Un-forgetting the segregationist history of Palo Alto (and Daly City, and San Francisco, and…) | Town Square | Palo Alto Online |

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Un-forgetting the segregationist history of Palo Alto (and Daly City, and San Francisco, and…)

Original post made on Jun 28, 2020

Richard Rothstein presents the Bay Area as Exhibit A of how tangible segregationist housing policy had been implemented in liberal urban areas throughout our nation through his book "The Color of Law."

Read the full story here Web Link posted Sunday, June 28, 2020, 7:36 AM

Comments (31)

15 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 28, 2020 at 9:38 am

Is this article about Palo Alto or East Palo Alto or both? The title says "Palo Alto" and the first few paragraphs say "Palo Alto", but then most of the article seems to be about East Palo Alto. These 2 cities are of course in different counties and have different governments. I am very confused about what part of the article applies to Palo Alto and what part applies to East Palo Alto.


20 people like this
Posted by SingleZoner
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 28, 2020 at 10:23 am

I'm tired of folks using the history of de facto segregation as a basis for attacking single family zoning. The kind of redlining and block busting tactics, and race-based deed covenants, that were endemic to all areas of the country , including the Bay Area, until the civil rights act (and even afterwards) effected multi-family housing just as much as single family housing. Single family housing in and of itself was not a tool for segregation.


11 people like this
Posted by Person of color
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jun 28, 2020 at 10:37 am

How do you misspell Jim Crow? Is this the local journalism we want to support? Stop being lazy.

The New Jim Crowe


25 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Jun 28, 2020 at 10:45 am

The article fails to mention that South Palo Alto has a long history of inclusiveness and equality. Joe Eichler was a strong anti-racist and strongly rejected any race-based discrimination in all of his developments. South Palo Alto is a model of inclusiveness that North Palo Alto and other towns can learn from.


21 people like this
Posted by White Homeowner
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 28, 2020 at 12:40 pm

Don’t get your panties in a bunch, the book isn’t just about PA. I just read this book, and boy was it an eye opener. It detailed the systemic, state sponsored discrimination that made sure black people couldn’t get loans or own land like white people in the 1800s and 1900s. The stories were so sad that I often cried. There’s a reason that today, in 2020, black families have one tenth of the wealth of white families. And that reason is, white folks designed it that way. I think the first step for those of us who want to effect change is to educate ourselves - because we didn’t learn it in school. And step two: Figure out ways we can meaningfully help right these wrongs, so that the future looks better than the past - and the present. It’s not enough to say ‘I’m not racist.’ It’s time to actively fight the racism in our system on behalf of black Americans.


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 28, 2020 at 1:17 pm

"South Palo Alto is a model of inclusiveness that North Palo Alto and other towns can learn from."

Not anymore. The push to make Eichler housing historical is another example of restrictive zoning mentioned above that leads to more segregation.


5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2020 at 2:20 pm

Has anyone read the book in question? "Palo Alto" certainly did one odd thing in the era mentioned: getting the airport land moved from San Mateo County to Santa Clara County and annexing it to Palo Alto. (Menlo Park annexed the parts it wanted, leaving an unincorporated "East Palo Alto" in San Mateo County.) But, I don't understand what is meant by this:

"Rothstein also explains how in 1948 Palo Alto purposefully thwarted Wallace Stegner's efforts at developing a racially-integrated working-class housing settlement near the Stanford campus."

That housing settlement exists to this day-- Ladera, and, it has always been part of San Mateo County. It was always conventional suburban, but, they tried to make it more affordable through the use of a co-op-- like the food co-op that existed in Palo Alto until 199x. The Peninsula Housing Association (PHA) failed because it couldn't get financing. Probably because they refused to put a restrictive covenant on houses (the FHA liked such covenants), but, it was the co-op that needed a bridge loan, not homeowners. Many members of the initial PHA co-op were Palo Alto residents, they met at the Community Center and College Terrace Library. Some members of the (food) co-op were part of it.

