Midtown News
Spring 2004 Newsletter

FROM THE CHAIR - Annette Ashton

I am frequently asked to describe the Midtown Residents Association (MRA), what we stand for and how we decide on issues. The MRA, its Steering Association, and committees are not so different from some neighborhoods and very different from others. I was struck by the similarity in our (MRA) style and that of the Barron Park Association. We have the same philosophy-Our role is to help ensure that the neighborhood's concerns and views are represented, rather than to be the neighborhood's representative.

MRA has several roles: First, as an information resource we provide you with information about developments, issues and events in and around the Midtown area. Second, we work with city officials-council, commissions, and staff-to inform them of our issues, concerns/needs and priorities. Third, we provide residents with help on how to be most effective in presenting their issues to public officials. Finally, we play a social role in sponsoring one or more yearly celebrations.

How we represent concerns: The MRA has started to conduct surveys on important issues affecting the neighborhood. Our most recent survey had a high response rate, producing a good picture of the views of the residents. We formed our 2004 priorities and activated committees based on your input. These priorities are Traffic, Midtown Commercial Districts, Welcoming New Residents, Writing a History of Midtown, and Communications to the Neighborhood. We plan to do more surveys, both in hard copy form and electronically. Your feedback is very important to us. This edition of our newsletter asks for your comments about the development of Greer Park.

Events: We work to bring important city and Midtown issues to you at neighborhood meetings and we sponsor a big ice cream social once a year in which we invite elected officials and staff to meet you over ice cream and issues in the park. Let us know what topics are of most interest.

Issues: We work to resolve issues that affect the entire neighborhood as well as try to help you work on your own local issues. We will help you connect with city officials as necessary.

Volunteers: As with all other neighborhood associations, we are a classic bottom-up volunteer organization: our focus and activity are largely driven by what volunteers are interested in working on. Volunteers are the lifeblood of every organization-the more folks who participate the more activities we can sponsor and the more work committees can get done. It is very easy to become involved in MRA activities; commitment need not be large nor long. Even a small amount of time and energy can have substantial impacts and be very rewarding.

Being a volunteer has another advantage; it can offer you leverage to achieve neighborhood goals. And if we aren't involved in an activity that you think we should be, contact me (or other steering committee members) to see if we can help you get something organized. The enclosed survey invites you to volunteer with us!

Thanks to all of you who have joined us as members, participated in committees, sent in suggestions and generally made the Midtown Residents Association a well recognized and well respected neighborhood association.


JOIN US May 8, 2004 at Midtown Center at noon as we dedicate & celebrate the
Midtown Poetry Wall. Mariachi music from 11:00 AM. Nachos, bebidas will be served.
MIDTOWN - People define our history… a continuing story…
article and photo by Karen Lawrence
Places are just dots on the map until we connect them with the people who bring them to life and give them significance. In our series on notable people in the MRA News, we connect these people to the places we pass every day and show how our neighborhood has evolved.
GREG BROWN grew up in Midtown. He attended Jordan Junior High School in the mid-60s, and fondly remembers his after-school routine...first to Eddie's Fountain for a double maple nut ice cream, then to the bakery (where the florist is now) for a maple bar and a cinnamon twist, back to the Toy Variety (now site of the 7/11) for 100 thin red licorice whips, then to A&W so he could slurp root beer through the licorice whips until they melted.

He also remembers going to the Supermarket Basket for Charleston Chews, cookies and cigarettes (yes, gasp) which were 25 cents. Since this issue and our next general meeting is devoted to parks, we asked Greg to tell us his favorite memory of Greer Park. He smiled and told the story of Rick Rush and his family who lived under the big screen of the Palo Alto Drive-In and served as caretakers before it was Greer Park.

Greg is probably best known for his wonderful (perhaps a bit wicked, perhaps a bit whimsical) murals all around Palo Alto (and many other places). He says he knew from the age of 5 that he would be an artist; he started cartooning as a kid, and did oil painting (serious stuff) at age 9. His mother encouraged his art and he studied in downtown Palo Alto when he was 12. He fondly remembers an entourage of 12-year-old boys following him to his art class - they couldn't believe that he got to look at naked women for hours at a time.

So how did this muralist get started in Palo Alto murals? In 1975, he got a job under a CETA government grant, working for the city as an artist-in-residence (at $4.65/hour!) The job was undefined, and Greg started an inventory of places where art might be suitable in the city. During this inventory stage Greg suggested that he paint a mural on the wall of the Palo Alto Drug (now Taxi's). It was fairly simple then. Greg describes it as "let me paint on your building, it will be fun" and it required only a single page of agreement between them. So the first mural was a guy in a trench coat with a little bird on his shoulder, the "art inspector." Many wonderful murals followed, and, as they say, the rest is history. Although Greg has dabbled with other forms of artistic expression, he is centered in the semi-realistic painting he does so well; he likes to "suck people in with realism and then take them somewhere else." We hope to be so transported for years to come…

A Greg Brown original will be coming to Midtown soon as our third art mural.

