Building along Waverley Street in 1902

A History of the Gamble Garden Neighborhood, Palo Alto

Catharine Garber, Founder & Partner at FGA, gives a talk at Gamble Garden about what life was like around Waverley Street at the turn of the century when the Gamble’s home was built. Their daughter, Elizabeth Gamble was 14, Stanford University was 11, and Palo Alto was just 8 years old. 

You can download the images from the talk here: BUILDING ALONG WAVERLEY STREET 1902


A few years ago, Fergus Garber Architects, was engaged to renovate a historic house at the northwest corner of Waverley and Embarcadero Street, kitty-corner from Gamble Garden, at 359 Embarcadero. Around the same time, an old photo taken circa 1902 was donated to Gamble Garden and featured the recently completed Gamble home with the 359 Embarcadero home in the background. 

This presentation tells the story of the Gamble family moving across the country to Palo Alto, what drew them and so many others here in the first decade of the 20th century, and what Palo Alto looked like at the time, especially on Waverley Street. 

In 1828, James Gamble started his own soap-making business in Cincinnati. Around the time, he fell in love with Elizabeth Norris. Her sister, Olivia, was also getting married - to a candle maker named William Procter. When Elizabeth’s father realized that his new son-in-laws needed the same raw material for their products - animal fat found in Cincinnati's slaughterhouses - he recommended that the two young men merge their businesses into one. Thus in 1837, Procter & Gamble (P&G) was born.

A few years later, it was just a minor accident that propelled the company to prosperity. An employee accidentally left one of the soap-making machines running too long, introducing so much air into the process that the batch of soap floated. This product, Ivory soap, became the number one soap selling in the country, and led to P&G becoming a public company. The profits from P&G allowed his two of his sons to leave the soap business. One moved to Pasadena and built the now famous Gamble house by Green and Green architects. Another son, Edwin came to Palo Alto with his family. 

The appeal for Edwin was most likely Stanford University.  Edwin had attended Cornell at the same time as Stanford’s then-president David Starr Jordan, and perhaps this was his introduction to Stanford. Edwin first visited Palo Alto when his eldest son James enrolled at Stanford, and he moved his family here in 1902 after completing their Waverley Street home. 


All four of the Gamble’s children eventually studied at Stanford. Edwin’s daughter, Elizabeth, was 13 when they moved west. She first attended Miss Harker’s School, one of several preparatory schools in Palo Alto, and then she went on to Stanford, like her brothers.  

After a year at Stanford, in 1910, she transferred to Wellesley. Upon completing her studies there,  she returned to Palo Alto and eventually inherited the family home in 1939. As most of you know, she spent years developing her garden and sharing it with the public, and she willed the house to the city. After her death, preservationists fought and won to save it from being torn down,  establishing the Elizabeth F. Gamble Center in 1985.


I want step back a few decades from the Gamble’s arrival in 1902, and look at the development of  Stanford University, with its co-educational liberal arts curriculum, and the new community supporting it, to explain what drew the Gambles, and so many others, to this town at the turn of the century. The desire to create a University is not what initially drew Leland Stanford to the area - he wanted to breed racing horses.

In 1876, Stanford purchased the 650-acre Mayfield Grange, renaming it  “The Palo Alto Stock Farm”.  And then in 1882, he purchased the 1400 plus acres Ayrshire farm from Peter Coutts. These combined parcels extended basically from El Camino Real to the foothills going west and from today's Page Mill Rd going north to current-day Serra Street on Campus. The properties  were  across from the little town of Mayfield, which was centered at today’s California Ave and El Camino Real. Additional purchases enlarged Stanford’s stock farm to nearly 11,000 acres total with almost 800 horses and a staff of 150. It was the largest institution of its kind in the world, shipping horses around the country using Stanford's railway lines. 

The desire to create a University came when Leland and his wife, Jane, lost their only child, Leland Jr., to typhoid fever at age 15. They decided to create a university in his memory on some of the Stock Farm's land. They initially proposed having the University's entry gate be from Mayfield, but they had one condition: alcohol had to be banned from the town. Officials of Mayfield rejected their request, preferring to keep their numerous and rather raucous saloons. This led the Stanfords to form a new temperance town with the help of their friend Timothy Hopkin, the adopted son of Stanford’s former business partner in the Central Pacific Railroad.

