Neighborhood Spotlight: Barron Park of Palo Alto

What do two famous donkeys, Ulysses S. Grant, and David Packard all have in common? They all spent a fair amount of time in the Barron Park neighborhood of Palo Alto!

For a neighborhood with no sidewalks that prides itself on being a rural oasis, Barron Park has a unique history of innovation and independence that permeates its residents today. Barron Park’s rural roots are no more clearly illustrated through the neighborhood’s mascots being a pair of donkeys that live by Bol Park.

Barron Park has a history with donkeys dating back to the 1930s. In 2000, two local donkeys named Niner and Perry attained international celebrity status as the models for the mischievous character named Donkey in the movie “Shrek,” which was visualized by nearby Pacific Data Images and DreamWorks Animation. The taller, nobler Niner was originally intended to be the final model for Donkey, but it was later determined the irascible Perry had more of the spunky charisma that Donkey’s character was intended to portray. Both donkeys are now amazingly well-cared for and paid for by neighborhood residents.

Before Barron Park was famous for inspiring this lovable movie character, it was known as a land of spacious lots with fruit trees. The independently minded local landowners enjoyed bordering Palo Alto, yet remained as part of unincorporated Santa Clara County until 1975. This proud neighborhood voted down annexation a half dozen times before finally being lured by the city’s great schools and civic services.

Why would any neighborhood so vehemently oppose joining one of America’s most prestigious cities, in spite of its exceptional schools, parks, and city utilities? Amazingly, this animosity lingered from 1936 when the Palo Alto Fire Department would not assist in saving the Barron Mansion, a respected, beautifully ornamented four-story home with 26 rooms, from a fiery blaze. Palo Alto firemen approached the neighborhood’s border during the incident, but did not assist because the city council precluded them from helping due to their lack of insurance coverage outside city borders. By the time Menlo Park firefighters arrived, the mansion was engulfed in flames. This lack of action ignited the anger of Barron Park residents who held the grudge for decades until a new generation of residents finally voted to be annexed into the city.

Barron Park might actually have been called “Wallis Park” since it was the famous suffragist Sarah Wallis who originally built what was later renamed Barron Mansion. Sarah Wallis founded the woman’s suffrage movement in California and also served as the first president of the California Woman Suffrage Educational Association. At her home she hosted luminaries such as fellow feminists Susan B. Anthony, as well as President Ulysses S. Grant.

However, the most famous resident of the neighborhood was arguably David Packard. While Packard was nurturing Hewlett- Packard from its original garage start-up to a world-class technology company, he lived in Barron Park and supervised the construction of Barron Park Elementary during his tenure on the Palo Alto School Board.

Besides a colorful history, the neighborhood also features larger lots that lie outside the flood zone. This combination makes the area attractive to developers, and DeLeon Realty projects above-average appreciation for Barron Park. The beautiful, rural ambience of the area will always appeal to those who seek the peace and seclusion this neighborhood brings, along with its central location close to urban amenities.