Birge Clark: Palo Alto’s Architect

By Huy Vu, ESQ. | Senior Buyer Specialist – Palo Alto

Born at the end of the 19th century, Birge Clark was able to watch Palo Alto transform from the quiet town it once was to the early stages of the technology center it is today. By the time of his passing in 1989, Palo Alto had already become, thanks in part to Stanford University, one of the most influential cities in the tech world.

Palo Alto sprang to life during the construction of Stanford University in the 1890s, the same decade that Birge Clark sprang to life. The son of a Stanford art and architecture professor, Clark received his architectural training at Columbia University, only to return to Palo Alto to begin his illustrious career. He was Palo Alto’s only architect for much of its early history, and he remains, arguably, its most influential architect.

While his contemporary peer Joseph Eichler may have built more structures in and around Palo Alto, Birge Clark was responsible for designing over 450 residences, commercial buildings, and civic structures throughout Palo Alto from the 1920s through the 1960s. Much of Palo Alto’s character and charm is defined by Clark’s work.

Without question, many of Clark’s most iconic works share Spanish Colonial Revival elements, also referred to as California Colonial style. It is closely related to the Mission Revival style, which draws from California’s early history and the Catholic missions which dot the California coast. Hallmarks of the style are stucco walls, arched doorways and windows, low-pitched clay-tile roofs, and decorative iron trim.

However, Clark liked to branch out and experiment with some alternate architectural styles. Most notably, he created some very interesting Mid-Century Modern homes that are reminiscent of Eichler’s work, but with a little more of a whimsical style. Clark did not shy away from adding a splash of color or interesting details to capture the hearts and minds of the homeowners.

Examples of Clark’s most famous works include the Lucie Stern Community Center, Lou Henry Hoover House, the President Hotel, the Palo Alto Post Office, and the Palo Alto Medical Center. Most of the 500 block of Ramona Street in downtown Palo Alto consist of Clark’s work. He also designed many famous residences in Palo Alto, such as 1247 Cowper Street (Norris House), 420 Maple Street (Dunker House), and 1990 Cowper Street (Lucie Stern House). Most homes on the 400 block of Coleridge Avenue in Old Palo Alto are also credited to Clark’s designs. The next time you take a stroll down University Avenue or a drive through Old Palo Alto, there’s a good chance you’ve passed right by a cherished piece of local history influenced by Clark.

In addition to being a great architect, Clark was also, by all accounts, a great family man and a dynamic person. He loved Palo Alto, but he also loved his family and made sure to spend as much time as he could with them. He also loved camping, the outdoors, roller-coasters, and travel. Additionally, he was a war hero, having won the Silver Star in World War 1, one of the nation’s highest military honors.

If you would be interested in seeing some of Birge Clark’s greatest works, please reach out to me, and we will schedule a tour in the DeLeon bus (unfortunately, we cannot extend this offer to real estate agents or people who are working with non- DeLeon agents).

Palo Alto DeLeon Properties


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