. I had no idea that meeting these people would make me feel much more open," he said.
When Sullivan moved in in 1980, two nights later, a neighbor knocked on the door to introduce himself. Three or four days later, another neighbor came over with a pie.
"That began our relationship with our neighborhood," she said.
The block party has evolved since her son, Ben Rohrbaugh, suggested the Babar feast. The first block party took place on July 4. But it became harder for people to be around in the summer. A Labor Day party seemed like a good way to cap off the summer, Sullivan said.
Like the times, the food preparation has changed. Instead of going potluck, this year residents paid $12 each to cover the cost of the taco truck, and that brought out more people than ever before, Sullivan said.
With a mariachi station playing on Pandora, people set down plates of homemade food among the decorative sombreros and colorful serape-covered tables, and children flocked to the inflatable bounce house someone wheeled down the street. Kids rode bikes, skateboards and roller blades along the blocked-off road, and adults of all ages chatted over plates of chicken, al pastor and carne asada tacos.
"When I first moved to Palo Alto, people told us the only people who lived in Palo Alto were the newly wed and the nearly dead," Sullivan recalled.
But she and other neighbors said they live in a slice of Palo Alto that doesn't seem to exist anywhere else anymore.
"You really feel like you are a part of this community," said Alex Comsa, who moved here with his family three years ago. "This is a great avenue to get to know people and not just say 'Hi.'"