Under Menlo Park

After Leland Stanford Jr. died in 1884, the Stanfords decided to build a university in his honor, the corner stone of which was laid in 1887. Later that year they decided to enable a new alcohol-free city intended for faculty and staff on the northeast side of the university, shunning the existing villages of Menlo Park (clustered around the train station) and Mayfield to the northwest and southeast respectively, with their numerous saloons and bars.

Palo Alto grew rapidly, reaching a population of 700 by 1894 when it incorporated. In 1907, with the population approaching 4000, a wooden bridge was built across the San Francisquito Creek at what is now Chaucer Street in Palo Alto. The area immediately north of the creek, which was still farmland, was within easy walking distance of University Avenue, which after 1906 had an electric streetcar line that ran its length.

map of early Menlo Park and Palo AltoDevelopers offered home lots in this new area, although few houses were actually built until after WWI. Menlo Park, incorporated in 1927, did not extend beyond Middlefield Road. The unincorporated area closest to the Chaucer bridge (at Pope Street on the north side of the creek) became known as North Palo Alto, although the adjacent neighborhoods of Woodland, Elm, Menalto, Willow Road, and others eventually developed. The sketch of these neighborhoods shown left is from the October 16, 1947, issue of the Palo Alto Mail-Dispatch.

By the end of WWII there were several thousand residents living north of the creek. To handle the ever heavier traffic, the wooden Pope-Chaucer bridge was replaced in 1948 by the present concrete bridge and soon thereafter most of this area — excluding primarily what later became the city of East Palo Alto — was annexed by the city of Menlo Park. Today most of these neighborhoods west of the Bayshore freeway are collectively known as The Willows.

The bridge itself is a choke point along the creek. During periods of heavy rains, the water level easily reaches up to the top of the tunnel. In addition, with heavy water flow in the creek, debris tends to collect in front of the bridge, effectively creating a dam, which can result in flooding.

Access to the creek bed, especially on the Palo Alto side, is not difficult. As would be expected, there is a plethora of graffiti on the underside, though perhaps it’s not as artistic as at the Middlefield and El Camino bridges. The photos shown here were taken last October. The tunnel view is looking upstream. The graffiti-filled wall is on the Menlo Park side.

This is the eighth in a series of posts with accompanying photos by InMenlo contributor Jym Clendenin about what’s “under Menlo.” Read the first, the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh.

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Under Menlo: Middlefield Road crosses San Francisquito Creek

A plaque placed on the south side of the Middlefield Road bridge by the City of Palo Alto in 1969 implies that a ford at this location was the earliest regular crossing of the San Francisquito Creek by north-south travelers. The plaque reads: “Before 1852 ‘El Camino de en Media’ crossing of San Francisquito Creek […]

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Under Menlo: Willow Place bike/pedestrian bridge

In 1888 Timothy Hopkins (1859-1936), the adopted son of Mary Hopkins, the otherwise childless widow of railroad builder Mark Hopkins, inherited Sherwood Hall, the massive 50-room estate that was located where the Menlo Park Civic Center is now. The Hopkins property included most of the land between El Camino and Middlefield and from Ravenswood south […]

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Spotted: New bridge over San Francisquito Creek?

We’ve noticed lemonade stands sprouting all over Menlo Park this weekend, so it’s not surprising that the warm weather would prompt some water play as well. This afternoon we spotted two young teenage boys “under Menlo,” working to build a new bridge across San Francisquito Creek. Asked why, one responded, “Seemed like a good idea.” […]

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Under Menlo: Ira E. Bonde bike/pedestrian bridge

If you’re driving south on Alma Street in Menlo Park on a dark night after having drunk too much, you might be tempted to drive right across the pedestrian/bike bridge that crosses the San Francisquito Creek where Alma dead ends. In fact, that’s exactly what one DUI driver did shortly after the bridge was opened […]

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Under Menlo: San Francisquito Creek railroad bridge

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 […]

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Under Menlo: El Camino Real crosses San Francisquito Creek

San Mateo County was carved off from San Francisco County in 1856 soon after California became a state in 1848.  The new county’s southern boundary, San Francisquito Creek, had earlier separated large Spanish land grants. As every California-educated person learns in elementary school, a makeshift road existed south to north in the state, connecting the […]

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Under Menlo: The Ohlone-Menlo bike/pedestrian bridge

The bike/pedestrian bridge over the San Francisquito Creek at San Mateo Drive is sometimes known as the Ohlone-Menlo bridge since the Stanford side of the Creek was once an Ohlone settlement. The first bridge built here in 1977 was wooden. It was replaced in 1999 by the present steel structure (photo shows view looking toward […]

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Under Menlo: Sand Hill Road bridge over San Francisquito Creek

Today Sand Hill Road crosses San Francisquito Creek over a modern four-lane, steel-reinforced concrete bridge built in 2004 to replace a 2-lane version built in 1955. The photograph above was taken in late summer 2010 from the north bank of the creek looking upstream. This crossing dates back to the 18th century when the Santa […]

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