The city of Los Altos has come a long way from the sprawling orchards that dominated the area in the 1960s. Today, both the Mountain View and Los Altos areas have expanded to become much greater destinations than ever before.
Even though the Silicon Valley has been a national force for the past two decades, it has taken a while for downtown Los Altos to catch up with the bustling culture of Silicon Valley. As recently as five years ago, the downtown area was dominated by stores, such as Chicos, that appealed mostly to older generations.
Over the past few years, however, Los Altos has begun to change drastically. Many LAHS students have already noticed new attractions like Area 151, the new downtown arcade and Skateworks, a new skate shop on State Street. The new additions have changed downtown life, and if the company Passerelle Investments has anything to say about it, the changes aren’t anywhere near over. Passerelle Investments, a small real estate investment company in the Bay Area, has aided Los Altos in becoming a more pedestrian-friendly downtown by buying property in the downtown area and leasing it to different tenants.
“We think Los Altos is going to be something unique,” Director of Passerelle Investments Brooke Ray Smith said. “We don’t think it is going to be like Mountain View or Palo Alto. It is not like any of those other towns. We think the way we’d like to help reframe that question in many people’s minds is not ‘who do we want to be like?’ but more ‘what is Los Altos?’”
Some of Passerelle’s projects include the new skate shop Skateworks and family restaurant Bumble. The continuing changes reflect an evolving community, one that is becoming more young and dynamic. Passerelle does this by leasing property to business owners, like Mary Hefferman, who runs Buble, Area 151 and Play!
“There are a lot of elements of change, and [Los Altos] is a community that has gone from the Republican NASA Engineers of the ‘70s and ‘80s to today’s triangulation of Apple, Facebook and Google,” Skateworks owner Jason Strubing said. “There are a lot of young families, a lot of people who come here from abroad to settle and work at those high tech companies. And I think that plays a big part into how the community is going to organically change to accommodate those people’s wants and needs.”
Linden Tree, a local bookstore with a history in downtown Los Altos, was one of the first stores to help contribute to the “new atmosphere” of downtown Los Altos by changing location and remodeling.
“Passerelle started in 2009 and we started doing projects in downtown Los Altos around 2010,” Smith said. “We did the Linden Tree bookstore project, moved Linden Tree [and] opened Bumble. Those were the first two major projects.”
Having bought Linden Tree with a co-owner in May 2010, Diane Edmonds notes that although the store’s rebranding project cost a lot of time and money, the new building has allowed them to redesign their store layout in order to reflect a newfound energy, one that is representative of the new atmosphere in downtown Los Altos.
“[It’s] closer to the energy of the town,” Edmonds said. “We were able to design [the building] from an empty shell.”
Linden Tree was Passerelle’s first project, and since then, the company has attracted five more businesses to Los Altos. Evolve Yoga & Pilates, Skateworks, Bumble, Play! Los Altos and a startup company, Indigo-I, were all brought in by Passerelle. Passerelle also renovated Peet’s Coffee and worked in street renovations to make downtown more pedestrian-friendly. The trellis project that was placed along First Street was a joint collaboration between Passerelle and the city of Los Altos.
“If we could get people who are in walking and biking distance to really think of downtown Los Altos as their primary destination for going out on weekends, for going to dinner at night or taking their kids on excursions … that would be a success,” Smith said.
Renovations in downtown Los Altos are far from finished. Projects from Passerelle are still coming as new ideas and plans are being formed; multiple events have already been finalized and put into motion.
In the summer, the intersection of First and State Street will be closed off for six to eight weeks for a construction project. In order to take advantage of the closed-off streets, Passerelle is working in conjunction with the city to establish a park in that area. Another of Passerelle’s major innovation is artistically-inclined: The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SF MOMA) will be moving some pieces to Los Altos while their main building is closed for renovations.
Dynamic new businesses and new community events are helping create a more pedestrian-friendly and culturally rich downtown. With the continued support of locals, Los Altos will continue to thrive in the next few years.
New Village at San Antonio Coming Soon
The crossing of San Antonio and El Camino has been filled with stores such as Sears, however has never become a social destination. New changes are currently changing all of this, completely reinventing this region.
About a year ago, the towns of Los Altos and Mountain View approved knocking down the Sears complex and build, in its place, a new market called “The Village at San Antonio Center.”
Much like the development in Santana Row, The Village at San Antonio Center is meant to upscale the neighborhood, bringing retail and living space that appeal more to those who shop at the Whole Foods down the street.
This, like Santana Row, is aimed at bringing more people to the region, which will then further advance certain construction developments and bring The Village at San Antonio Center up to speed with the big things happening in downtown Los Altos.
The Village at San Antonio Center offers many positive attributes to the region, including the introduction of more retail stores and restaurants to high schoolers and young adults in the area. For example, The Counter, a famous burger restaurant, is being introduced into the Village.
“The new complex is really close to my house,” sophomore Farris Scott said. “I’m looking forward to not having to drive all over just to find a nice place to eat.”
A new Safeway has also been installed in the Village, replacing the one on Showers Drive. This allows for competition with Whole Foods, which has long since held dominion over higher quality produce in the region. Introducing a mega-Safeway allows for a cheaper alternative for parents and children looking for groceries.
The newly built apartment complex, named Carmel the Village, will also bring new residents to the San Antonio and El Camino intersection. This part of town has been more or less vacant because of sparse living space, but now Carmel the Village offers an ideal location for many families to live. The location allows parents to have easy access to job opportunities while students can take advantage of the schools provided by the MVLA and Los Altos School Districts.
Despite this, there has been concern among some students that the new apartments could create an influx of students for nearby schools.
“Population overcrowding may be an issue for the MVLA School District,” senior John Lee said.
However, the school administration believes that an increase in the number of students at the school is inevitable anyways due to the natural growth of the community and is preparing accordingly. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that families with children will be living in the apartments.
“[Residents] could be business people, young couples, retired couples,” Assistant Principal Cristy Dawson said. “I wouldn’t say that the particular place is going to cause a big bump [in students]. Just natural growth within the community absolutely will.”
Also, while more and more people continue to be drawn to the area, traffic seems to be a growing problem. El Camino and surrounding streets tend to be very crowded and more attractions will only add to this increasing traffic problem.
“There will be more traffic definitely,” John said. “More attractions will make the area more popular. But I feel as though rush hour won’t change as much; evening traffic will. In the evening people will dine out or go to the movies, increasing traffic. These won’t be necessary during the other times.”
Despite the negatives that the complexes might bring, the upcoming retail excites many students. There is even talk of bringing a movie theater to nearby the Village.
There have been rumors that an eight-screen theater is to be constructed on California Avenue in replacement of the Milk Pail Market, a small open-air market right across from the original Safeway. However, these rumors have not been confirmed. According to the Los Altos Town Crier, the theater should be located along California Avenue, “replacing buildings currently occupied by BevMo and Ross.”
“I would rather see the Milk Pail because a movie theater would just cause too much business and crowds that would ruin the laid back effect of Los Altos and parts of Mountain View,” senior Nisha Ramesh said.
On the other hand, some believe that the movie theater is just a part of the evolving culture in the area.
“The large groups of young families in the region would enjoy having a movie theater in their backyard,” John said. “However I see the passing of the Milk Pail market as a sad part to all of this. A traditional part of our local community [will be] gone. I feel like this change caters to the new families who come to the region. Movie theaters are a great source of entertainment; the incoming theater probably hopes to capitalize on this revenue.”
Although both negatives and positives exist for the new development of the Village, there is no question that it will make an impact on all who live near it.