Photo By: Courtesy of Don McDonald
A 1908 ad promoting Los Altos announced a free “old-time Spanish barbeque,” pictured above, at “one of the most ideal spots on the peninsula (and) higher than Palo Alto.”
“Better late than never” could well be the motto of the new hotel under construction at the corner of Main Street and San Antonio Road in downtown Los Altos.
The earliest ad for the tiny community of Los Altos circa 1908 promised that “a hotel and bank and post office building are assured at once.” So, after a slight delay of 105 years, downtown Los Altos will finally have its promised hotel.
Thanks to the eagle eye of Jim Lyons, a dealer in historical newspapers, we uncovered this long-ago promise among other details relating to the picnic advertised in a photo from the Los Altos History Museum’s archives. Lyons unearthed the details in the pages of the 1908 Palo Altan.
An ad for the event announced a free “old-time Spanish barbeque” at “one of the most ideal spots on the peninsula (and) higher than Palo Alto.” The ad urged readers to “spend the day amid the woods and wild flowers of Los Altos (and) picnic along the banks (and) cozy nooks of Los Yuegas Creek.” Los Yuegas Creek is now Adobe Creek. Other features promised “delightful views of the Valley and Bay.” The price of the round-trip 11:55 a.m. railroad ticket was 25 cents, including the barbecue.
The picnic heralded the first major public offering of Los Altos lots for sale, most in the $400 to $600 range. Interested visitors were encouraged to board one of two special trains, one from San Francisco and the other from San Jose. They were the first passenger trains to travel over the new single tracks along what was then known as the “Palo Alto-Los Gatos Cutoff.”
The week after the picnic, the Palo Altan reported that the event was a great success, with nearly 3,000 people in attendance, including those who arrived by carriage and automobile. The article claimed that “nearly a ton of beef” was served and “plenty of agents” were on hand to sell lots. Event organizer Walter A. Clark announced sales of $160,000, a sum that we assume included sales to Paul Shoup and his relatives and friends. Clark referred to “many prominent people who had already purchased lots, (among them) officials on the SP and other railroads.”
In previous publicity, Clark mentioned the availability of “attractive sites for country homes (on land adjacent to Los Altos) “in the rolling hills above Yuegas Creek,” which eventually became Los Altos Hills.
A photo from 1910 documents the second major public sales event by the Altos Land Co., organized to celebrate the long-delayed opening of the Peninsula Railway electric line along the Palo Alto-Los Gatos Cutoff.
To entice visitors, the company offered a free excursion on the railway’s new electric cars. The 88 Los Altos residents who accepted the offer rode from the town’s temporary railroad station to Mayfield and to Palo Alto, where a light luncheon was served. The cars then went to Stanford University, where a photographer took a shot of the crowd gathered in front of the cars.
A San Jose Mercury article following the event reported that “the advent of the cars was cheered by all the towns passed through, and from all the farmhouses along the route, greetings were exchanged by the waving of handkerchiefs and hats.”
The Altos Land Co. was absorbed in a reorganization involving San Francisco financiers in 1913. The newly formed Los Altos Co. assumed control of the company’s assets. Although short on details, we believe that the primary reason for the reorganization was the town’s failure to grow as fast as had been planned.
We know from other sources that sales were somewhat disappointing. The panic of 1907 may have been a factor. Another problem could have been the heavy competition posed by other new real estate developments in San Francisco and along the Peninsula.
Shoup was the only officer of the Altos Land Co. to retain his position in the new company. He continued to earn his eventual posthumous reputation as the “Father of Los Altos.”
Don McDonald is a local historian and longtime volunteer with the Los Altos History Museum.