125 years ago, in April 1894, this small community was incorporated, according to the city’s historian, Steve Staiger. It had no paved streets and wooden sidewalks on University Avenue. “(A street) where a lumberyard, a real estate office, several livery stables and a few stores served the several hundred residents as well as the students and staff of the new university.” Stanford University opened its doors in 1891, and both town and gown grew up together.
In 1991, the Palo Alto Centennial, a nonprofit corporation, was created and soon a group of residents were selected to serve on the Centennial Board (we had 25 members. *See footnote below.) I was one of them and spent about three years working to make our 100th birthday an exciting, interesting event.
The celebration itself was titled ““Palo Alto Centennial 1994: A Legacy and a Vision.” It was a yearlong series of events that made Palo Altans feel proud of our community. It was a “coming together” time of fun, exhibits, parades, dancing in the streets and reflections on our past. More than 364,000 people participated in 273 activities and projects. More than 1,600 volunteers felt involved and appreciated. A sense of community became revived and reaffirmed.
Led by (former mayor) Larry Klein and vice chair Susan Sweeney, we met monthly, then weekly, to plan and organize. The Executive Committee met twice a week at 7:30 a.m. at Carroll Harrington’s house!!! (I am an owl, not a lark, but Caroll did a good job serving strong wake-up coffee.)
Our first flourish was on Opening Weekend -- a big fund-raising gala dinner dance atop the roof the then-new Bloomingdale’s building at Stanford Shopping Center. A fun venue, with long gowns, catered dinners, music, and silent and live auctions. The evening resulted in a $175,000 profit – a healthy beginning for our fundraising efforts.
On April 15, 1994,the committee held “Centennial Eve: Passport to a New Century,” honoring, in part, Palo Alto’s sister cities.
One day later, April 16, was “The 100th Birthday Celebration,” featuring local entertainment, historical sketches and an evening program, “Conduits,” that, well, was a flop as people quickly peeled away from the program. The next day an apology to the community appeared in the papers.
The Closing Celebration, Oct. 8, included “A Day in the Neighborhood” with games and activities and a presentation of the $525,000 check for the Endowment Fund to the community. One week later, Oct. 16, 1994, the city and Stanford co-sponsored an event and unveiled the Centennial Wall, which has been hanging prominently on the side of the former University Arts building on Hamilton Avenue, just across from City Hall. It is a wonderful granite slab, probably 6 by 8 feet or so, and worth a couple minutes of your time to appreciate the city’s history visually
The fact that the 1994 Centennial event gave back to the city in a significant way continues to impress me. All in all, the Centennial had many, many generous donors inside and outside the city, raised a total of $942,400 – some $300,000 of which was used to fund events and parades, but also the remaining $525,000 to donate to the city as a living gift and that gift still keeps on growing.
One of the goals of the Centennial Committee was to have a series of four time capsules, to be opened each 25 years. This Sunday, April 28th, is the first opening – our 25-year capsule. The 50th. 75th and 100th (200th birthday of Palo Alto) are still to come, and later this year’s additions, which will be opened on our bicentennial
The Time Capsule Committee, which I chaired, was composed on paper of 16 board and community members, about six of us who regularly gathered. We collected an array of items from a variety of organizations in town. We placed them in this large water-and-humidity-impervious metal capsule in the bottom of the elevator shaft at City Hall. Most of the 25-year remembrances and souvenirs are paper products that have been stored – flags, tee shirts, programs, posters, club rosters, banners, programs, newspapers, and catalogues (including Victoria’s Secret and LL Bean). These are all part of Palo Alto’s 1994 history and the items we used.
This is the time to renew our appreciation of our community – and each other. Happy Birthday, Palo Alto!
Palo Alto Centennial Board List: Susan Carmichael, Diana Diamond, secretary, Leonard Ely, Debbie Ford-Scribes, Barbara Foster, William Green, Carroll Harrington, treasurer, Alan Henderson, Gloria Hom, Ginger Johnson, Larry Klein, chair, Liz Kniss, Eleanor Lynch, Orlando Maione, Beth Bening Martin, Dawn Miller, John Northway, Steve Player, Marlene Prendergast, Bill Reller, Susie Richardson, Linda Ridder, Carina Rotsztain, Gail Schubert, Joes Spolin, Madeline Stein, Susan Sweeney, vice-chair, Kathy Torgersen, Bill Waters, Marcus Wood, Gail Woolley. And Mary Davey, who was the salaried executive director, compiled all these records from which I wrote this blog.