- Published on Wednesday, 26 September 2012 01:00
- Written by Gary Hedden
1. Apricot Orchard at Los Altos City Hall (1 N. San Antonio Road)
In 1901, J. Gilbert Smith purchased 5 acres on Giffin Road (now San Antonio Road). He planted an orchard of Blenheim apricots and constructed a redwood farmhouse, now home to the Los Altos History Museum’s J. Gilbert Smith History House.
Gilbert continued to operate the orchard until he sold the property to the city of Los Altos in 1954 for $115,000.
2. Neutra House (181 Hillview Ave.)
The Neutra House, designed by internationally renowned architect Richard Neutra, was built along with two other houses in 1939. Its clean lines, which exemplify mid-century modernism, were the precursor to the affordable Eichler homes that became popular in the area in the 1950s.
The first owner, Jacqueline Johnson, was a graduate student at Stanford University. The house changed hands several times and by 2005 faced potential demolition.
The city, the Los Altos Community Foundation and concerned citizens raised money and relocated the house from Marvin Avenue to its present location on city land. It has been adaptively restored, meaning that the outside has the original look but the inside was changed to accommodate its current use as a community gathering place.
3. Farnsworth Farmhouse (439 Rinconada Court)
The Farnsworth Farmhouse, built circa 1895, was the centerpiece of the 15-acre Farnsworth Farms. The beautifully restored residence is an exemplary mix of Queen Anne and Tudor architecture. The Queen Anne elements include the wraparound front porch, second-story balconies and decorative woodwork. The dominant Tudor feature is the Stick design outlining the supporting timbers. The second-story balcony that is now enclosed reflects the then-current thinking that sleeping outdoors would help prevent tuberculosis.
Its original owner, David Farnsworth, was a successful San Francisco businessman. He planted a row of Canary Island palms, still standing, that are landmarks on the city’s heritage list. The farmhouse’s landscape designer, John McLaren, is best known for landscaping Stanford University and Golden Gate Park.
4. Old Southern Pacific Depot (288 First St.)
Los Altos founder Paul Shoup wanted the city to have the finest railroad station on the Peninsula and, as vice president of Southern Pacific, was able to deliver. Built circa 1913 and funded by $12,000 in donations, the Craftsman-style depot replaced two boxcars that had been used as the depot and freight shed since 1908.
After Foothill Expressway replaced the railroad in 1964, the facade of the depot was re-created on the First Street side. It was a hamburger joint, the Station House, and a bank before becoming Maria’s Antiques.
5. Paul Shoup House (500 University Ave.)
Built circa 1910, Wolfe and Mc-Kenzie designed the Craftsman-style Shoup House. Shoup, recognized posthumously in 2001 as Los Altan of the Century by the Town Crier, enjoyed a long career at Southern Pacific, rising from ticket agent in 1891 to president in 1929. In 1907, he and real estate developer Walter A. Clark of Mountain View co-founded the Altos Land Company. Shortly thereafter, Southern Pacific built a terminal on their property and Los Altos was on its way. The Altos Land Company gave Los Altos its name, Spanish for “The Heights,” and sold 191 lots.
The house was recently restored by its current owners in time for its 2010 centennial and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.
6. Winchester- Merriman House (220 University Ave.)
The Winchester-Merriman house, built as a four-room farmhouse in the 1860s, grew into a 12-room Victorian-style residence. When Sarah Winchester purchased the house for her sister and brother-in-law, Isabelle and Louis Merriman, in 1888, they remodeled it to make it asymmetrical – the latest architectural fad at the time.
The sisters planned to establish a horse-breeding ranch on the 140 acres, but in 1905 Oliver Hale, president of the San Jose-Los Gatos Interurban Railway Company, decided to build a spur line between south Palo Alto and Los Gatos. He sent his surveyors out to stake out the route – without asking permission. The Merrimans took exception and pulled up the stakes. The dispute lasted two years in the courts, and ultimately Sarah gave up and sold the property. The Altos Land Company acquired the land and subdivided it into commercial and residential lots.
The Winchester-Merriman House was recently restored and continues to showcase its Victorian style.
7. Denny House (654 Orange Ave.)
Some of the first houses built in the new town of Los Altos were along Orange Avenue. The Denny House, constructed circa 1909, was one of the earliest homes on the street. The current owner has restored both the interior and the landscaping to its original look.
8. Foothills Congregational Church (461 Orange Ave.)
Known as Christ Episcopal Church at the time, this was the first church in Los Altos. Built on land donated by Rose Shoup, the church was completed in 1914. Renowned architect Ernest Coxhead designed the church’s sanctuary.
During construction near the church in 1996, crew members discovered a time capsule that had been undisturbed for 82 years. It contained old train schedules, maps, news stories and sheets of choir music.
9. Tudor House (556 Van Buren St.)
This 1934 Tudor with Colonial Revival elements looks today as it did when constructed. According to its current owners, the house may be even older – the porcelain lid on one of the toilets is dated 1925.
A 1935 aerial photo taken by the owners at the time shows acres and acres of orchard extending from Adobe Creek north to Portola Avenue. There were very few farmhouses in the area at the time.
The street was named for Cornelius Van Buren, an early settler in the area who managed the Ayrshire Farm in 1882 when Peter Coutts sold it to Gov. Leland Stanford.
10. Bleibler House (530 Cherry Ave.)
This is the oldest house on the block still standing unchanged. After Cherry Avenue was subdivided in 1912, Herman Bleibler, a blacksmith born in Switzerland, built the home in 1913. He planted his 5-acre orchard with cherry, apricot, almond and prune trees.
Bleibler established the Palo Alto Iron Works in 1905. When he retired, he built the small blacksmith shop at the back of the property. Bleibler built many of the ornamental iron gates in the area, and during World War II contracted with the U.S. Navy to turn out chipping hammers. His grandson, Armond King, is the current owner. 7