The Stanfords, advanced Hopkins a loan in 1887 to purchase around 740 acres from Henry W Seale. The land was across from the new university bounded by El Camino Real on the West; San Francisquito Creek on the north; Boyce, Channing, Melville, and Hopkins Avenues to the East; and Embarcadero Road to the south. 

In 1887, Hopkins initially named this new community, University Park. The name 'Palo Alto' was then attached to what is now College Terrace. This 2-block-wide by 12-block long neighborhood was and still remains non-Stanford land. The land owner at the time, Gordon, refused to sell it to Stanford when the school was formed, instead joining it with the town of Mayfield.  Stanford eventually paid Gordon $1,000  allowing the name “Palo Alto” to be used finally in 1894.

The lots that Hopkins was selling in the newly formed town were promoted as such: “University Park [soon to be Palo Alto] is a tract of beautiful oak-park land immediately opposite and adjoining the grounds of the university. The institution by the munificent salaries it will be able to pay, will draw to its force of educators, the most famous and talented professors on the globe… The splendid climate will tend to induce the great professors of the East and Europe to accept chairs in its departments…..When the time comes, University Park and vicinity will become an education center.'

Stanford Sr. died in 1893 with the country in a deep depression. Despite Stanford’s estate being in disarray and the university facing financial ruin, Jane Stanford pushed forward and the University continued to grow in the 1890s. 


This brings us up to the time when the Gambles moved to Palo Alto at the turn of the century. Let’s take a closer look at what was going on at the University and around Palo Alto.

Stanford University was undergoing a lot of construction, including the Memorial Church Jane Stanford built for her husband. Stanford had about 1500 students, a third of these were women. Palo Alto’s population was just a bit larger, around 1700 people, with new homes and buildings  going up quickly. The city had put in water and sewer systems in the 1890s, and by the turn of the century, the municipal electric system had began its operation too. While University Avenue was paved, Palm Drive to campus and other streets were unimproved except for basic grading. They were muddy swamps in the winter and very dusty in the summer.  Most people got around town, and to and from the campus riding bicycles, or using horse-drawn carriages called surreys. One favorite surrey driver, Jasper Paulsen, began providing regular services via a larger horse-drawn wagon holding 36 passengers called the Marguerite, hence the name today!  

By 1902, there were even a few cars and city infrastructure was improving.  Fred Smith of Smith's On The Circle in Downtown Palo Alto was selling a three-wheeled automobile with a one-cylinder engine. The wheels had wire spokes, very much like a bicycle, and it had a hand lever handle to steer the front wheel. On a good road, it could go about five miles an hour. The Palo Alto women’s club was busy readying the streets for new cars and were also beautifying public spaces by having trees and shrubbery planted. Their “village Improvement committee” had clean-up days, ridding the town’s sidewalks and vacant lots of poison oak. 

The few phones that existed were mostly in San Francisco. They were expensive and considered to be a luxury “plaything.” Phones didn’t become affordable until the 1940s. Because people were not phoning in orders and because it was challenging to get around to go shopping, especially for those not right downtown, the shops came to the houses. Birge Clark, the well-known Palo Alto architect, wrote extensively about growing up in the town. He was nine years old in 1902, living in College Terrace. He explains in his memoir that the groceryman came each morning to take orders and returned in the afternoon to deliver them.  The butcher also came daily, ready to cut off your order right in your home. A fish wagon came around twice a week, and a bread wagon thrice a week. Milk was typically delivered in a five gallon can. The milkman would walk right into your kitchen and fill whatever containers were left out for him. When Birge’s mother would go down to  Fraser’s for sundries, Birge would tag along, riding his 5$ bike and go to check out what was new at “Smith's On The Circle”, also known as “Columbia Cyclery”. By 1902, Smith’s was not only selling cars, but Eastman Kodak products too.