Remembering A Park - Jim Burch, Vice Mayor Palo Alto City Council
Liaison to Parks and Recreation Commission
One of my earliest and favorite childhood memories involves a very special park.

Actually, it wasn't a park in the usual sense of having grass, a sandbox, swings, a slide and other play equipment. It wasn't even called a park. It was a forest preserve and it was located right across the street from our house in suburban Evanston, Illinois. Like several others that had been created within the city limits, this forest preserve was an entire city block that had never been touched by developers, city planners or anyone else. It was left just as it had been for a long, long time. And it was magical.

There were no sidewalks around it. The trees and brush came right up to the curb. But there were narrow dirt paths that wandered through it and once you'd taken a dozen steps down a path you were in another world. I loved it and spent many hours there.

Palo Alto is blessed to have 31 urban parks and more than 4,000 acres of open space so that residents can enjoy both the convenience of its playgrounds and parks and the adventures of its preserves. In addition to the parks throughout the city, there are Foothills Open Space Preserve, the Baylands Nature Preserve and Arastradero Preserve. What's more, there are two additional park sites currently in process: the two-acre SOFA park on Homer Avenue near the Roth Building and the playing fields planned at the "Mayfield corner" of Page Mill Road and El Camino.

I will always remember that wonderful forest preserve in Illinois, but I feel extremely fortunate to live in Palo Alto, a city that so highly values its parks and preserves and wants to keep them vital and available for future generations.

John Lucas GREER PARK - 1098 Amarillo Avenue - Area: 22.3 acres
Courtesy of the Palo Alto Historical Association and excerpted from the booklet "Parks of Palo Alto"

From neighborhood park to district park the development of Greer Park offers a prime example of how a change in housing density affects recreational facilities. The original five acres of the park were acquired in 1963. Dedication took place in September 1965, and the Park was developed under the name of Amarillo Park. It was renamed John Lucas Greer Park in 1967, in keeping with the policy of honoring Palo Alto historical figures.

John Lucas Greer was born in Ireland in 1808. He embarked on a seafaring career at age 18 and for twenty years plied the coasts of South America. In 1849, by then the captain of a brigantine, he came to San Francisco from Montevideo. While on a prospecting trip in a small skiff around San Francisco Bay, he sailed up San Francisquito Creek and decided to settle down.

The land, Rancho Rinconada del Arroyo de San Francisquito, belonged to Don Rafael Soto, the son of Ygnacio Soto, who was a member of the Anza party. John Greer leased some acreage for farming from Maria Luisa, daughter of Don Rafael, who had come back to the family ranch after the death of her husband John Coppinger (or Copinger), a British Navy lieutenant. In 1850, Greer and Maria Luisa were married and went to live on Rancho Canada de Raimondo (now Woodside), inherited by Maria Luisa from her first husband.

John Greer became a successful rancher founded the Woodside Library and was a trustee of the Woodside School. He and Maria Luisa had three sons and two daughters. In 1869, the family moved to Palo Alto where they lived in a 22 room house at the corner of El Camino and Embarcadero Roads, The house was often the scene of huge Spanish style barbecues. John Greer died in 1885. His eldest son and namesake, John Lucas Greer, lived in the same house until 1945. The Town and Country Shopping Center replaced the house in 1952.

Greer Park's history did not end with the 1967 re naming. Originally created as a neighborhood walk in park, it was expanded to a district-sized Park when the area's population increased drastically due to several new large apartment complexes. The West Bayshore Residents' Association was formed in 1972 and led the campaign.

In June Of 1974, the City Council committed itself to the acquisition of approximately 15 acres around the existing park including the site of the former drive in movie theatre at Amarillo and West Bayshore. Capital Improvement Program funds were to be used for the purchase and development of the expanded park. The land was acquired for $1,181,500.

Phase One of the development was to cost $1.3 million, a great part of it for extensive drainage work and raising the ground level by 12 inches. However, by January 1976, settlement of the Arastra foothills property lawsuit which cost the city $7.5 million resulted in a freeze on all capital improvement fund allotments, and Greer Park was the first casualty. Eventually a scaled down Phase One plan was adopted, and the ground was finally broken August 30, 1980.

NOTE: As of this writing, Greer Park has five soccer fields, three softball fields, one little league diamond, two basketball courts, picnic area with barbecues, par course, small dog run, skateboard bowl, toddler playground with sand, swings, and a climbing structure with slides. Restroom facilities.

MRA GENERAL MEETING Thursday May 27, 7:15PM
Friends Meeting Hall, 957 Colorado.
Parks in General, Greer in Specific.
Richard James, City of Palo Alto Director of Community Services will be our keynote speaker.

JEAN AND CHARLES SCOTT moved to Palo Alto in the 60's so that their three children could attend the schools. But while their three children were going to school, the Scotts went to work, building the West Bayshore Residents Association (WBRA) and working to establish Greer Park.
Their South Palo Alto neighborhood welcomed the low cost subdivision of the Colorado Avenue housing authority in 1972, but drew the line when 1800 units were proposed for the Midtown area between Amarillo and Colorado. With the aid of block captains and neighbor to neighbor involvement, the WBRA took a survey and found that what everyone really wanted was a park. So, Jean and Charles took it to the Palo Alto City Council, and in 1973 money was put in the Capital Improvement Program CIP, toward Greer Park.

