The Streets of Menlo Park: Origins of the Street Names

Originally published (November 1, 2017).

Alma Street

This street in Palo Alto was named by Timothy Hopkins for a family friend. It was originally a path along the railroad tracks. The name predated the platting of Palo Alto. [Ref: The Streets of Palo Alto, revised] It is perhaps not widely recognized that Alma does not extend to El Camino Real, rather it's northern terminus is at Palo Alto Avenue.  It is most likely that Alma Street in Menlo Park has the same history, especially since it borders the former Hopkins Estate, which ran from Ravenswood to the Creek, and from the railroad to Middlefield.

Merrill Street

In the 19th century, the street on the SW side of the RR tracks between SCA (originally this block was called Golder's Lane) and Oak Grove Ave was known as Railroad Avenue. This street did not then extend SE to Ravenswood Ave as confirmed by the USGS 1899 Palo Alto too. The 1931 parcel map shows the block bordered by SCA, the RR, Ravenswood and ECR as the Merrill block and a street between the Merrill block and the RR named Merrill Avenue. Eventually Railroad and Merrill Avenues were combined into Merrill Street, but you can still see that the NE end of SCA is a gradual curve to the NW while the branch to the SE seems to be an "add on."

Middlefield Road

Before 1852, this road was part of the main San Francisco-San Jose highway, which between Five Points (in Redwood City) and Mountain View was called the “camino de en Medio.” In late 1851, what was at first known as Steinberger’s fence was built along the northeast side of the road in present Atherton and Menlo Park. In 1852 the County Road (El Camino Real) was opened resulting in the bay marsh being enclosed into one large tract and the fence accordingly (by 1853) named the Middle Field fence. The name was thereafter sometimes transferred to the road and the road was officially so designated by an act of the state legislature in 1878.

  In the early and middle 1850s, that part of Middlefield between present Eight Avenue and Marsh Road was called the “Rancho Road,” possibly because it followed (and follows) exactly the old Spanish route, while the rest of the road had been slightly straightened by purchasers of portions of the old Pulgas rancho.

  Until the late 1930s, Semicircular Road and Fifth Avenue west of the railroad were still often called “Old Middlefield Road.” Middlefield Road north of North Fair Oaks was opened only in the 1880s. In Palo Alto the present road is even newer.

Oak Grove Avenue

As early as 1868, Oak Grove Avenue appeared on a map produced for the Menlo Park Villa Association (an early attempt to sell home sites in Menlo Park). It initially ran from just south of County Road (now El Camino Real) to Middlefield Road. By the time of the time of the USGS Palo Alto Quadrangle (1899), it had been extended farther north (today's Atherton), not quite to Bay Road.

Partridge Street

Wonder how a street name for a bird got into the middle of the colleges street names? The block long Partridge subdivision was mapped in 1908 by the sons of Patrick M. Partridge, 1826-1905, who owned the parcel in the middle of Stanford Park, mapped in 1907.

Ravenswood Avenue

This street as well as the nearby school district is named after Isaiah Churchill Woods, a wealthy San Francisco businessman who in 1852 acquired about 2000 acres in the vicinity of today's Menlo Park. He erected a pre-fabricated home (that had been shipped around the horn) in the area of today's Menlo Oaks neighborhood. He named his home "Woodside Diary." He lost most of his fortune in the panic of 1855. To find out more about Woods, see the monograph "The Notorious I.C. Woods" by Albert Shumata (1986), notes from which are found on the References page.

Sand Hill Road

This road originated as a dray road along which logs were hauled from Woodside to Mission Santa Clara (founded 1777) in the Spanish/Mexican era. Once the Americans arrived and began establishing new towns, it became known as the “Mayfield-Searsville Road.” Traveling from Searsville, the early road turned toward the Mission (or  later the small farming town of Mayfield, now the California Avenue business area) after crossing the San Francisquito Creek. There are still Searsville and Mayfield Roads on the Stanford Campus, although the latter named road may not be exactly along the original route. The location of the creek crossing is very old. The steep grade to the northeast of U.S. 280 (Sand Hill Circle) has always been called "Sand Hill" from the odd and annoying consistency of the soil. Sometime before 1890 (the founding of Stanford University, but also after the demise of the town of Searsville), the name "Sand Hill" came into use for the road itself.

 When the Stanford Shopping Center was constructed about 1950, a road was built between Sand Hill Road and the shopping center parking lot and named “Willow Road” since it was anticipated that this road would eventually connect to the already existing Willow Road to the northeast across the creek. (The "Willow Expressway" issue raged in Menlo Park and Palo Alto for the following 20 years.] Later, the University cut off the portion of Sand Hill Road that went southeast toward Mayfield and in 1977 renamed the road between Sand Hill and the parking lot “Sand Hill Road” in conformity to the western portion of the road. The final chapter in this long saga was the extension of Sand Hill Road to El Camino in the 1990s.