By 1902 Downtown Palo Alto had about 200 buildings, including two hotels, a bank, a real estate office, numerous grocers, druggists, lumber and hardware stores, plumbers, builders, and stables. Palo Alto was taking off. On a 1904 Sanborn map, it is evident how built up downtown was becoming. In September 1904 in Overland Monthly, a literary and cultural magazine published in San Francisco, they dedicated their entire issue to Palo Alto.  One of the articles states that Palo Alto is an ideal community in which to live: “The character of the population is moral and intellectual in a marked degree, the climate is as nearly perfect as can be found, and wholly healthful, and the influences are elevating. This stable assurance of future prosperity is augmenting the growth of the town, increasing its population by one-third each year.” 


No wonder the Gambles wanted to be in Palo Alto! So let’s return to their story. 

The Gamble’s house, completed in 1902, was just over 5,000 square feet. It was built by San Jose contractor CA Bates, costing about $6000. Although they could have afforded a custom-designed home, it is assumed that the Gambles had their builder modify a stock plan, as no architect was accredited.  By 1908, Sears began issuing their Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans, which became wildly popular. But before the Sears catalog house designs, there were other pattern books and magazines offering plans too - one of these was Radford American Homes. Perhaps the Gambles utilized one or two of these plans, as designs number 142 and 566, for example, look quite similar to the Gamble home. 

A year before their house was built, the Gambles purchased 2.5 acres from the Seale family, who owned a large tract of land south of Embarcadero running between Alma and Middlefield Rd. Other than the Seale’s family ranch house which was located down near the present day intersection of Webster and California Ave, the Gambles’ was the first house built south of Embarcadero. This larger parcel of land adjacent to town obviously appealed to the Gambles. In addition to their main house, they had room to build a large carriage house, and put in a 2-acre garden for their cows, chickens, and a pony, which their daughter Elizabeth enjoyed riding. As utilities were still unavailable beyond Embarcadero, the Gamble's required special arrangements for their installation. In a photo taken 10 years later, there is evidence of some electrification coming broader into the Seale’s tract of land. The photo was taken from a water tower on Bryant Street looking east towards Waverly and beyond. Tennyson Street is pictured with power poles. 

Just a couple of years after the Gambles moved in, the Seale’s land was being promoted as a suburb to Palo Alto.  Mr. Seale had published this advertisement boasting:  “during the past sixty days one hundred and fifty lots have been sold in South Palo Alto to suburban home-seekers and investors, and building is already in progress. The many sales in this short time is explained by the fact that the owner  has, up to this time, withheld the tract from the market. The town has grown right up to this property and is improved with the highest class of Palo Alto’s residences. Now that residence and villa sites can be secured here, there is no doubt that within a short time this tract will be Palo Alto’s choicest residential  section…..residences when built shall cost not less than $2,000. … intoxicants shall not be sold; wood yards, shops, stores or manufacturing establishments shall be allowed….and nearly every lot has one or more choice ‘live oaks, giving shade and helping to beautify the home.' This is, of course, now Old Palo Alto.


But while this land south of Embarcadero was still empty other than the Gamble’s and the Seale’s homes, to the north, across Embarcadero, houses were going up quickly. In 1903 alone, 125 houses were built at the average cost of $3,000.

Returning to the photo described at the opening of this talk, the home kitty-corner from Gamble Garden at 359 Embarcadero was the Strong house, also built in 1902. In the 1904 Issue of the Overland Monthly magazine, both the Gamble’s and the Strong’s homes were featured as “Artistic Homes of Palo Alto”. In 1902, Sylvester Strong, a retired wheat merchant from Minneapolis, built a home at Waverley and Embarcadero. The family hired the architects Bertrand & Chamberlain from Minneapolis, where the Strongs hailed from, and the builder George W. Moshe. According to the planning department’s historical report, the design reflected early Prairie School compositional principles, including its central two-story massing with a prominent chimney, projecting one-story volumes, hipped roof with wide eaves, stucco cladding, and a wide wood entry door. However, in 1908 when the house was put up for sale (because the Strongs were getting divorced), it was advertised as “a typical California home Mission style”. The style of this home is up for debate. 

