Neighborhoods: Palm Park

This is my sixteenth post about Redwood City’s seventeen defined neighborhoods (only the Downtown neighborhood to go). I’ve been doing these in no particular order, so the fact that I hadn’t gotten to the Palm Park neighborhood yet doesn’t mean anything. I did wonder, before I set out to walk the neighborhood and try to figure out its essential character, if I’d be able to come up with something unique about this one. On the surface it seems to be yet another of Redwood City’s primarily residential neighborhoods, one that is surrounded by other largely residential neighborhoods (Redwood Oaks, Central, Roosevelt, and Woodside Plaza). But as I walked it struck me that the Palm Park neighborhood’s residential portion, more than any other, sports a very nice blend of single-family and multi-family housing. It isn’t that the others don’t have multi-family housing, but that almost every block down which I walked in the Palm Park neighborhood seemed to have both single-family homes and at least a duplex or two. I saw condos, apartments, and “multiplexes” — duplexes, triplexes, and the like, most of which appeared to blend in fairly well.

But let me begin with the basics. The Palm Park neighborhood is almost a perfect right triangle, marred only by a chunk taken out of what would be its 90-degree corner. Woodside Road forms the triangle’s hypotenuse, with the other two sides made up by Redwood Avenue and Valota Road. One tip of the neighborhood is located at the intersection of El Camino Real and Woodside Road.

Although this neighborhood technically does have frontage along El Camino Real, that section is tiny and doesn’t contribute to the neighborhood’s character. If you look closely at the above map, you’ll see that the extent of where it touches El Camino Real is the loop where traffic heading southbound (which most people think of as westbound) along Woodside Road transitions either to Redwood Avenue or to El Camino Real heading southeast. It is just a roadway loop filled with the barest of landscaping:

It isn’t much to look at, but next time you make this loop, give this little island a quick glance: it is the very tip of the Palm Park neighborhood.

That little traffic island may not be very interesting, but very close by is one of the Palm Park neighborhood’s truly interesting features: Union Cemetery. Unless there is a private one hiding somewhere that I haven’t yet discovered, Union Cemetery is Redwood City’s only cemetery. And it is closed to new burials, with the possible exception of family members being buried in family owned plots. Union Cemetery is historic, having been created in 1859 and having been declared a California State Landmark in 1963.

Union Cemetery is actually a nice place through which to wander. The entrance is at the southern end of the cemetery, off Woodside Road. It is maintained by Redwood City’s Parks, Recreation, and Community Services department and is generally well-maintained (thanks are also due to a handful of Boy Scouts working towards their Eagle rank, along with a handful of other volunteer organizations). Make your way to the northern end of the cemetery and you’ll find a couple of benches from which you can survey the Union Soldier statue, who watches over the Grand Army of the Republic plot. Behind those benches you’ll find the Solari Family Windmill, which was originally built in the 1880s on the Solari family’s farm, at the corner of today’s Whipple Avenue and Old County Road.

Something that the Palm Park neighborhood has in common with many other Redwood City neighborhoods is the Hetch Hetchy right-of-way, beneath which runs the pipes that supply water to San Francisco, Redwood City, and much of the Peninsula. Here, the right-of-way enters the neighborhood in the parking lot of Crippen & Flynn Funeral Directors, just a few steps to the south of Union Cemetery. It angles to the west, crossing Poplar Avenue and exiting the neighborhood close to the intersection of Redwood Avenue and Ebener Street. From that spot the right-of-way is clearly evident:

On a related subject, Redwood Creek also runs through a portion of the Palm Park neighborhood — albeit a very small portion. If you refer back the map with which I opened this post, you’ll see it in the upper left corner of the neighborhood, alongside Redwood Avenue for about three blocks before ducking under Redwood Avenue and entering the Central neighborhood. Here the creek is confined to a concrete channel, one that in a couple of cases has been bridged to enable homeowners to access portions of their property separated by the creek.