The City traded land so the park could span the area between Amarillo and Colorado Avenues and demolish the old drive in theatre. Original plans from 1974 called for tennis courts and restrooms. Enid Pearson, the Scotts recalled, cautioned that the land be designated a park so that land itself could not in turn be traded or sold as the powers that be changed their mind in years to come.

This push to make it a park proved to be a wise one, the Scotts observed. Since 1973, Greer Park has seen its projects shelved in favor of the Arastradero Preserve, put on hold by the passage of Proposition 13, and continually passed over for projects in other parts of the City. Yet because the land had been designated a park, it was on an almost equal footing with Mitchell and Riconada Parks and the City Council could not carve it up and sell it off to subsidize an ice rink (later to become the Winter Lodge on Middlefield Road) or the YMCA (later built on Ross Road.)

While Greer Park stands as the major project of the WBRA, the Scotts point out the other areas the neighborhood association of the 1970's tackled: candidates' nights, childcare, traffic and 100 year flood controls. Issues tackled then were not very different from the issues which still get the neighborhood out to meetings today.

And, while the passing years have seen the addition of a skate board park and the passing of the former city paid staff who monitored park users, Greer Park still has land whose use is being debated by the City Council and the neighborhood.
article by Stepheny McGraw; photograph by Sharon Fox

Matadero Creek Remediation Project… an update
  • The upstream work, from Ross Avenue to Alma Street, began April 15.
  • Project construction upstream will be completed by November 2004.
  • The overflow bypass downstream of 101 began on April 30.
  • Eradication and re-vegetation planting will start in August and will be completed by January 2005.
  • A three year planting maintenance project will follow the re-vegetation planting.
Welcome to Midtown!
A new Midtown Residents Association Committee is gearing up to welcome new Midtown residents. The group has met several times and has collected or created materials to be presented to new residents. Committee members have contacted Midtown merchants between Oregon and Colorado for coupons, fliers, menus, coffee, or other contributions to the Welcome Basket. We have also created a resource letter, included a brochure from Palo Alto Utilities, and of course added a welcome letter from your Midtown Residents Association and a MRA brochure. One of our members has identified new residents that have bought houses in Midtown in the last year. We are poised to deliver our first set of baskets during the next two weeks. Committee members: Adam Atito, Bill Burns, Diane Churchill, Liz Cowie, Nancy Rhea, Peggy Kenny, Megan Swezey Fogarty, Robin Susoeff, Ursula Bujanovich, and Karen Lawrence.

We haven't found a way to identify new Midtown residents that are renters - if you know about a new renter resident that should be welcomed, contact Karen Lawrence 322-9229. Also, we need inexpensive baskets that are big enough to hold 8-1/2 x 11 paper -- if you have any to spare, we'd be delighted to accept donations.

  Cedric de la Beaujardiere
Peter Drekmeier
Dale and Rosemary Gill
Kathleen Joynes
Don Kazak
Keys School
Tom O'Connor
Vera Parker
Kenneth Wu

Get the Latest Midtown News By E-mail or Let Us Know if Your Email Has Changed
If you are not receiving enews updates about events of importance to Midtown, and you would like to, just send your email address, name and phone to MidtownNews@att.net. If your email has changed, let us know. Send your new address to our editor at MidtownNews@ATT.net.

Sign up or renew online!
JOIN US: Everyone living in Midtown is automatically a member of the Midtown Residents Association (MRA), We rely on your voluntary donations to keep you informed, to hold our Fall Ice Cream & Issues event as well as other activities. If you haven't gotten around to contributing in the past, now is a great time to do so! If you have given in the past, you are more than welcome to give again! To do so online, go to our web site and click on the left icon "become a member". Membership is $10 a year. Please note the date on your label is the date you last paid. Send check made out to MRA, to our treasurer, Sylvia Gartner, at 824 Moreno, Palo Alto, 94303.

We encourage you to let us know of any developments or issues in Midtown where the Midtown Residents Association (MRA) can play an advocacy role. For comments, concerns, questions call Annette Ashton 321-1280.

What's Happening in Midtown?
  • May 8 - Midtown Poetry Wall Celebration and Dedication Mariachi music from 11 AM. Presentation at noon in Midtown Center at poetry wall. Nachos and bebidas will be served.

  • The Midtown Center Traffic Light is currently being installed at Bryson and Middlefield. Traffic Committee is formed! To participate, contact Sheri Furman sheri11@earthlink.net

  • May 27 - MRA General Meeting on Midtown Parks featuring Greer Park. Friends Meeting Hall 957 Colorado starts at 7:15 PM, doors open at 6:45 PM
Beginning of Issue

Back to Newsletter
  Return to
MRA Home Page