Here is an account. I don't see any mention of the City of Palo Alto "purposefully thwarting" the PHA.

Web Link

What does the book say about this?


8 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 28, 2020 at 2:26 pm

I read the book a couple of years ago. It’s pretty readable. To use it to blame every woe on earth on Palo Alto, CA is misplaced, though.
San Lorenzo is hardly an upscale area.
Stability and real estate investment can sure help families.
(However, as an aside, I thought most super big family fortunes are lost by the third generation, unless one has managed investments like the Kennedy family?)
Many immigrants have become successful; I know one who came with very, very little and ended up owning a tech corporation! Yes, Caucasian, but hard to understand accent. So not fully material to this discussion.
A lot of randomness: being in a certain era, at a certain time, in a certain city with a good or bad city council helped the Black population or terribly burt them - and for generations.
There are SO many details, places, experiences.
I’m sure we all have recollections, for better or worse.
Joseph Eichler worked hard to do the right thing around here. I wasn’t here then (or alive, for partnof his work life), but I believe written accounts attesting to this.
I have a variety of family members who helped African Americans in concrete, meaningful ways. For example, one person I knew well gave steady employment (1960’s - I was there, though very young, I know what I’m what I’m talking about); another published their writings (1960-1970’s). Others much earlier in a free state where I’m from assisted those fleeing north using the Underground Railroad.
One direct ancestor was a sheriff in the above state, then ran for sheriff in another when he moved (Miami, FL Dade County) as a Republican in 1920’s - original newspaper clips I have of this big race (which he lost) show Republicans like him respectful of Black people and Democrats clearly denigrating Black people. So that’s how it was then - there.


18 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 28, 2020 at 7:25 pm

The reason that they want to make Eichler's historical is because of the design of all glass walls. Everywhere is this city people are tearing one story houses down and putting up two story houses that would look directly into other people's homes. I live in an Eichler and people work hard here to maintain some privacy through the use of fences and plants, trees, and hedges. Making this area historical prevents people from dissembling how the houses are located on the streets and circles to maintain privacy.

The next problem you have is by making this a part of this discussion. Every action gets translated into a theme or topic when the theme or topic has little to do with why the architectural features were a very modern 1950's design feature.

My son lives in the Oakland Hills and his house - built at a certain time looks exactly like the house I grew up in in LA. Because they were built in the same time period.

Architectural style has to do with timing. WW2 timing. Location timing. Available building material timing.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 28, 2020 at 7:39 pm

During WW2 the whole state of CA and elsewhere were involved in building airplanes, ships, and munitions. The whole population was involved and working. Also cars, trucks, factories rolling out products to support the effort. Many in CA because of the great wind storms in the mid-west drove people westward. We no longer have manufacturing to any great degree. The work force now is a very narrow category of type. The state is a shadow of itself as it was in previous decades.
We are now trying to bring manufacturing back to the USA. That shows up more in states that have a better tax base.
Relatives in Baltimore - that city had a great port system with products coming by ship. No more.


14 people like this
Posted by Geoff Ghallagher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 28, 2020 at 7:53 pm

Another book meant to divide the nation and sow hatred. Dick Rothstein, why do want Americans to hate each other?


8 people like this
Posted by Geoff Ghallagher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 28, 2020 at 7:54 pm

Another book meant to divide the nation and sow hatred. Richard Rothstein, why do want Americans to hate each other?


22 people like this
Posted by Stronger Together
a resident of another community
on Jun 28, 2020 at 9:32 pm

Have you heard about the community that was organised by Josephine Duveneck and others? This was the Lawrence Lane Project in the late 40s in the unincorporated area of Palo Alto. This project was sixteen lots and were sold to African Americans, people of Asian decent and to people of European decent that were being blocked from buying in Palo Alto. This area was eventually incorporated into Palo Alto. Still standing and still a diverse community with beautiful homes.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2020 at 10:41 pm

>> What does the book say about this?


