Palo Alto Public Art Tour
Last updated: October 2007
Aah, Palo Alto. Inimitably sunny, manicured and green. Favorite haunts like University Avenue, the Stanford campus and the nearby Stanford Shopping Center draw eager visitors from around the Bay Area and beyond. But to please your inner aesthete on your next visit to the Peninsula, we suggest following this self-guided Public Art Tour.
This will take you to the picturesque, yet quirky grounds of Byxbee Park, past murals from East Palo Alto's student-driven Mural Art Project, then on to Stanford for works from some of the art world's most renowned sculptors, both past and present. And a stop in one of the city's inviting cafés or a stroll along its pristine streets is the perfect finish to your visit. To complete the tour in one day, you'll need approximately four hours, five if you plan to stop for lunch or a coffee break.
To complete the tour in one day, you'll need approximately four hours, five if you plan to stop for lunch or a coffee break. Here's a preview slideshow that you can watch at flickr.com.
Here are some videos that you might want to watch to give you a sneak preview of what you might find on your tour:
Byxbee Park: The tour begins at this unusual public park. Named after the first engineer of the city of Palo Alto to support the development of the Baylands as a public park, this 30-acre former landfill with rolling landscape and winding trails of crushed oyster shells illustrates the surrounding community's commitment to both environmental concerns and public art. Although locals are well aware of the park's past, outsiders are usually quite surprised to discover that the gentle hills are actually 60-foot piles of garbage buried underneath a foot-thick clay barrier and two feet of topsoil.
Without enough soil between the ground's surface and the barrier layer to sustain trees or large bushes, the park instead features public art designed by artists Peter Richards and Michael Oppenheimer in collaboration with Hargreaves Landscape Architects. During your visit to the park, seek out the "Pole Field," an expanse of telephone poles arranged along a hillside. The pole lengths vary depending on their locations on the hill, but the top of the poles forms a single plane. A series of concrete chevrons pointing toward the Palo Alto Municipal Airport runway functions both as art and as a guide for incoming pilots. Resembling a giant wind chime, the "Wind Wave" structure mimics the movement of waves on the nearby bay.
After you've had your fill of the great outdoors, it's time to head back to the city streets for more public art.
Mural Art: East Palo Alto harbors a collection of nearly 20 murals designed and created by teen participants in the East Palo Alto Mural Art Project, a year-round development program benefiting local youth from socio-economically challenged families. Since the program's inception in 2001, its participants have succeeded in adding murals to every school in the Ravenswood Public School District.
The murals address themes that range from race relations to family relationships, from East Palo Alto's history to agricultural sustainability. We suggest starting at the Boys & Girls Club of the Peninsula's building to view "Reflection Eternal," one of the first murals created through the program, and "Celebrate Diversity," a second mural at the location. Next, cross the street to visit the Edison-McNair Academy School's mural, "Education Prophecy," a fanciful mural featuring hieroglyphics on a background painted to resemble the walls of an ancient temple.
For the next segment of your mural tour, make your way to Green Oaks School and Cesar Chavez Elementary, both at 2450 Ralmar St. At Cesar Chavez, you'll find "Unite," which depicts soccer players and fans from different races gathering together to enjoy the sport. At Green Oaks, the mural "Our Cultural Symphony" shows teens from different racial and ethnic backgrounds coming together through their mutual love for hip-hop and other popular music genres.
With so many murals in the area, there are myriad stops you can make in both East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. These East Palo Alto stops are just our suggestions. Feel free to experiment and choose others -- every school in the Ravenswood Public School District features its own mural.
After driving to visit a mural or two, we think stopping for sustenance is an excellent idea. Perhaps the easiest way to satisfy your hunger cravings is a visit to downtown Palo Alto's main drag, University Avenue. There you'll find an eclectic mix of inexpensive take-out options, cozy cafés and sit-down dining destinations. For a quick burger and fries in a kid-friendly environment, head to Taxi's. The University Coffee Café is a good bet for salads, sandwiches and -- of course, a good shot of espresso to carry you through the rest of the tour. For a slightly more upscale option and 16 beers on tap, try the Empire Grill & Tap Room on Emerson Street and request a table on the cute outdoor patio. Kan Zeman is the place to go for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern favorites ranging from Jordanian-style rack of lamb to simple falafel wraps drizzled in tahini sauce. If these suggestions don't strike your fancy, keep looking -- you're bound to find something you like along the bustling University Avenue.
Maya Lin's Timetable: In front of Stanford's David Packard Electrical Engineering Building sits a round, black granite sculpture by Maya Lin, a hallowed artist whose public works range from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., to the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala. Water flows from the sculpture's flat surface and disappears into the bed of rocks at its base. If you look closely, you'll notice that the structure slowly rotates. Called "Timetable" (pictured above), this piece of functional public art tracks minutes, hours and years according to Pacific Standard, Pacific Daylight and Greenwich Mean Time.
"Timetable" is significant for several reasons. One, it is Lin's first West Coast piece. Two, unlike many of the works for which she is famous, it is a sculptural object rather than a memorial. And three, the combination of water, a working time piece and a sober granite construction represents a multitude of themes, from the constant passage of time to the presence of geological factors in aspects of everyday life.
Andy Goldsworthy's Stone River: For the penultimate stop on our self-guided tour, we head to British landscape artist Andy Goldsworthy's "Stone River," a 320-foot-long serpentine sculpture located outside Stanford University's Cantor Arts Center. Composed completely of sandstone recovered from campus buildings leveled during the infamous earthquakes of 1906 and 1989, the sculpture seems to rise from far below ground to an angular summit. In reality, the sculpture's base is a mere three-and-a-half feet below ground. Best known for erecting temporary landscape sculptures, Goldsworthy's contribution to the Stanford campus is significant not only for its imposing size but also for its permanence.
Rodin Sculpture Garden: Finish off the tour with a visit to the nearby Sculpture Garden, boasting a collection of Rodin's bronze sculptures that is second only to that of Paris's Musée Rodin. One of the most well-known works in the outdoor garden is Rodin's Gates of Hell, which took the artist nearly two decades to complete. If your schedule permits, try to arrive at the Cantor Center at 2 p.m. on Wednesday or 3 p.m. on Saturday for a free docent-led tour of the entire Rodin collection.
Below you'll find more information for each venue as well as our suggestions for parking at some of the destinations.
Where: To reach Byxbee Park, exit Highway 101 at Embarcadero Road. Follow Embarcadero northeast toward the bay until it ends. Turn right and enter the Palo Alto Recycling Center parking lot on your left.
Boys & Girls Club of the Peninsula
Where: 2031 Pulgas Ave., East Palo Alto
Phone: (650) 330 1090
For a complete list of schools in the Ravenswood Public School District, visit the district's Web site at ravenswood.k12.ca.us
- Edison-McNair Academy
Where: 2033 Pulgas Ave., East Palo Alto
- Green Oaks School and Cesar Chavez Elementary
Where: 2450 Ralmar St., East Palo Alto
Cantor Arts Center
Where: Lomita Drive and Museum Way on the Stanford University campus
Phone: (650) 723 4177
To find your way to works by Lin and Goldsworthy as well as to the Rodin Sculpture Garden, consult the Cantor Arts Center's outdoor sculpture map to the campus -- download it at museum.stanford.edu
Parking: Parking on the Stanford University campus is free after 4 p.m. weekdays and on weekends. Metered parking is available on Lomita Drive for $1.50/hour. There is a parking garage with metered and permit parking on Roth Way.
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