During the current renovation, some of the original features of the home were able to be reused, such as the front door, while other original building features and methods were outdated. The Strong’s architect supplied the following specifications for the house: All the wood finishes for floors, ceilings, doors and windows were to be straight-grained Washington Fir, except for the front door, which was to be Oak. The original oak door is still being used, however for the renovation, we relocated it from the Embarcadero side to the Melville side, which is the new main entry.  During the renovation research process, it was interesting to learn of some of the other original requested finishes: All wood was painted with 2 coats of lead or oil paint and the roof shingles were treated with a coat of creosote, distilled from coal tar. Obviously, these finishes are not allowed in California today. As was common, the house had speaking tubes. There were ones linking the primary bedroom, the daughter’s bedroom, and the kitchen. Also, the living room had a buzzer to ring to the kitchen. 

In addition to the main house,  the property had a bunkhouse for 2 staff, a greenhouse, and a large two-story barn with three horse stalls, room for three wagons, a bathroom, and a tack room. Above, the loft held 15 tons of hay, grain, and other feed. A fun piece of history regarding the barn: before it was torn down, it was converted into a studio for a series of artists, including A.P Proctor, one of the founders of the Palo Alto Art Club and James Swinnerton, a well-known cartoonist who was friends with William Randolph Hearst. 

The Strong’s builder, George W. Moshe, built other homes in the area, such as the well-known Squire house on University Ave. in 1904, as well as the Wing house around the corner from the Strong house at 345 Lincoln between Waverley and Bryant. The designer for the Wing’s house was Birge Clark’s father who started the Art Department at Stanford. Built in 1893, prior to Palo Alto having underground water, the Wing house had a water tower. It was later attached to the house and still is there. Wing, a civil engineer professor at Stanford, was also the mayor of Palo Alto, when the Gambles arrived. Wing was instrumental in helping install Palo Alto's public water and electric systems. At the time, Wing and other city leaders were also working on installing sidewalks, as seen in era photographs of workmen laying the formwork. 


Next, let’s discuss three houses on the east side of Waverly, between Melville and Kingsley across from the Strong’s house: 1245 Waverley, 1221 (sadly demolished), and 1207. All three were built in 1902. It was a busy construction zone on this block

Houses between Whitman Court and Kingsley are also from this era. Photos show a rustic cottage cluster built for newlyweds Bolton C. Brown and his wife Lucy in 1899. Bolton was a pioneer Stanford faculty member in the art department, and Lucy was a co-founder of Castilleja Hall at Harker’s Girl’s School. In 1902, Mary Lockey who was teaching at Harkers, was renting one of the cottages. She probably was one of Elizabeth Gamble’s teachers. Later, Miss Lockey became a co-founder and Principal of Castilleja School.

A bit further north is 1146  Waverley, at the northwest corner of Kingsley.  This house was built in 1893 for Professor Albert W. Smith and his wife, Professor Mary Roberts Smith, both at Stanford. The house is a very restrained Queen Anne Victorian-style home. He was Chairman of the Mechanical Engineering Department, and she was the first full-time American professor of sociology. After divorcing Albert, she left Stanford and later founded the sociology department of Mills College. She was a pioneer in feminist studies, writing numerous papers and books. One titled,  “Why Women Are So”  emphasized that a woman's role in society should not be defined by her biology. Mary also started the first Girl Scout troop in Palo Alto.

The Smith’s architect was Charles Hodges. In addition to being Stanford University’s resident architect, he was responsible for numerous projects in Palo Alto working in many house styles. His home at 369 Churchill Avenue right across the street from Gamble Gardens, is a Tudor Revival house built around 1919, while 475 Homer Avenue, built in 1916, Is Tudor craftsman. This  home became the Palo Alto Woman's Club.

