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Town Crier Los Altan of the Century:

Developer, railroad man named Los Altos, subdivided first lots

By Bruce Barton and Paul Nyberg

Town Crier Editor and Publisher

Los Altos was born and raised in the 20th century, thanks to Paul Shoup. Called an opportunist by some and a visionary by others, Shoup put down roots in this area during the century's infancy.

He was merely passing through, mind you, on the way to greater fame and fortune as president of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. Shoup was a friend of President Herbert Hoover, a Stanford University trustee and mover and shaker in Los Angeles. But there's no denying that what Shoup did here - establishing a train stop, attracting some of the first home buyers and naming the town - provided the foundation for the Los Altos we now know and love.

Even more than older brother Guy Shoup, who spent the bulk of his life here and cast a monumental legacy with his community involvement, Paul Shoup was the one who led the way. For this reason, the Town Crier has named Paul Shoup its Los Altan of the Century.

"He is the father of Los Altos, there's no question about that," said Al Baccari, a historian who has established several museums of local history at Bay View banks, including one involving Paul Shoup photographs at the Los Altos branch. "He was fascinating - I have great admiration for the man."

Born in 1874 in San Bernardino two years after brother Guy, Paul Shoup spent his formative years growing up in Iowa. His father died when he was 4, and the family moved back to Iowa, his mother's home state. When he was 14 years old, the family returned to Southern California and Shoup began working to support his family. He started as a paper boy and later a reporter for the Los Angeles Express. This fostered Shoup's lifelong love of writing, an art Shoup mastered despite his high school-level education.

At 17 and out of high school, Shoup began his long relationship with the railroad, starting in 1891 as a laborer for the Santa Fe, before joining the Southern Pacific that same year as a ticket agent.

He quickly acquired knowledge in such diverse subjects as freight tariffs, telegraphy and stenography. His meteoric rise through the ranks is considered one of the greatest success stories in the history of the modern railroad. In 1912, at age 38, Shoup became president and managing director of the Pacific Electric Railway Company, which operated all the Southern Pacific interurban lines in California.

Los Altos resident John Day has owned the 1910 house built by Paul Shoup at 500 University Ave. for 30 years. Day traced Shoup's initial arrival in Los Altos to 1906, when Shoup spotted a Palo Alto Times note that "100 acres in the (Sarah) Winchester Tract on the line of the San Jose and Los Gatos Interurban Railway was sold and 'it was asserted that the purchasers were Southern Pacific people ... '" Earlier that year, Winchester had purchased 150 acres in the area, much of what is now downtown Los Altos.

Day, who has done extensive research on Shoup, said the Los Altos Land Company was founded around 1907 by Paul Shoup and three other partners. That same year, Shoup and company laid out the town site on the east side of the tracks.

"Conflicts of interest were not in the vocabulary of businessmen in 1900," Day said. "It appears that the land was purchased by the Altos Land Company before the railroad announced that it was locating a depot there. By coincidence and good fortune, the railroad decided to put a station exactly in the middle of land partially owned by the person at the railroad who was selecting the location - Paul Shoup."

Under Shoup's leadership, the first steam train service from Los Altos to San Francisco began in 1908. That year, lots were advertised in the short-lived Los Altos Star newspaper for $400 to $600. In 1909, Guy Shoup came to Los Altos from Reno. The attorney worked in the Real Estate Department of Southern Pacific, commuting to San Francisco from Los Altos for the next 30 years on the 7:12 a.m. train - a 55-minute journey, Day said. As a team, Paul and Guy Shoup were a formidable business force.

A mere two years later, Paul Shoup assumed the role of vice president of Pacific Electric and left Los Altos to become "the pillar of Los Angeles," as Day put it. Guy remained, but Paul Shoup never again called Los Altos his full-time home.

That said, Paul Shoup's influence on Los Altos was indelible. His land company sold 191 lots in 1907. He attracted other high-profile businessmen - such as undertaker Frank Marini, chief of the Republican Committee in San Francisco - to take up residence here.

Through Shoup's efforts, water and electricity came to the area in 1909. He established the second structure in what would become downtown Los Altos in 1910, a two-story building at Main and Second streets that still stands today. It first housed Robinson Grocery Store and the second floor was used for community meetings. It now houses Bay View Bank and the Shoup photo display.

His Altos Land Company also built a structure at Main and First streets, which housed the first Los Altos bank in 1919. Shoup apparently provided the bulk of the capital.

Perhaps most importantly, it was Shoup's abilities as a writer, not developer, that helped put Los Altos on the map. He gave the community its name, Spanish for "The Heights," and advertised it as "the crown of the Peninsula."

In 1898, he helped create Sunset Magazine, originally founded to promote the rail line between San Francisco and New Orleans known as the Sunset Limited.

During the magazine's 15 years under Southern Pacific ownership, Shoup took an active role in its supervision and writing. Sunset, sold to the Lane family, rose to fame as the home and garden magazine of the west.

Shoup became nationally known for his writing and at one point even considered pursuing writing over railroading. "If he wasn't head of the railroad company, he would have been a great writer," Baccari said.

Another Shoup contribution to Los Altos was the arrival of many of his family members to the area. At various points, Paul, brother Guy, sister Faith, and mother Sarah Sumner Shoup all lived along University Avenue.

Guy Shoup, in particular, made a huge impact, living in Los Altos until his death in 1965 at age 93. In fact, some consider Guy the town founder. "He had a hand in everything wonderful going on in the creation of this town," said local historian Irene Grenier. Among Guy Shoup's many accomplishments was chartering the Los Altos Rotary Club in 1949, and arranging for the donation of Shoup property to the city of Los Altos, which eventually became Shoup Park in 1955.