Both the East Palo Alto and Ladera episodes are in Chapter 1 of the book, which is available within a Google preview here:

Web Link

Interesting, upsetting reading. Doesn’t say anything one way or the other about Palo Alto, at least in this segment, but shows how the California Real Estate Association, various banks and insurance companies, and most of all the Federal Housing Administration did immense damage that persists to this day.


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2020 at 8:51 am

The article by Charles Russo appears to draw from Rothstein's book for the comments about Palo Alto, but, Rothstein (book or verbal comments) doesn't mention Palo Alto in the ascribed context. The article either contains several errors, or, fails to document its own sources for the unsubstantiated comments.

Rothstein's book looks very interesting, as are his comments, but, I would ignore what Russo has added unless the article is revised or corrected.

In any case, the Federal Government via the VA Web Link and especially the FHA Web Link greatly contributed to the spread and strengthening of segregationist policies after WWII.


7 people like this
Posted by Gunn Graduate
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 29, 2020 at 9:13 am

Having grown up in the Palo Alto school system, I can attest that the attitudes toward segregated communities hinted at in this article still existed within Palo Alto during the 80's and 90's. The prevailing attitude of the era was always those who worked the hardest got to live in the best neighborhoods, and anyone who could not afford to live in Palo Alto had nobody but themselves to blame.

You can still see people recite that exact argument every time some initiative threatens to change the delicate single family zoning of a particular neighborhood.


10 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2020 at 10:43 am

Posted by Gunn Graduate, a resident of Gunn High School

>> Having grown up in the Palo Alto school system, I can attest that the attitudes toward segregated communities hinted at in this article still existed within Palo Alto during the 80's and 90's.

Seems like a good moment to remind folks that under California law, counties are the next-level government under the State, and, cities and school districts are wholly-contained *local* entities within counties. But, within the county boundary, school district boundaries and city boundaries are not tied to each other in any way.

Schools have their own reporting structure, with a County Office of Education in every county, that reports to the State Department of Education. Lots of data available on the websites of course. e.g. Web Link

In some states, school districts and cities are more closely tied together than in California. Here, they are independent of each other, but, are both *local* to a particular county.

Since East Palo Alto is in San Mateo County, it is not tied to Palo Alto either way - local government or school district. If people wanted to join East Palo Alto and Palo Alto together, it could be done, if SCC and SMC agreed, and, if Palo Alto and East Palo Alto agreed, and, the State agreed to change the county boundary.

At one time I favored the idea of EPA changing counties. It would allow school districts and cities to merge. The boundary was adjusted before, to bring the airport into SCC. But, now that EPA is overdeveloping and building tall, massive buildings, I no longer favor the idea. Ikea, Home Depot, etc were good additions, and have brought sales tax revenue into EPA, but, I'm sorry that EPA is now a tech-office destination. Ultimately, it will push the current EPA residents out.


20 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2020 at 10:44 am

They must be realizing that society has rejected their flimsy "narrative." Pretty soon they'll dredging up stories of Greek prejudice against Persians.


10 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 29, 2020 at 11:02 am

A demographer would have to fact check this but I believe as a gunn ‘82 I knew Ventura and its residents at its peak in terms of being a black community. my friends classmates and teammates from that neighborhood. Some of the families are still there or maybe you can say there is a Ventura Diaspora. And the fry’s deal pretty much is endgame.
Terms of Stegner (ironically my actual neighbor), although known more as a teacher a writer and an environmentalist I believe he was for civil rights. In terms of his short stories that deal with race and ethnicity I recommend: pop goes the alley cat, the chink, something from the Mindanao deep. the latter two more about anti-Asian sentiment which Stegner is defining as a way to refute it.


Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 29, 2020 at 11:10 am

By the way, in Hanover, New Hampshire where Dartmouth College is, students from other side of the river not creek or freeway, in Norwich, Vermont— across the state line are part of the Hanover school district so there is precedent for merging East Palo alto and Palo Alto at least for schools and beyond Tinsley.


