Historic Surveys

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Palo Alto Historic Resources Surveys

Historic resource surveys are performed to identify, record, and evaluate historic properties within a community, neighborhood, project area, or region. Surveys provide information needed to make informed planning decisions, prioritize preservation goals and objectives, develop and implement land use policies, perform environmental reviews pursuant to CEQA, develop adaptive reuse and heritage tourism initiatives, educate the public and increase the understanding of and appreciation for the built environment as a tangible reminder of the community’s history. Surveys also assist in the identification of resources worthy of designation in a local register of historic resources, the California Register of Historical Resources, or the National Register of Historic Places, as well as properties potentially eligible for federal tax benefits or other state and local preservation incentives.

1979 Beach & Boghosian Historic Survey & Inventory

Palo Alto's first official historic resources survey occurred in 1979 and researched buildings built for 1940 mainly in the area north of the Oregon Expressway.  One of the goals of compiling a "list of important resources" was to incorporate the information into future planning activities of the City and to create a historic preservation program. Read the 1979 Historical and Architectural Resources of the city of Palo Alto Inventory and Report prepared by Paula Boghosian and John Beach to learn more.

Major Styles of Early Palo Alto

The 1979 survey resulted in the local inventory known today, the local listing of hundreds of individual properties, the identification of potential historic districts like Professorville and Ramona Street, the listing of several buildings on the National Register and identified the major styles of early Palo Alto. These styles are outlined below.

Bay Area Tradition

A design philosophy which integrates in a playful and mannerist fashion fragments of the real or imaginary local past, current fashion and whatever predilections the designer may have. 

Classical Revival

The revival of interest in Classical antiquity, dating from the mid eighteenth century and especially notable in architecture. 

Colonial Revival

A phase of late nineteenth century American architecture which revived Georgian plans and forms, especially in domestic buildings. 


Craftsman is the architectural manifestation of an early 20th century movement which fused English Arts and Crafts attitudes with an appreciation of a life lived close to nature. 

Medieval Revival

Drawing from a wide variety of styles and periods, including Tudor, English Medieval and Renaissance, Medieval Revival can range from thatch-roofed folk cottages to grand manors. 

Mission Revival

Mission Revival is a combination of exterior and interior features which was inspired by the romantic turn of the century California rediscovery of an Hispanic past. 


The Prairie style originated in Chicago and is one of the few indigenous American styles.  It is characterized by a horizontal emphasis and fine details. 

Queen Anne Cottage

Also known as "Folk Victorian," the style is common throughout the country and is defined by the presence of Victorian decorative detailing on simple folk house forms. 

Queen Anne

Less formal than earlier Victorian styles, it sought to be picturesque with an asymmetrical plan, complex roof line, corner tower and gables. 

Spanish Colonial Revival

The style is characterized by red-tiled roofs of low pitch, tiled parapets, occasional arched forms and stucco walls. 

Streamline Modern

The style is focused upon the combining of simple curved and rectangular forms, designed and ornamented to express the motion and speed of transportation modes that inspired its evolution. 

Tudor Revival

A period revival style that reflects and reinterprets the English Tudor architectural mode, often with half-timbering and steeply pitched roof. 

1997 - 2001 Dames & Moore Historic Survey Update

Between 1997 and 2001, the City of Palo Alto prepared an ambitious historic resources survey, the Palo Alto Historical Survey Update which built upon the earlier 1979 survey.  The survey update covered all properties within the city limits that were built in 1947 or earlier and addressed properties in relation to all four of the NRHP criteria.  Identified properties were placed in two categories: 1) those that appear NRHP eligible and 2) those that are of potential local significance or may be eligible for the California Register of Historical Resources.

Ultimately, the Survey resulted in the evaluations of 165 properties in Palo Alto as historic resources, eligible for individual listing in the National Register of Historic Places.  The Survey documentation was transmitted to OHP, which recorded the evaluation findings in the California Historical Resources Information System (CHRIS), which is OHP’s database of properties statewide that have been formally determined as eligible for listing in the National Register or California Register.  The Survey also deemed 126 properties ineligible for the NRHP, identified 13 potentially significance historic districts, identified 3 multiple property types and recognized almost 2,000 potentially eligible historic resources.

Please read the 2001 Final Survey Report for the Palo Alto Historical Survey Update prepared by Michael Corbett and Denise Bradley or here to read the Palo Alto Historical Survey Update Summary of Findings. The Survey also prepared historic context summaries on the following 46 topics. Please see the survey report to read more on these topics.

  • Adobe
  • Airplane Bungalows
  • Blacks in Palo Alto
  • John K. Branner
  • Bungalows 
  • Chinese in Palo Alto
  • Birge Clark and Partners
  • Colonial Revival: Cape Cod
  • Maurice Couchot
  • W. S. Couter
  •  Harry H. Dabinett
  • Early California Style
  • Early Development of Seale Addition
  • Charles E. Gottschalk
  • Henry H. Gutterson
  • William C. Hays
  • Charles E. Hodges
  • Japanese in Palo Alto
  • Creston H. Jensen
  • William F. Klay
  • Lawrence A. Kruse
  • Laundry Industry
  • Pedro de Lemos
  • Mathews & Simpson
  • James R. Miller
  • Modern Ranch House
  • Mosher Brothers
  • Multiple Unit Housing
  • Leslie Nichols
  • Alexander Forbes Oakey
  • Pattern Book Houses
  • Professional Offices
  • Charles Haight Sawyer
  • E. J. Schmaling
  • Square Cottages
  • Stedman and Stedman
  • Joseph L. Stewart
  • Storefront Architecture
  • Styles
  • Suburbanization
  • Charles K. Sumner
  • Transportation
  • Two-Story Boxes
  • Henry L. Upham
  • James W. Wells and W.W. Wurster