Paul Shoup's wife, Rose Wilson Shoup, was involved in a host of civic activities, including both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

In 1923, Paul Shoup became a trustee at Stanford University. His oldest son, Carl, graduated from the university the next year. Carl Shoup, born in 1902, is still living, in New Hampshire. While at Stanford, Shoup struck up a friendship with Herbert Hoover, who became president of the United States in 1928. Hoover reportedly visited Shoup at his Los Altos home on a few occasions.

In 1929, at age 55, Paul Shoup ascended to the presidency of the Southern Pacific. That year, he also was featured on the cover of "Time Magazine." Commenting on the efficiency of modern railroads, "Time" wrote that Shoup was "most responsible for Southern Pacific's present scope and vigor." "Time" noted that when seven members of California's Bohemian Club (of which Shoup was a member) were asked to write the name of "the most potent westerner of the present generation," five of the seven ballots bore his name.

Shoup retired from the Southern Pacific in 1938, then headed Southern Californians, Inc., a group pledged to fight "labor racketeering in labor relations." Shoup also served as president of the Los Angeles Merchants and Manufacturers Association. He died in Los Angeles in 1946 at age 72.

How is history treating Paul Shoup? Casual observers saw him as a workaholic, a man who put business before family and all but abandoned his wife after leaving Los Altos. But according to Shoup relative Gordon Ansley, Shoup returned to Los Altos for holiday visits and was generous with family members.

"I was impressed by him," said Ansley, who now lives in Mountain View. "He would greet me with a handshake and leave a silver dollar in my hand."

Edgar McDowell, 91, of Palo Alto, whose father was a friend of Shoup's, remembered Shoup as "a friendly sort of person - he met people very easily. You just naturally liked him."

Two weeks before graduating from Stanford, McDowell talked to Shoup about a job in the railroad. "He asked me two questions: 'What branch of service are you interested in?' and 'What day do you want to start work?'" McDowell, who lived in Los Altos for 23 years, worked for the Southern Pacific for 42 years.

To business associates and many historians, Shoup remains a giant in 20th century California, a man who was well respected and led by example. One Shoup associate, Dr. Rockwell D. Hunt, noted: "Shoup needed no other pedestal on which to stand than his own modest disposition, hard and painstaking work, and unselfish recognition of a consideration for the achievements of others." Hunt described Shoup as a man "of many friends and few enemies. So far as I know, he never displayed a boastful spirit or arrogance of bearing."

Despite some challenges to Shoup's business ethics, another associate Herbert Fleishhacker asserted Shoup was "a quick, clear-penetrating thinker, a man of rare tact, kindly and scholarly ... one of the most honest of men."

It is not surprising that a man who flourished in the free-enterprise system was a devout conservative who railed against anything vaguely socialist in concept. He was vehemently opposed to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s, and countered tax-and-spend philosophies with a 1932 paper titled "Over-Taxation - A business viewpoint."

While Baccari noted Shoup was an unabashed capitalist who "saw the potential of the land," he also saw the need to respect and protect it. Baccari even went so far as to call Shoup an "environmentalist" of his time. "He really nourished this community," Baccari said.

Would Los Altos exist without Paul Shoup, the Town Crier's designee as Los Altan of the Century? Day, who has lived in Shoup's own home on University Avenue for 30 years knows the answer. "No," he said.

Paul Shoup lifeline

1874: Born in San Bernardino.

1878: Father dies, family moves back to Iowa.

1888: Family returns to Southern California. Paul, 14, works to support the family as a paperboy for the Los Angeles Express.

1891: Joins Southern Pacific Railroad as a ticket agent, beginning 47-year career with the railroad.

1896: Transferred to San Francisco as chief clerk, then assistant general passenger agent.

1898: Promotional duties included creation of Sunset Magazine, initially to showcase the Sunset Limited rail line, then attractions along Southern Pacific lines in general.

1899: Promoted to freight and passenger agent at San Jose.

1900: Married Rose Wilson of San Francisco, daughter of railroad engineering pioneer, John Wilson.

1902: Promoted to assistant general freight agent of Oregon Short Line; first son, Carl, born.

1904: Named assistant passenger agent in San Francisco.

1906: Named assistant general manager of Southern Pacific, in charge of municipal and interurban electric lines. Heavily involved in rehabilitation work following San Francisco quake.

1906: Second child, Jack, born.

1906: Shoup and partners buy 100 acres in what is now Los Altos.

1907: Shoup arranges for Los Altos train stop.

1908: Beginning of first steam train service to Los Altos from San Francisco.

1908: Third child, Louise, born.

1909: Brother Guy Shoup arrives from Reno. For the next 30 years, he works as an attorney in the real estate department of Southern Pacific.

1910: Shoup builds house at 500 University Ave.

1911: Transferred to Los Angeles as vice president of Pacific Electric Company.

1912: Becomes president of Pacific Electric; at 38, youngest railroad president in the country.

1912: Altos Land Company purchased by San Francisco capitalists; Shoup and new partners later buy back properties at a discount after new owners fall into default on the bonds.

1915: Guy Shoup buys property at 452 University Ave.

1918: Appointed vice president of Southern Pacific. Government takes over railroads during World War I and Shoup is in charge of the property interests of Southern Pacific.

1919: First National Bank of Los Altos opens with Shoup playing a role.

1923: Becomes a trustee of Stanford University.

1924: Son Carl graduates from Stanford.

1925: Becomes executive vice president of Southern Pacific.

1929: Becomes president of Southern Pacific.

1938: Retires from Southern Pacific.

1942: Rose Wilson Shoup dies.

1946: Paul Shoup dies in Los Angeles after becoming ill while vacationing at Lake Arrowhead. He was 72.

Compiled and copyrighted by John Day.

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