1 person likes this
Posted by Green Gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 29, 2020 at 11:20 am

Person of color. It's Jim Crow as in Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States.


7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2020 at 11:25 am

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North

>> A demographer would have to fact check this but I believe as a gunn ‘82 I knew Ventura and its residents at its peak in terms of being a black community. my friends classmates and teammates from that neighborhood. Some of the families are still there or maybe you can say there is a Ventura Diaspora.

I don't believe that there is available published census data on "East Palo Alto" as the boundaries exist today prior to 1970, but, census data for Palo Alto in 1950 and 1960 were 542 and 847 African American. In 1950, I believe that EPA was zero or almost zero, because prior to 1954, the EPA section was white, with some Japanese flower-growing gardens/greenhouses remaining in the area. Ventura already had a considerable African-American community in 1950, and, it continued to grow until ~1990. So, yes, for some time, Palo Alto's black community exceeded that of EPA. From 1970-1990, there were 10,000-11,000 African Americans in EPA. Then, the number began to decline again. In the 2010 census, there were 4,704 Black or African American residents.

Census data on this site: Web Link


14 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 29, 2020 at 11:33 am

I think we keep resurrecting these tales for political gain. I grew up in LA - Tom Bradley was the Chief of Police , then the Mayor and he ran for Governor. The Airport International Terminal is named after him. He went to UCLA, was a track star, and Southwestern Law School.

Willie Brown in SF was Mayor, in the State Assembly - and head of the State Assembly. He writes for the SFC. He went to UC Hastings Law School.

And you have Ms. Lee in Oakland in the legislative Assembly.

Any time we work to "normalize" the balances the next generation pops up and goes at it. The goal is to "normalize" the status of everyone - but you know if you pay attention to "Hollywood" that is not going to happen.

If a party does not have a position relative to the world at large then the whole show starts over again. Where we were post WW2 - half have never left that point.

I have worked in "defense" the majority of my life and that is the most diverse group of people you will ever meet and a lot have senior positions. And when you go to a base you are dealing with senior personnel who are diverse.

As to the book your next door neighbors are Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Woodside, Atherton, and Menlo Park. Palo Alto is just a neighborhood on the peninsula among a lot of other small urban cities who are "urban" - not major manufacturing centers which typically are very diverse.
The man is selling a book. It is just a book.


11 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 29, 2020 at 12:17 pm

Digging up old dirt for political gain, as usual.

If you talk about segregation, look at SF Chinatown. It was there since what? early 1800's? So what? The community has prospered just like rest of the city. There are Chinatowns in New York, LA, etc. All seem doing alright. If you want good Chinese food or exotic Chinese goods you want go there. There is also Little Saigon in San Jose.

Italians and East Europeans set up their own communities in early times in New York and Chicago. Even now various sections of New York are de facto segregated by ethnic groups. But they mostly are doing alright. They have their own ethnic churches, temples, shops, Sunday schools, and authentic restaurants that are tourist attractions.

But I'm not aware of any significant black neighborhoods in this country, except some small towns in the South, that thrive like a Chinatown, a Little Italy, or a Little Saigon, where not only people feel safe to visit, but want to go there to participate distinct cultural activities like great food and shops.

I think people, especially black leaders, need to pay more attention to this phenomena, instead of racial segregation, which is no longer a problem today. How can we make Austin of Chicago a safe tourist attraction famous for distinct black heritage, authentic African American food, shops, cultural centers, and so on? If you build your community together, build your culture together, you can thrive.


23 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2020 at 3:07 pm

@Anon,

The word "political" doesn't quite capture it. There are strong economic aspects to it. Even a sort of psychopathology -- munchausen-by-proxy.

A bunch of whites and asians -- who would never dare venture into a black neighborhood for fear of being robbed or murdered -- march in and try to draw attention and resources to themselves by trumpeting the problems of black communities. They just keep peeling the scab off without ever addressing the root causes of black failure. You'll never hear them talk about illegitimacy or plummeting educational standards.


