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History of the Menlo Park City School District & our Community


The history of the District presented below has been collected from numerous sources (listed at the end).  Please feel free to forward any information, photographs or links to

The first school built by Menlo Park City Elementary School District was Central Elementary School, on El Camino Real (on the site of the now closed Cadillac dealership). In 1916 the San Mateo County Library opened a branch library in the Central School on El Camino Real in Menlo Park. It contained 50 books and was presided over by Hanna Burke, a teacher at the school.

Central School

The PTA was formed  on March 18, 1924. A janitor at Central School was stripping paint by using turpentine and lighting it on fire (not a procedure used anymore!), and caused significant damage to the campus. After the fire, the campus was condemned for children and was used as the District Office. Rather than rebuild, the District Office was moved to the Encinal campus and the Central School campus was sold.

Originally, all the schools in the district were K-8. Laurel School was located on a different property on Laurel Street. Also, the District had a 5th school in operation -- Fremont Elementary School. 

At one time, District enrollment had risen to 2,400 (with class sizes of 35), but by the early 80s enrollment again dropped to a low of 1100 and Fremont School was closed down and leased to the city. At that time the schools were reconfigured as Laurel K-3 which fed into Encinal 4-8, and Oak Knoll K-4 which fed into Hillview 5-8. Enrollment had dipped so low that there was discussion underway about closing Laurel School.

The low enrollment situation and the impending closure of Laurel School contributed to the District's entertaining the idea of annexing the Willows area of Menlo Park, which was at that time part of the Ravenswood School District. In 1982, voters approved annexation of the Willows, and the first class of children from the Willows entered Menlo Park schools in 1984. Because there were more children east of El Camino than there was classroom space available, Willows children were bused over to Oak Knoll and Hillview.

Creation of Hillview Middle School

At the same time, the national report on middle schools, “Caught In The Middle”, advocated a specialized curriculum for 6-8 graders and sparked interest in a 6-8 middle school configuration. The first discussion of creating a single middle school in the District occurred in 1985, but opposition to change led the Superintendent away from the middle school recommendation, and she tried to implement the program recommendations of “Caught In The Middle” into the existing configuration.

Initially, the newly annexed families that were bused across town were delighted to be in the Menlo Park schools. But as new families moved into the Willows, pressure mounted for Willows children to attend a school closer to home. This pressure to redistribute enrollment helped spark renewed interest in the idea of turning Hillview into a central 6-8 middle school, and in February of 1988 the Board endorsed that direction. At that meeting the Board voted to delay implementation of the plan until September, 1989 to give parents/staff time to make the transition smoother. Some parents who were against the change used the time to continue to oppose it, using that November’s election as a campaign focus. Two new board members were elected in the November 1988, in large measure by people who thought they would defeat the middle school idea. But after the election, one of the newly elected members joined the rest of the board in endorsing the Hillview proposal, and 1989 became the first year Hillview served 6th-8th graders. 1990 was the first year that 5th graders from Oak Knoll and from Encinal came together to begin the new school.

Closing Fremont School

Rising enrollment led the Board to reconsider configuration options in the '91-'92 school year including the possibility of reopening the Fremont School. There was even discussion of splitting up Hillview again, but by this time there was substantial support for Hillview as a central middle school, and the earlier concerns about children from the east side having to cross El Camino had dissipated. The Board decided to maintain the existing configuration and began planning for a bond measure. Fremont School was deemed too small to operate cost effectively, and the Board felt it would be too expensive to bring it to compliance with modern ADA and educational standards.

The Board made the choice between allowing the City of Menlo Park to continue leasing Fremont, knowing that at the end of the contract, the City would take ownership of the school or eliminating plans for a new Multi-Purpose room from Hillview. The superintendent felt that if enrollment continued to rise that Encinal school had ample room to expand. So the Board voted to let go of the Fremont School in favor of expanding the facilities at the other four campuses.


The schools campuses were originally constructed between 1948 and 1959. Several additional classroom and facility conversions were made in the '60s and '70s.