As I noted earlier, the bulk of the Palm Park neighborhood is made up of residential properties of various kinds. Single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes, apartments, condominiums — practically any type of housing you can imagine can be found here. I observed a number of housing developments, such as this one off Kentfield Avenue:

I also noted some potentially historic homes, including this cute little one on Poplar Avenue, which was apparently built in 1907:

As you can probably tell, it sits right next door to an apartment building. There are several others in this neighborhood, such as the large Stone Creek Apartments complex, which although accessible from Poplar Avenue, actually front onto Hess Road:

Several of the second story apartments in this particular complex actually look out over Union Cemetery.

One other of the neighborhood’s apartment complexes is worthy of mention: the 926 Woodside Apartments.

You may recall that these apartments experienced a bad fire back in 2013, but were rebuilt and, in the process, upgraded. I was pleased to note that the owners address the issue of the fire on their web page, and turn it to their advantage by stating that “the building has been rebuilt since its 2013 fire and is now fully equipped with fire sprinklers and structural upgrades.” If only the Hallmark Apartments down the street (and not in the Palm Park neighborhood) could say the same…

While most of the homes and buildings I saw in the neighborhood seemed to be well-kept, I should note that you can always find an exception or two. For instance, this house off of Kentfield Avenue seemed to be particularly run-down, and in fact appeared as if it might be unoccupied:

But that was by far the exception. There were plenty of very nice places (nothing I’d call a mansion, though) in the Palm Park neighborhood. I did a quick check on Zillow and it doesn’t appear that there is much for sale at the moment, particularly when compared with some of the surrounding neighborhoods. This could just be an odd occurrence, or it might actually be an indication that Palm Park is a popular neighborhood in which to live.

Before I leave the subject of housing in the Palm Park neighborhood, I should mention that the variety of housing even extends to managed care facilities. The well-regarded Gordon Manor Retirement Home, on Gordon Street, provides long-term elderly care and Alzheimer’s care. It blends in pretty well with the surrounding residential properties, while being a nice-sized campus for the care of a number of our aging citizens.

The Palm Park neighborhood is primarily, but not exclusively, housing. For instance, it contains some of Redwood City’s larger churches, including St. Pius Catholic Church and St. Pius School, on Valota Road close to the intersection with Woodside Road:

Right at that intersection you’ll find Messiah Lutheran Church, along with Casa dei Bambini preschool. And elsewhere in the neighborhood, at the corner of Hudson Street and Redwood Avenue, is Calvary Baptist Church.

While exploring the area around St. Pius School, I discovered that PG&E maintains a substation right in the middle of the residential portion of the neighborhood, at the intersection of Kansas and Sierra streets. Although I suspect that some in the neighborhood would rather it not be there, at least the substation is surrounded by tall block walls and thus is not terribly obtrusive. Of course, there is no good way to hide the tall towers that support the high-tension power lines that feed the substation:

Primarily fronting onto Woodside Road are the neighborhood’s restaurants, retail stores, and service providers. This section of the neighborhood runs from Valota Road to El Camino Real, and is only on what most people consider to be the north side of Woodside Road (but in fact is the west side). The Palm Park neighborhood includes a Safeway grocery store, a Petco, and what I believe are the city’s only remaining plant nurseries: M&M Nursery and Wegman’s Nursery, both on Woodside Road close to Union Cemetery. Redwood City Florist is also located here, near the two nurseries.

As for restaurants, the neighborhood has its share. Ohana Express, El Grullense Grill, and Bravo Taqueria are just a few. On the list is also 5th Quarter Pizza, which apparently will have just closed by the time you read this, and Thaibodia, which although it may still be open at the moment, is slated to be torn down and replaced by a 10-unit condominium complex.