1136 Waverley was built circa 1893. It has an unusual orientation as a result of its being moved! It was relocated from 357 Kingsley Northeast onto Waverly. This large Colonial Revival home was built for Charles David Mark. He was the sixth professor appointed to the Stanford faculty and established the civil engineering department. He was a close associate of Professor Wing, who, as I mentioned, was the mayor of Palo Alto in 1902. You may recall that Wing had a large water tower, which was later attached to his house. In the 1890s though, it was still free standing and Mark, as well as other neighbors, all got water from Wing’s water tower.   

Waverley Street 1022 and 1020 are the next two homes of this talk. They were built on the west side of the street between Lincoln and Addison. 1022 was a Craftsman-style house for Mrs. Emma Pleasants built in 1902, while 1020 Waverley was built at a cost of $1600 for professor EC Starks in 1900. Both were constructed  by Gustav Laumeister, one of the first contractors building in Palo Alto and who also helped lay out the Seale tract. Originally from Bavaria, he worked in the Monterey and Carmel area before moving up north in the early 1880’s. Laumeister built a total of 6 houses in 1902 alone. Many of his homes built around this time were in the popular Craftsman and Shingle styles, constructed of redwood shingles, usually stained dark brown. Laumeister also owned a considerable amount of property in what is now East Palo Alto, which he once thought of developing as Palo Alto’s waterfront. He was one of the founders of the Palo Alto Historical Association and was active in many other civic organizations. He worked in the building trade and as a real estate developer for over 63 years.

Laumeister built three other homes in the neighborhood: 430 Kingsley was built for the Smith’s who built the 1146 Waverly house we looked at earlier. Eleven years later, in 1902, they had Laumeister build them this Colonial revival home on Kingsley. The Smiths were still both at Stanford and stayed married for two more years. 

In 1903, Laumeister remodeled a Dutch colonial at 433 Kingsley with a palm tree-lined drive. It has a traditional Dutch gambrel roof and a corner Queen Anne-style tower. It was built for Joseph and Katherine Kellogg Hutchinson. Hutchison was the first president of the Palo Alto Improvement Club, promoting the addition of plank sidewalks, graveled streets, and the trolly. Mrs. Hutchinson, was a charter member of the Palo Alto Woman's Club. 

The last house of this talk is 301 Addison, a classic shingle house for William and Martha Hyde built in 1901. This house happens to be a favorite of mine. Hyde came to Palo Alto to establish the Stanford campus bookstore in 1897. Hyde was from a large family. His parents and seven other siblings all came to Palo Alto in 1897 to take advantage of the growing university. They built a large house around the corner at 334 Lincoln, one more house built by Moser, the contractor of the Strong’s Embarcadero house.

Most, if not all, the homes that we have looked at today were built for people coming to Palo Alto to either work at Stanford University or to have their family members attend Stanford and its feeder schools - the abundant kindergartens, the public grammar and high schools, and the private preparatory schools Palo Alto Academy, Hoitts School for Boys, and Miss Harker Girl’s School.  As noted in Overland Monthly, “The educational facilities are of the best, from primary schools to graduate departments at the university. The grammar and high schools are the pride of the city, and there is a general agreement to spare no expense upon them to make Palo Alto absolutely unique as a place of education for the youth.”

It is much the same here today. I was drawn to Palo Alto because of the excellent schools, and I’m assuming the educational opportunities, were also a primary draw for most of the audience. I will add, that for me, the attractive housing stock, especially the historic shingle and craftsman homes from around 1902 were also a draw. Coincidentally, my college thesis was on the California craftsman!  

Over the years, I have been fortunate to work on several of these historic homes, along with many homes built later into the twentieth century too. On Waverley Street alone, my firm has worked on eighteen projects.

Back in 1904, the J. J. Morris Real Estate Company encouraged people to, “Buy a home site in Palo Alto NOW. It will cost you more today than last year, and next year more than today. Procrastination is a thief of more than time; it may rob you of an opportunity for life and a home in Palo Alto, the most charming residence spot in California… we will show you our large list of houses and lots... whether you have $100 or $10,000 to invest. 

To conclude, the reasons for coming to Palo Alto may be the same, but certainly not the cost! 


History of Palo Alto: the Early Years

Overland Monthly  1904-09: Vol 44 Iss 3


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