This is the thirteenth in my series of blog posts about Redwood City seventeen neighborhoods. Some years ago Redwood City divided the city into distinct neighborhoods, each with its own neighborhood association. From the web page for the Central neighborhood I see that they have a chairperson (and are looking for a co-chair; if you live in the neighborhood and are interested, check out the neighborhood’s web page), but don’t have regular association meetings. Instead, they meet on an as-needed basis.
The following map is taken from the Central neighborhood’s web page, and shows the extent of the neighborhood. Click on the map for a version that you can zoom in on.
As you can see, the neighborhood is roughly rectangular, bounded on top by Jefferson Avenue and on the bottom by Redwood Avenue. On the right, the border is essentially El Camino Real, although from Lincoln Avenue up to Jefferson Avenue there is a strip, mostly retail, that is actually part of the Downtown neighborhood. Finally, the left edge of the neighborhood is fairly ragged, but you can essentially think of it as ending at Red Morton Park (but also, Myrtle Street above the park, and McKinley and Gordon Streets below it). Red Morton Park itself is not part of the Central neighborhood, although because the park sits right up against it, for many area residents it is easy to get to on foot or by bicycle.
As far as the geography of the neighborhood goes, it is very flat throughout. There are two creeks flowing through the Central neighborhood: Redwood Creek flows along the bottom edge of the neighborhood before turning north and intersecting El Camino Real just below Roosevelt Avenue, while Arroyo Ojo De Agua enters the neighborhood at the northern corner of Red Morton Park and runs north to Jefferson Avenue. Eventually Arroyo Ojo De Agua flows into Redwood Creek, although that occurs in another part of the city and underground: the two meet beneath the Main Street parking lot, pretty much behind the Jefferson Avenue post office.
As the two creeks make their way through the neighborhood, at some points they are below ground, and at some points they are above ground. Here, for instance, is a picture of Arroyo Ojo De Agua right after it emerges from underground, at the corner of Red Morton Park near Vera Avenue:
Redwood Creek can also be seen in spots, mostly where it crosses under streets. Perhaps the easiest place to see it, though, is where it parallels Redwood Avenue on the north side, east of Oak Avenue. Watch for the tell-tale chain-link fencing:
While I’m on the topic of underground waterways, I should also note that the large pipes that carry our water from the Hetch Hetchy Valley to the peninsula run right through the Central neighborhood. The pipes are entirely underground here, but because no permanent structures are allowed to be built on top of them — enabling relatively easy access should they need to be worked on — if you keep a sharp eye out you can see clear evidence of the so-called “Hetch Hetchy right-of-way.” Perhaps the biggest tip-off are various backyard and side-yard fences that run on a diagonal, but also there are a number of concrete access points that allow workers to go down into the pipes. Because the pipes run beneath the playing fields and parking lots of Hawes Elementary School, that is one good place to see some of those access points:
You’ll also find them in Red Morton Park (the right-of-way just clips the northern corner of the park, where Vera Avenue dead-ends) and at various other points along the route. That route, incidentally, is clearly marked on the map. Just look for the pair of arrow-straight diagonal lines running from the southern edge of the neighborhood up to the western edge.
Having just shown a picture of Hawes Elementary School, I’ll say just a few words about it. Because the neighborhood has no real parks (technically they have one, but more on that in a minute) this school is the one standout feature of the neighborhood, at least when you look at the map. Unfortunately, it was one of the schools that the Redwood City School District had to close as a result of dropping enrollment and a ballooning deficit. The school board did manage to lease the entire Hawes campus, however, to Kids Connect, Building Kids, and L’ Academy. So at least the campus isn’t sitting entirely empty.
The neighborhood’s one park abuts the Hawes Elementary School campus. This park isn’t what you would think of when you envision a neighborhood park, however. Hawes Park is a well-kept 1.5-acre sports field that is designed solely for baseball games and soccer matches. It has lights that enable play in the evenings, bleachers, restrooms, and a reasonably sized parking lot. But there is no play equipment or BBQs or picnic benches — none of the facilities that you find in most of Redwood City’s other municipal parks. And when the field isn’t in use, the gates to the park appear to be locked, so it doesn’t appear to be the kind of place where neighborhood children can play when games aren’t in progress.