In case you don’t already know, the Palm Park neighborhood is named for its one real park: Palm Park. Palm Park is located on Hudson Street, where it intersects with Palm Avenue. It’s a great little neighborhood park, with a playground (including a “tot lot”), picnic tables, a nice-sized grass area, and a BBQ or two. The park is just under one acre in size, which is particularly relevant given its origin story. According to the delightful The Story of Redwood City’s Parks 1937-1987, back in 1958 two boys “decided that something should be done about the little triangle at the intersection of Palm, Kentfield, and Union.” This one (which didn’t have a palm tree back then):

They apparently cleared the space, planted a tree (again, not the one you see above) and added a little sign proclaiming the tiny space to be “Palm Park.” Later, in 1959, a member of the Emerald Lake Garden Club planted a Canary Island date palm there.

It wasn’t until 1970 that a group of area residents petitioned the city to create a real park, with a playground, in the neighborhood. Plans for today’s Palm Park were drawn up in 1975, and construction on Redwood City’s new park was completed in 1979.

As you can see, the trees in Palm Park have matured quite a bit since the park was first constructed.

Next door to the “real” Palm Park is the neighborhood’s one other special feature: the Sequoia YMCA. The YMCA puts on countless classes, camps, classes, and sports programs, and serves as a fitness center for many. The YMCA has been an important part of Redwood City for many years — since 1925, apparently — and plans to be for many years to come. Not necessarily in Palm Park, however. The YMCA is working closely with the city of Redwood City to develop a new, expanded YMCA facility at Red Morton Park, one that will sit side-by-side with a new Veterans Memorial Senior Center building. Together these will provide an expanded set of services for youth, seniors, and in fact people of all ages. If and when the YMCA portion of the project is completed — that portion of the project has yet to be reviewed by the city — the YMCA plans to move from its current location in the Palm Park neighborhood, freeing the existing site up for something new.

Palm Park appears to be another great place in which to live. And for those of us who don’t live in the neighborhood, it of course still has a lot to offer, with its park and YMCA, the cemetery, and the numerous restaurants, retail outlets, and service businesses. The fact that the Palm Park neighborhood has so much multi-family housing means that even though the neighborhood is a relatively small one, it has an outsize population. And it may just serve to illustrate what Redwood City’s future has in store, given such efforts as state Sen. Scott Weiner’s SB 50, which failed to pass yet again on Thursday but is by no means the end of efforts to encourage more multi-family housing in cities throughout the state.

6 thoughts on “Neighborhoods: Palm Park

  1. I lived in 3 different places while attending Sequoia High School in the late 60’s. On Bristol Way, Rosemary Lane and at 1421 Gordon Street. I liked all the locations. But the apartment building on Gordon Street had a swimming pool. My parents moved to Sierra Street and lived next to a vacant lot for many years. I graduated from Canada College and worked off of University Ave, in Palo Alto. This neighborhood was easy to get around in. I was in the Safeway parking lot on Woodside Road, listening to the radio when the astronauts landed on the moon in 1969. Thanks for the memories.

  2. Thanks, Greg. My friend in Selby Lane forwarded me your post. I have lived in Palm Park for over 20 years. I live on Poplar Ave and when we moved in there were more homeowners than renters in the single family homes on our street but now most of these have been converted into rental housing. It is a diverse neighborhood and that’s what we love about it although there are significant challenges with parking, noise, congestion and infrastructure issues (sewer line was not designed for the high density now utilizing it, for example). Speeding cars are a safety issue. We actually asked the City to make Poplar a one-way street and they told us it didn’t qualify to be a one-way street because it was too narrow! Yet, it is a two-way street now – the irony! I walk our dog along the perimeter of Palm Park several times a week and I have noticed that properties are being kept up better now than before. I think that with home values so high, there is more pressure to keep properties in good condition. In 2013, we had a gang problem and before that, there were many absentee landlords and foreclosures so weeds grew high and properties needed paint, etc. As the economy recovered, the area improved and I feel more pride than disappointment now walking the neighborhood. Thanks again for your write-up of our neighborhood. Lisa

  3. Was it in one of your previous columns that described the fascinating history of Chelsea Way? If not I will research where I learned about it.

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