2 people like this
Posted by Ramona Fernando
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 29, 2020 at 9:42 pm

Very good article about East Palo Alto and Palo Alto housing issues, which is more from the perspective of E.P.A.

Web Link FeHP6p8fM9kQWZFPunN4z7stcb2mMfJ_qq54ts1Ah_8infNGV0Ex73Gnjw5Uu_ViZQBJkJqFaTO5y9hbjiDq0JnIPeUdNIP6u2wLF-ua6LbUPDj2MNKOvClWESbo8icUyk5hKafDXq1OUcu188M0zqOu


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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 30, 2020 at 11:21 pm

@Stronger
I did cruise Lawrence Tract off Greer. News to me.
I also walked Cubberley campus.
On Saturday, some Cubberley Old Boys and I biked all over South Palo Alto pointing out who lived where when. The House house was just torn down.
We are renaming Cubberley Pavillion “Presley Pavillion at Cubberley” for coach Bud Presley but also Elvis since there are dancers Fri and Sat nights.


Like this comment
Posted by Elise D
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2020 at 1:00 am

Interesting to understand who ran the federal housing administration at the time they required no sales to African Americans ... and who at the real estate boards made these decisions ... those wealthy families should be stripped of name and wealth.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 1, 2020 at 8:55 am

I really get concerned when I read a east coast paper and the city of Palo Alto pops up. Palo Alto is not the center of Silicon Valley. San Jose is the biggest city on the peninsula. Mountain View is the center of Google - a giant transnational company.

As all transnational companies going back to the late 1800's they do not use local people as employees - they bring in foreign workers. That is true from the great expansion of the Central American countries, the building of the Panama Canal, all of which imported workers from the British colonies in the Caribbean. The workers who grow the coffee, work on giant plantations growing tropical produce, they all displaced the local population workers.

The slaves coming to America were sold by Africa or your favorite EU country. America was colonized by various European countries. We needed workers to grow food and crops. They then went on to colonize Africa and plunder the great resources of that continent. And that theme continues to now as the big Silicon Valley Companies resist hiring local, US employees who are coming out of the best colleges and universities.

If you do some Wikipedia searches on Slavery and the end result of importation of workers then other countries have a higher percentage of workers from Africa. Everyone keeps trying to make money by slicing a piece of history and trying to make it the total history - expanding it's role in the over all total picture of history.

So some have Palo Alto pegged as the representative local city from which to launch a position. In the scheme of things the surrounding cities which house the biggest Silicon Valley companies are where it is at now. And any one who is at SU is living on campus. And UC-Berkley - Oakland is a heavily populated black community.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 4, 2020 at 5:36 am

I've always noticed how 101 divides and segregates Palo Alto from EPA. But PA residents wouldn't have it any way. Talk about how much you hate Trump, prop up a BLM sign on the green grass in your front lawn, and call it a day. But you might still need the police around to make sure no one breaks into your living room so you can peacefully watch CNN.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 5, 2020 at 11:38 am

Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown

>> I've always noticed how 101 divides and segregates Palo Alto from EPA.

I'm not sure what your point is. When the Bayshore Highway was widened to 4 lanes from SF south (began in 1924) to Oregon Expressway (1932) there were immediate complaints from Ravenswood/Runnymede/East Palo Alto. The Bayshore Highway was completed 1937, and re-designated US 101 (then Alternate 101 for a while, then back to 101). Or, as it was referred to then, "Bloody Bayshore". Web Link With so much traffic, and no safe way to cross, EPA was cut off and became a safety hazard for people trying to get back and forth between EPA and Palo Alto. (EPA was mostly "white" at the time.)

That busy transportation corridors-- trains, highways and freeways-- create barriers, has long been understood. Formally identified by city historian Lewis Mumford, and expanded upon by Jane Jacobs, the idea has long been understood by people who were cut off by these barriers. In the 1945-1970 freeway boom, city planners who should have known better spent billions on misguided freeway (and also "urban renewal") projects. e.g. Robert Moses in NYC, Justin Herman in San Francisco


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