Early days in Menlo Park
The land now known as the City of Menlo
Park was originally the home of Ohlone Indians, called by the
Spaniards "Coastanoans", or Coast-dwellers. These local
residents lived off the land peacefully, gathering nuts, berries
and fish from both the ocean and the bay. Because of the abundance
of food there was no need for them to practice agriculture. Evidences
of their civilization are still being unearthed on the Filoli
estate in Woodside, and along San Francisquito Creek.
Spanish rule came to this area in 1769
when the exploration party led by Don Gaspar de Portola camped
near "El Palo Alto" after their momentous discovery
of San Francisco Bay. The colonizing of the Peninsula began after
the expedition of Juan Bautista DeAnza passed through Menlo Park
on its way to establishing Mission Dolores and the Presidio of
San Francisco in 1776.
The mission padres, explorers, military
personnel, travelers and settlers occupied certain areas, developing
and populating the land. As a reward for their contribution to
the settling movement, some of these pioneers were granted huge
portions of land by the Spanish (and after 1822) the Mexican governments.
The largest land grant on the Peninsula was the Rancho de las
Pulgas, an area of 35,260 acres, awarded to presidio comandante
Don Jose Dario Arguello in 1795 by Governor Diego de Borica, and
endorsed in behalf of his son Luis Arguello in 1820 by Pablo Sola,
the last Spanish governor of California. It extended north and
south from San Mateo Creek to San Francisquito Creek, and east
and west from San Francisco Bay to today's Canada Road in Woodside.
The present boundaries of Menlo Park would be within this rancho
which became part of the new State of California. The Arguello
family obtained legal title to their lands in 1853 and later subdivided
It was in 1854 that Menlo Park received
its official name when two Irishmen, Dennis J. Oliver and D. C.
McGlynn, whose wives were sisters, purchased 1,700 acres (some
sources say it was 640 acres) bordering County Road, now El Camino
Real, and built two houses with a common entrance. Across the
drive they erected a huge wooden gate with tall arches on which
the name of their estate was printed in foot-high letters: "MENLO
PARK", with the date, August 1854, under it. When the railroad
came through in 1863, this station had no name, it was just the
end of the line, but it needed a designation. During a discussion
about the choice of a name, a railroad official looked over at
the gates and decided that "MENLO PARK" would be appropriate,
and so the name was officially adopted. This station is now California
State Landmark No. 955, the oldest California station in continuous
San Mateo County became independent of
San Francisco County in 1856. A county road had been laid for
horse and carriages, wagons and stagecoaches to Belmont and soon
was extended to San Jose. This opened the Peninsula to the residents
of San Francisco who wished to establish summer residences in
the country. Among the first to buy large tracts of land and build
their mansions were the Athertons, Hopkinses, Floods, Millses,
Donohoes and Feltons. The great estates were largely self-sufficient
and most of the workers lived on the premises. The estates had
their own cows - milk and butter were produced on the estates.
They had their own chickens, other fowl and often hogs, too. The
Hopkins estate had its own boarding house for single men, complete
with its own barber shop. It manufactured gas for its own heating
and lighting use and sold some to neighbors. The service part
of old Menlo consisted mostly of two general merchandise stores,
two or three blacksmith shops, a couple of livery stables, six
or eight saloons, about three working-man type hotels, and little
to Menlo commerce directly.
On 23 March 1874, Menlo Park became the
second incorporated city in San Mateo County, although only for
a short time. The purpose was to provide a quick way to raise
money for road repairs. This incorporation, which included Fair
Oaks (later Atherton) and Ravenswood (later East Palo Alto) lasted
only until 1876. Churches were founded, schools were opened and
businesses were established. The first church in San Mateo County
was built by Dennis Martin on his ranch in 1856. It was the only
Catholic church between Mission Dolores in San Francisco and Mission
Santa Clara until St. Matthew's Church was built in 1863 and St.
Matthew's Episcopal Church in 1865, both in San Mateo. The Church
of the Nativity in Menlo Park was built in 1872.
Little occurred to change the rural flavor
of the community until the first World War, when, almost overnight,
Menlo Park was populated by 43,000 soldiers in training at Camp
Fremont, on land which extended from Valparaiso Avenue to San
Francisquito Creek, and El Camino Real to the Alameda de las Pulgas,
with the Base Hospital and other facilities on Willow Road where
the Veterans Administration Medical Center now stands.
After the war enough service center activity
remained to prompt an effort to reincorporate Menlo Park in 1923
with much the same boundaries as the earlier town. Incorporation
planning involving Menlo Park and Atherton, culminated in a dramatic
race to the County Courthouse to file differing plans. Atherton
representatives arrived only minutes before those from Menlo Park
who had wished to include Atherton in their plans. Final incorporation
of Menlo Park took place in November 1927.
Between 1943 and 1946 another military
installation, Dibble General Hospital, was built on the old Timothy
Hopkins estate to care for the thousands of soldiers injured in
the South Pacific in World War II.
After the war a post war boom occurred
in Menlo Park. Under the leadership of farsighted Charles P. Burgess
the City acquired 29 acres of Dibble General Hospital grounds
at a price of $4,000 an acre. On this land a handsome civic center
has been erected. Later, Santa Cruz Avenue was widened and improved
and gradually became Menlo's first street. Pioneering steps were
taken in zoning control, off-street parking in the businesses
district, establishment of the Administrative-Professional zoning,
which attracted such concerns as Stanford Research Institute,
Sunset Magazine and the U.S. Geological Survey, and, in 1952,
led to the City's first Master Plan.
Menlo Park has continued to grow in many
ways to fit the needs of a progressive community, yet it looks
back with pride at its past...its beginnings...and hopes to pass
on to new generations the goals and ambitions of its pioneer families.
Menlo Park Historical Association,
The Menlo Park Historical Association
is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the collection, preservation
and dissemination of the history of Menlo Park and surrounding
areas. For further information, call 330-2522, email: firstname.lastname@example.org https://sites.google.com/site/mphistorical