In the photo above, El Palo Alto looms above the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge that spans San Francisquito Creek. Built in 1902 when the original single track line was expanded to 2 tracks, this bridge replaced the original wooden bridge built in 1864 by the then newly-organized San Francisco and San Jose Railroad (absorbed in 1870 by Southern Pacific/Union Pacific).
El Palo Alto originally had two trunks (or perhaps it was really two separate trees). The origin of the name of the tree is obscure. In an 1864 lithograph showing a train crossing the creek, the tree is labeled “The Redwood Twins.”
Leland Stanford certainly had this tree in mind when he renamed the estate on the south side of the Creek that he bought in 1876 from George Gordon the “Palo Alto Stock Farm.” Years later, after both Menlo Park and Mayfield refused to close down their saloons, Stanford commissioned the design and construction of a new town for the faculty and staff of his new university. The town incorporated in 1894 naming itself after the tree (or the ranch or both?).
After one of the twin trunks was swept away in the 1880s by a flood, the Stanfords built a substantial concrete wall on the Palo Alto side of the Creek to protect the remaining trunk. That wall exists today and extends from the west side of the railroad bridge to the east side of the new pedestrian/bike bridge (to be featured in next Under Menlo Park — Part V). El Palo Alto is located between these two bridges. For some reason there is no significant graffiti on this wall, perhaps because there is no easy access down the nearby Creek banks.
The Menlo Park side is a bit more messy as shown left. This is apparently the detritus of past human encampments. It is difficult to crawl under this part of the bridge, accessed only from the top of the bank, but the reward is that it is protected from rain while also being well above the Creek waters.