Photo By: COURTESY of LOS ALTOS HISTORY MUSEUM
Los Altos pioneer J. Gilbert Smith, an avid cyclist, explored the local terrain by bike.
One of Los Altos’ earliest residents, J. Gilbert Smith, was a cyclist. Yes, that’s right. The man who planted the apricot orchard behind city hall rode his bike around town at the dawn of the 20th century.
Of course, in 1901, when he planted his orchard and built his house, there were no cars, so the mode of transportation was either foot, bike or horse. Back then, Los Altos was not yet incorporated as a city, and it had yet to earn “Bicycle-Friendly City” status from the League of American Bicyclists.
Fast forward a century, however, and Los Altos has become a cycling mecca. With a burgeoning interest in environmentally conscious living, local residents have continued to incorporate cycling into their lifestyle.
It’s not uncommon to spot gaggles of children crossing San Antonio Road on their way to school, families pedaling through town on the weekend or clusters of serious cyclists launching their training rides from the heart of downtown Los Altos on weekday evenings. City officials and organizations like GreenTown Los Altos – a nonprofit group that promotes green living – are partnering to make local bike riding safer and more accessible.
A network of more than 10 miles of bike lanes, flashing crosswalks, bike racks and even recently demarcated sharrow lanes – lanes shared by cars and bikes – on First Street make Los Altos an attractive community for those who prefer two wheels to four.
With two bike shops in town, education and outreach programs sponsored by GreenTown and city-generated route maps for every school in Los Altos, cyclists have plenty of useful resources at their fingertips.
When avid cyclist Gary Hedden began teaching history lessons about buildings and landmarks around Los Altos during his regular rides in town with friends, he reckoned that riding and reminiscing could be combined.
Hedden teamed with GreenTown Los Altos to organize a historical cycling tour featuring more than 35 sites of local significance. To honor Los Altos’ 60th anniversary, Hedden is scheduled to lead the inaugural tour Sept. 29.
Ride your way through Los Altos History
Residents and visitors can take a self-guided historical bike or walking tour using the map and guide (featuring the Town Crier’s Top 10 favorite sites) on Page 7. Whether you orchestrate your exploration one site at a time or visit them all in one 12-mile ride, enjoy the comforting breeze at your back as you discover Los Altos’ roots.
Highlights of the tour include information on early settlers like Smith and Sarah Winchester, who purchased a horse ranch in town for her sister, Isabelle. Sarah built a Victorian-style residence dubbed “El Sueño” (“The Dream”) for Isabelle, but the dream nearly became a nightmare when Southern Pacific decided it needed the land for a railroad spur line.
You can stop by the home of developer and Southern Pacific executive Paul Shoup, credited with putting Los Altos on the map by developing homes along Orange and University avenues. His former home is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
The tour includes visits to several city parks, the first church in town and the site where an 82-year-old time capsule was unearthed during a construction project in 1996.
Some of the stops on the tour represent history in the making, like the new Packard Foundation headquarters on Second Street.
Gary Hedden and Ellie Van Houtte contributed to this article. 7