Santa Cruz Avenue

The road extending from El Camino Real (ECR) toward the southwest (and then approximately southeast and finally south) was first opened in 1868 (5 years after the coming of the railroad and thus the name Menlo Park) as the north end of the Menlo Park & Santa Cruz Turnpike (MP&SC Turnpike). The turnpike was intended to cross the Santa Cruz Mountains, but was never completed. A toll house was supposedly built about where the Webb Ranch fruit & vegetable stand is today. Generally a toll house was a place where you could rent horses and/or wagons. A master road builder from New York, T. Lemmen Meyer, who in 1870 built the house at 1340 Noel Drive (now commonly called “Bright Eagle” and #17 in the “Historic Tour of Menlo Park” foldout) was the Director of the MP&SC Turnpike Company. The section of SCA between the railroad and ECR predates the turnpike and was originally called Golder’s Lane (see Golder's Menlo Park House on the "Early Hotels" page). The shortened name “Santa Cruz Avenue” was in use by 1870. Note that today the name ‘Santa Cruz Avenue” for the road extends to today’s city limit, which is several hundred feet south of Junipera Serra Boulevard (just before the road reaches the housing accessed by Stowe Lane), where the name changes to “Alpine Road.”

  There were few improvements (houses, etc.) on SCA until the advent of Camp Fremont in WWI. After the war, housing occupied most of the lots on SCA near ECR. In the late ‘40s, the portion of SCA within the city limits was widened and most of the housing near ECR removed as part of the innovative plan (predating shopping centers) under Major Burgess to turn SCA into a retail street with nearby off-street parking. At the time, the city limit was at Olive St, so the widening stopped there. There are some who claim the trees in the unused right-of-way opposite Hillview School were planted by residents to obstruct any future efforts to extend the widening.

  The map shows the

early growth of Menlo Park. The "Old City," as incorporated in 1927, was 1.2 sq miles with a population of 2,200 (1930 census). By 1940 the population had grown to 3,200, same area. After the war rapid growth in area and population began. By 1948 the city's area had doubled to 2.1 sq miles and the population was about 8,000. Note that the city had not yet expanded east of Middlefield Rd. Today the city's area is 9.8 sq mi land plus 7.6 sq mi water (Bay) and about 32,000 residents (2010 census). Burgess was mayor from 10/1945 through 10/1955 except for 1.5 years. You can check the names and dates of mayors on the "Gov't" page.

  Although Alpine Road is not within today’s corporate limits for Menlo Park, its earlier name was derived from the Menlo Park & Santa Cruz Turnpike. The western part of Alpine Road was named Alpine when it was opened as a county road in 1878. The route had originally been part of the Pescadero mule-path, and then after 1867, part of the Upper Page Mill Road. The section from Portola Valley up to Skyline, built in 1894-95, was first called the Fitzhugh grade and the Martinez Road (after the landowners who donated the land). After 1920, the name Alpine Road was extended to this section, although there remained about a mile of Page Mill Road between these two Alpines. The portion of Alpine between the Stanford golf course and Portola Valley was opened in 1868 as part of the MP&SC Turnpike and was thereafter called Menlo Park Road or Camino de Menlo Park for about a quarter century. From the 1890s on, this portion of Alpine was considered part of Portola Road, until after 1946 the county began to insist on its being officially part of Alpine Road.

Valparaiso Avenue

Faxon Dean Atherton, a successful "merchant prince" in Valparaiso, Chile, moved his family to San Francisco in 1860. By 1861 he had completed his local estate, which he called "Valparaiso Park."  It was on 1 square mile of land bordered on one side by today's Valparaiso Avenue. The house itself was located where the Menlo Circus Club is today. Atherton, with other local capitalist such as George C. Johnson, was active in the real estate venture called the "Menlo Villa Asssociation." The Villa consisted of relatively small lots (a few acres each?) on the SW side of County Road (now El Camino Real) in today's Menlo Park; i.e., much of what was the original Menlo Park ranch of Dennis Oliver and Daniel McGlynn. Only a few of these lots were actually sold before the Association disbanded. The lane that ran between Valparaiso Park and Menlo Villa, which existed at least as early as 1853, became known as Valparaiso Avenue and was so named on the 1870 Menlo town plat.

Willow Road

This road was opened as a private road along its general present course in 1857 or 58 and had been so named by 1864. The name refers to the "willows" that were at the edge of the marsh on the eastern end of the road. The road's winding course between Middlefield and Bayshore was established before 1878 by the cattle herds driven in from the Ravenswood district.

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