Note to readers: This is the first in an occasional series featuring neighborhood walks with Palo Alto Stanford Heritage (PAST) historian Bo Crane. The walks take inspiration from tours offered by the nonprofit organization that explore the history and architecture of various Palo Alto neighborhoods. This week, we take a look at the historic Professorville neighborhood, located less than a mile southeast of downtown Palo Alto.
Palo Alto's Professorville neighborhood is a historic district noted for its many homes built by Stanford University professors that stretch back to the founding of Stanford University and Palo Alto's early years.
Our tour began standing in front of the Westminster House on Kingsley Avenue. According to local historian Bo Crane, the imposing structure was built as a residence in 1914 but now houses offices for the First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto. Walter Hays — for whom a Palo Alto school is named — once served as the church's minister.
Crane noted the building's Tudor revival architectural style, which typically includes half-timbering, brick and stucco siding, oversized fireplaces and steeply pitched roofs.
"I found that everything in Professorville is called a revival," Crane said. "So you can't go wrong if you call it a revival."
Throughout our tour, it quickly became apparent that the neighborhood's housing stock is rife with a variety of architectural revival styles, from Tudor to Georgian, and particularly colonial.
But to hear the history of Professorville, it's clear that, as it developed during the late 19th and early 20th century, this part of Palo Alto wasn't so much about revivals as it was about beginnings — architecture aside. Palo Alto was incorporated in 1894, and many Professorville residents had a hand in the city's early history.
As Stanford University was getting established, many of its first professors settled here. The neighborhood also attracted those who provided goods and services for the university, as well as students and their families.
Of course, this tree-lined enclave near downtown was not only home to many figures important in the making of Palo Alto but also to a certain garage — one of the world's most famous — where David Packard and Bill Hewlett's work launched Silicon Valley, which would prove the re-making of the city and the communities around it.
Here's a glimpse at a few of Professorville's numerous notable homes and the people who lived there:
Abbott Home, Lincoln Ave.
Professorville can seem almost synonymous with wood-shingled homes, and this example, a colonial revival built in 1901, features a fine detail of sawtooth shingle trim on its double gable. The home's first resident was Nathan Abbott, the first dean of Stanford Law School — and for whom the campus' Abbott Way is named, according to Crane. Early in its existence, the house faced a serious stress test: the 1906 earthquake. Influential Harvard psychologist William James, who was visiting at the time, apparently decided to take a scientific approach to experiencing the natural disaster: "While everybody ran out, he stayed upstairs because he wanted to feel the effects of the shake," Crane said.
Sanford Home, Kingsley Avenue
Physics professor Fernando Sanford built this large colonial revival home in 1894 — he was on Stanford University's original faculty when the school opened in 1891. According to Crane, "(Sanford) was the first to generate and detect X-rays." But his discovery, made in 1893, was accidental and not formally pursued; German professor Wilhelm Röntgen is credited with discovering the X-ray process in 1895. The home features several elements frequently seen on homes in the neighborhood, including a gambrel roof (a two-sided roof with two slopes on each side) and a Queen Anne tower. "Queen Anne gets used a lot as a term. It's the corner tower, a round tower — you see it everywhere in Professorville," Crane said.
Wing Home, Lincoln Avenue
This 1893 home was designed by an important local architect, Arthur Bridgman Clark, whose son, Birge, would become one of Palo Alto's most influential local architects of the 20th century. It was built for civil engineering professor Charles Benjamin Wing, an early Stanford faculty member. Crane noted that Wing himself made his mark locally in a number of ways, including as the designer of the (now-demolished) Stanford Stadium and as a Palo Alto city council member for 25 years. He also served as mayor. The unique house has a one-and-a-half story gambrel roof and an unusually shaped bay window. On a personal note, Crane said that he attended Palo Alto High School with several children of the Remmel family, which owned the house from 1954 to 2007.
Wilson & Kelly, Bryant Street
Built around 1904, this Craftsman was home to Wilson & Kelly, a studio run by photographers Maude Wilson and Alice Kelly. According to Crane, the studio opened in 1906. A listing in the 1911 Polk's San Jose and Santa Clara County Directory (which includes Palo Alto) describes the focus of the Wilson & Kelly studio as, "Particular attention given to student work, children's pictures, and home portraiture." It appears their portraiture may have included some local luminaries, as well: Wilson & Kelly are credited on a portrait of David Starr Jordan, Stanford University's first president, that's in the collection of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Crane said that the 1910 census showed that Kelly, her mother and one of her sisters lived in the house next door to the studio, and by the time of the 1930 census, the mother had died and a third Kelly sister had moved in.
Other notable homes
1601 Bryant St.
Nicknamed the "Sunbonnet House" after its dramatic porch roof — a cantilevered gambrel roof that resembles a sunbonnet — this home was designed by prominent architect Bernard Maybeck in 1899 for Emma Kellogg, an activist for the hearing impaired, who was herself deaf. Maybeck designed numerous other Bay Area buildings, including San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts, but the Sunbonnet House is the only structure in Palo Alto that he designed.
433 Kingsley Ave.
Michael Stein, and his wife, Sarah, owned the house at 433 Kingsley from 1935 to 1949. Michael was the brother of writer Gertrude Stein, who lectured at Stanford in 1935. The Steins were early supporters of the painter Henri Matisse. A number of works from their collection were acquired by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, including his famed piece, "Woman With a Hat."
Hewlett Packard garage
Dr. John Spencer, Palo Alto's first mayor, originally lived at this Craftsman home, built in 1905, which was divided into apartments in 1918. David and Lucile Packard moved into the first-floor apartment in 1937 and Bill Hewlett moved into the rear apartment the following year. Hewlett and David Packard used a garage as a lab and workshop to develop their early electronics. It's here where the duo officially founded electronics company Hewlett-Packard in 1939.
This group of 10 cottages, designed by Birge Clark and built in 1940 by Edward and Dorothy Marx Sherwood, is nestled behind homes near the corner of Waverley Street and Kingsley Avenue and sometimes known as Kingsley Court.
Professorville's current boundaries are Addison Avenue, Webster Street, Embarcadero Road and Emerson Street. Historically, the neighborhood was more of a cluster of homes around Kingsley and Lincoln avenues.
Current median home price:
In January 2020, the median home value for houses in Professorville was $3.9 million, according to real estate site Zillow.
About PAST Walking Tours
Palo Alto Stanford Heritage (PAST) will offer a series of docent-led tours of various Palo Alto neighborhoods in May. The series includes a new tour of the Eichler homes in the Greenmeadow neighborhood. The organization also offers information for self-guided tours on its website. For details, visit pastheritage.org/tours.html.