About a block from the Hawes campus is what I think is the neighborhood’s only church: Redwood Church, at 901 Madison Avenue. From what I can tell this is a non-denominational Christian church with an associated preschool serving children ages 2-5. Given the size of the preschool staff — I counted nine teachers and four teacher’s assistants, plus various other staff members — it appears to be a fairly large preschool.
The vast majority of the Central neighborhood is residential, but it does contain a small amount of retail, almost all of which is arrayed along El Camino Real between Lincoln and Redwood avenues. Davies Appliance, which is on the north side of Lincoln Avenue, is not in the Central neighborhood, whereas the new Caliber Collision outlet, which sits on the south side of Lincoln Avenue, is. The neighborhood can claim the now-empty Aaron Bros. building, Roosevelt Liquor, a couple of jewelry stores, Mercadito Latino, Thai House, Opportun, RAC Rent-A-Center, Wendy’s, and the entire Five Points Center, which of course is home to Bed Bath & Beyond, Starbucks, Wingstop, Subway, and a couple of other businesses.
While examining the various retailers arrayed along El Camino Real, I noted that one of the spaces — 1808 El Camino Real — had their windows neatly covered over, had an electronic lock on the door, and had no signage — and yet their lights were on inside. A quick bit of online research revealed that this particular storefront is home to Alkanza Inc., an investment advisory firm. So it seems that the minor plague that is affecting parts of downtown — tech companies using retail storefronts as office space — has spilled over to El Camino Real as well.
The Central neighborhood also includes two rather nice hotels, which sit right next to one another. Comfort Inn, at 1818 El Camino Real, is actually behind the buildings along the 1800 block of El Camino Real, whereas Holiday Inn Express, at 1836 El Camino Real, fronts right onto the street.
The retailers, restaurants, and hotels along El Camino Real are most of, but not all of, the Central neighborhood’s retail operations. Tucked into the heart of the neighborhood is one additional retail outlet: the Vera Cash Market, at the corner of Vera and Clinton. Although I must confess that I have yet to step inside, it advertises “groceries, beer, wine, produce, ice, dairy foods, and liquors.” From the outside, at any rate, it appears to be clean and well-kept:
Having covered natural features, schools, churches, and retail, I now come to the predominant feature of the Central neighborhood: its single-family homes and multi-family residences. As quickly becomes evident when exploring the neighborhood, most of the Central neighborhood is zoned R4, which allows not only for single-family residences and duplexes, but also “medium-density small apartments” up to 45’ tall. The next largest portion is zoned R2, which allows single-family homes and duplexes. Finally, a small part of the neighborhood is zoned R3 — which also allows apartments, but only low-density ones that are no taller than 35’ — and just two small portions of the neighborhood — the portion along Jefferson Avenue, plus either side of the one-block-long Lyons Street (which is three blocks to the left of Hawes Elementary School on the map) — are zoned R1, which is limited to single-family homes and ADUs. Thus, while the neighborhood has a number of single-family homes, it also has quite a few duplexes, triplexes, and comfortably sized apartment buildings.
The Central neighborhood’s single-family homes tend to be clustered more towards the northern end, although single-family homes are in fact scattered throughout. Certainly some of the older homes, and the more valuable ones, seem to be up closer to Jefferson Avenue. For instance, I noted this home at 1018 Vera Avenue, which was built in 1929:
According to Zillow, this home is about 2,000 square feet, and has three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Although it is not on the market, Zillow estimates its worth at about $1.8 million.
Then, there is this little beauty, at 620 Vera Avenue:
Of course, “little” isn’t quite the right word for this house: it has four bedrooms and three bathrooms, encompassing 3,000 square feet on a 7,400 square-foot lot. Built in 1932, the house appears to have been well-maintained. Zillow seems to agree, assigning this particular house a value of $2.17 million.
