Saturday, July 19, 2014

From Oakland to Old Palo Alto

Moving on from Oakland, we boarded the BART train to make the short journey from one end of the Bay Area to another, but one that took us into a very different world. Our friends Patti and Joel live in Palo Altothe home of Stanford university and the heart of Silicone Valley.  They  moved here 40 years ago when Patti was working with data for Stanford researchers and Joel was monitoring sunspot activity at the nearby radio astronomy observatory. Their house is a diminutive summer cabin sheltered by an ancient oak that was built around  the turn of the century. 

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then and their house is now situated in the heart of a neighborhood that must boast some of the must expensive real estate in the world and is certainly is home to some of the world's richest people. 

When I last stayed here in 1999, the family a couple of doors down were the Hewletts (yes of HP famethe printers not the sauce!). The community garden and lawn bowling green a couple of streets away was left to the city by Elizabeth Gamble, heir to some of the Proctor and Gamble fortune. Here long enough to be considered almost "old money" are the Jobs family, who live in a rather fairytale corner house built  out of red brick with a wild garden of many trees and shrubs. The epitome of the new money must be Google founder and multi billionaire Larry Page who bought 2 or 3 adjacent houses and is building on the siteone wonders whether Ms Proctor would approve and one gets the  distinct feeling that she would not. Old Palo Alto is understated, unlike nearby Atherton where high walls conceal large estates. 

We also visited our friends in Homer Lanean idyllic spot where erstwhile hippies continue to live in a communal space of tiny summer cabins they first rented in the 50s and 60s and later bought in the late 80s. Located by a tiny creek where deer come to water and humming birds hover. 

It was in a similar lane nearby (Perry Lane) that Ken Kesey lived when he was working at a veterans hospital and taking LSD in experimental programs at Stanford. Not surprisingly at the same time he was writing One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.   

University Avenue  in Palo Alto still retains the feel of many American small town main streets, but appearances are deceptive. The Italian restaurant at one end is ground zero for venture capitalists the world over; this is where  the deals are done that later change our lives with the advent of another Whatsapp, Dropbox, or Pinterest. The cinema half way down the street is a classic of the genre built in 1925, which  has survived thanks to the  good offices (and money) of the Packard family, who funded the restoration of the beautifully decorated interior and Wurlitzer organ and set up a Foundation to preserve the theatre as a functioning cinema. We went to see the original version of the Wizard of Oz on a large screen and the difference between that experience and seeing the film on television or digital versions was striking.

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