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Palo Alto Orchards

Residents enjoy quiet, friendly neighborhood

When Leslie and Jim Fish moved into Palo Alto Orchards in 1980, the neighborhood was still largely occupied by original homeowners, many of them World War II veterans on the G.I. Bill.

"We were the young couple on the block," Jim said. "Young couples can't really afford it (here) nowadays."

Much like the fruit trees that formerly occupied the neighborhood's land, Palo Alto Orchards has a life cycle of its own. Time and chance have influenced the flow from its genesis as a post-war tract with young vets -- the neighborhood aging with them -- to a well-loved spot for young families to live and grow.

"The people tend to be very kind and less affluent than other parts of Palo Alto where you can often feel like you are living amongst a community of tech billionaires," resident Sid Sharma said. "For example, my neighbor is a police chief and my other neighbor is an engineer, which are well-paying careers ... but nothing like the mix of retirees and Facebook IPO people that were common in my old neighborhood (Midtown)."

Sharma, a 2017 graduate of Palo Alto High School, moved into the neighborhood with his family from Midtown during his senior year at Paly. Sharma found his new neighborhood an interesting mix of old and new.

Not to be confused with nearby Barron Park, Palo Alto Orchards is a small neighborhood nestled off Arastradero Road between the Palo Alto Place high-rise apartments and the Crowne Plaza Hotel. The area is home to about 100 households in a mix of mostly single-family homes and a few apartments. James McKellar and Matthew Kelly, the tract's original developers -- as well as their wives Suzanne and Lorabelle -- comprise the namesakes for Palo Alto Orchards' five streets. The neighborhood is convenient to nearby Terman and Briones parks and is within walking distance of Briones Elementary, Fletcher Middle School and Gunn High School.

A give-and-take atmosphere defined the neighborhood when the Fish family moved in and continues to define it, Jim said. He fondly recalls how their backyard first became a hangout spot for his sons and their friends. The boys' friends from the apartments at the end of McKellar Lane didn't have backyards of their own, so Jim and Leslie happily offered their cherished outdoor space for gatherings.

"We really enjoy having a good-sized backyard," Jim said. "On a nice day it's wonderful."

In fact, Leslie's mother recently celebrated her 95th birthday in the Fish family backyard. The yard comfortably fit around 50 guests for the party, Jim said.

The Fishes' love for their yard is the main reason that the footprint of their home has remained largely the same, despite a second story they added above the garage. The addition was very deliberate, Jim said aimed at adding extra square footage without compromising outdoor space.

Other residents in the neighborhood have taken alternate routes in response to their aging homes. All original homes that still stand in the neighborhood have been expanded upon in some way, Jim said. However, many of the neighborhood's modest 1950s homes haven't been so lucky.

"The neighborhood is an interesting mix of old one-story tract homes and opulent two-story housing," Sharma said.

A walk down any of the streets in Palo Alto Orchards reflects this: small single-story 1950s homes -- some with added second stories -- as well as several newer Spanish revival homes with sprawling stucco facades and red roof tiles.

When comparing his former Midtown neighborhood to Palo Alto Orchards, Sharma said there's a noticeable shift not just demographically, but also geographically.

"The neighborhood is a lot less walkable and bikeable to areas of interest than Midtown, but transit connections like the VTA are generally better," Sharma said.

It's equidistant from Castro Street in Mountain View and University Avenue in Palo Alto, which makes the location convenient, he added.

Leslie Fish, a former Barron Park donkey handler, enjoys the neighborhood's ample "green space" near her home. "I love the Terman watershed and the Bol Park path," she said. "Those are my favorite spots to walk."

Leslie and Jim's favorite neighborhood memories came from raising their two sons in Palo Alto Orchards with help and support from their older neighbors who didn't have children.

"Our neighbors were so patient and had a generosity of spirit when it came to loud, boisterous boys," Leslie said. "The neighborhood just has a warm feeling to it."

Josh Code is a former Palo Alto Weekly intern.


CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS: Palo Alto Montessori School, 575 Arastradero Road; Palo Alto Preschool, 4232 El Camino Real; Young Life Christian Preschool, 687 Arastradero Road

FIRE STATION: No. 5, 600 Arastradero Road

LIBRARY: Mitchell Park branch, 3700 Middlefield Road

LOCATION: McKellar Lane, Suzanne Court, Suzanne Drive, Kelly Way, Lorabelle Court and Arastradero Road, bordering Barron Park

PARKS: Juana Briones Park, 609 Maybell Ave.; Terman Park, 655 Arastradero Road

POST OFFICE: Cambridge, 265 Cambridge Ave.

PRIVATE SCHOOL: Bowman International School, 4000 Terman Drive

PUBLIC SCHOOLS Juana Briones Elementary School, Fletcher Middle School, Gunn High School

SHOPPING El Camino Real, San Antonio Village

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