To illustrate the variety that you can find in the neighborhood, however, allow me to present 827 Clinton Street. This house is only 950 square feet, on a 4,200 square-foot lot. It has two bedrooms, and one bathroom, and was built in 1930. Zillow places an estimate for this little cutie at just over $1 million:
Zillow paints an interesting picture of the Central neighborhood. Although I haven’t made the comparisons, I wouldn’t be surprised if this particular neighborhood turns out to have the largest relative difference between the lowest-priced house and the highest-priced one. I found houses in this neighborhood going for $680,000 (for a one-bedroom house) and $700,000 (for a two-bedroom house), as well as a number of houses that recently sold for more than $2 million.
Before I get too far away from that little green house at 827 Clinton Street, I should mention one other rather unique aspect of the Central neighborhood. The part where that house is located has something that you don’t find too much of in Redwood City: back alleys. Allow me to present you with a somewhat wider-angle view of that particular house:
Note the alley to the left? The part of the neighborhood that has alleys — the neighborhood’s northern corner, bounded by Jefferson Avenue, Fulton Street, Vera Avenue, and, almost, El Camino Real — makes good use of them. Garages face onto these back alleys, so that the streets are not broken up by driveways. As well, trash cans can be picked up from the alley, so that they needn’t litter the streets on trash day. Why this particular part of the neighborhood has back alleys and most of the rest of the city does not I have yet to figure out, but I have to assume that someone subdivided this part of the city and developed it this way intentionally.
I mentioned that the neighborhood’s zoning allows for a variety of living arrangements. Here is one example of the kind of thing you find in the Central neighborhood:
I’m guessing that these are condominiums, and not apartments. These, on the other hand, are definitely apartments:
I’m especially familiar with this particular building, which is located at 910 Clinton Street. Back in 2015 the residents were rather publicly evicted so that the building could be upgraded, presumably allowing the landlord to charge substantially higher rents. I have pictures from back when the residents were protesting their eviction; it was not a happy time. Looking at online reviews of the current building lead me to believe that the building upgrade may have been more cosmetic than substantial; one review from 2016 notes that the “walls don’t block out noise and neighbors are often loud at night, sometimes to the point of disrupting sleep.” The building certainly looks nice enough, but I view it as a poster child for gentrification in Redwood City.
910 Clinton may be an example of gentrification, but I was pleased to learn that the neighborhood still has plenty of older apartment buildings that presumably are more reasonably priced. For instance, there is this building at 50 Redwood Avenue, right behind the Bed Bath & Beyond store:
Or, there are these buildings on Redwood Avenue:
Finally, I need to mention the Redwood Oaks apartment building at 330 Redwood Avenue. This particular complex is owned by HIP Housing, and is currently being remodeled. This complex’s 35 apartments had previously been open to low-income residents, and thanks to HIP Housing it will continue to be so for decades to come.
Before I wrap up, I should mention that there is one approved project on the city’s Development Project’s list that sits within the Central neighborhood: the Vera Avenue Townhomes project. This project will result in the creation of ten three-story townhomes on a lot at the corner of Vera Avenue and Adams Street, just one block off of El Camino Real. So far the developer has cleared the lot and is now awaiting final approval of the permits needed to begin construction. The lot was cleared some time ago, though, and is starting to look a bit shabby: hopefully construction will begin soon.
Given the density of much of the housing within the Central neighborhood, this is where a significant number of Redwood City’s residents live. Although there aren’t a great many amenities within the neighborhood itself, its location puts it within easy reach of some of Redwood City’s best features, including Red Morton Park and downtown Redwood City. I can attest to the fact that the neighborhood’s streets are pleasant places along which to walk, and as someone who enjoys looking at homes and yards there certainly is plenty to look at. Although the creeks that pass through this neighborhood lie within concrete channels, and are thus less interesting than if they had remained in their natural state, they nonetheless serve an important function, especially during our rainy season. And for those who actually notice them, they serve as reminders of Redwood City’s history, when the city was largely organized around its waterways.
The Central neighborhood seems to be a great place to live, one in which people from nearly all walks of life can call home. That alone, in my book, makes the neighborhood special.