Encinal School sits on 10 acres in Atherton on the corner of Middlefield Road and Encinal Avenue. The property was purchased in 1947 and began planning an eight room school on the 4 acres that were initially purchased. This construction and site purchasing was planned around a "pay-as-you-go" financing program. However, during the late fall 1947 and the early Spring of 1948, it became apparent that the district was going to continue to grow and that a "pay as you go" financing program would not suffice to meet future needs, and so a Bond Building Program was begun.

Since 1948, four Bond issues and two special tax issues were placed on the ballot. In addition the district borrowed over three quarters of a million dollars from the State of California to assist in meeting the needs.









3 classrooms and sundry service rooms









8 classrooms and 1 Kindergarten classroom








6 classrooms and a Kindergarten







4 classrooms







2 classrooms, a Kindergarten, two crafts rooms, a multi, kitchen and Admin Bldg.





Oak Knoll 


9 room school with Kindergarten





7 classrooms, an extension of the Admin Bldg and a music room





Oak Knoll 


3 classrooms







4 classrooms and a Kindergarten







12 classrooms, two Kindergartens, 1 music room and 1 crafts room

At Encinal the core campus was originally constructed in 1948, with a second phase added in 1952. An additional classroom was added in 1960 and portions of the campus were converted in 1970.

Laurel School sits on approximately 6.5 acres. The classroom pods were originally built in 1959 with 3 classrooms and a central core area. Over the years, additional classrooms were added.

The Oak Knoll campus rests on approximately 8.13 acres. The first classrooms were built in 1952. Additional classrooms and other facilities were constructed in 1953, 1955, 1956 and 1959.

Hillview Middle School is housed on 9.36 acres. The original school was built in 1949, with additions to the core campus constructed in 1950, 1951, 1953 and 1959.

O’Connor School in the Willows is a surplus site and is currently leased to the German American School through 2010. The school is set on about 6 acres and was brought into the District in 1984 when the Willows were annexed from the Ravenswood District. The campus was built in the 50's and has never been modernized.


Menlo Park was originally incorporated on March 23, 1874 as the second city in San Mateo County. It was disincorporated two years later.

When Menlo Park was still largely rural, it incorporated as a city in 1874 to contend with local drainage problems and road repairs. Boundaries extended beyond the present city limits to include Fair Oaks (now part of the town of Atherton) and Ravenswood (now East Palo Alto). Its population growth was slow at first and incorporation was allowed to lapse two years later.

Churches were founded, schools were opened and businesses were established. The first church in San Mateo County was built by Dennis Martin on his ranch in 1856. It was the only Catholic church between Mission Dolores in San Francisco and Mission Santa Clara until St. Matthew's Church was built in 1863 and St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in 1865, both in San Mateo. The Church of the Nativity in Menlo Park was built in 1872.

A San Francisco literary publication, later known as “Sunset Magazine,” was founded in 1898 as a promotional tool for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Contributors to this first regional lifestyle magazine in the nation included Mark Twain and Jack London.

In the early part of the 1900s, Menlo Park saloons attracted many Stanford students who congregated there during downtimes. Palo Alto remained a dry city in accordance with Governor Stanford's instruction.

But despite the number of saloons, Menlo Park before World War I was a quiet town where life revolved around agriculture and the railroad.

The town was a center for strawberries, grown in fields that stretched out from Santa Cruz Avenue to the creek. Menlo Park farmers also grew violets to sell in San Francisco. Many of the fields were located on the Hopkins estate, the same land on which Menlo Park's Civic Center now stands.

During the first World War, when, almost overnight, Menlo Park was populated by 43,000 soldiers in training at Camp Fremont, on land which extended from Valparaiso Avenue to San Francisquito Creek, and El Camino Real to the Alameda de las Pulgas, with the Base Hospital and other facilities on Willow Road where the Veterans Administration Medical Center now stands. After the war enough service center activity remained to prompt an effort to reincorporate Menlo Park in 1923 with the same boundaries as the earlier town.

During a meeting of the representatives of the two communities, it became clear to the Fair Oaks property owners that in order to maintain their community as a strictly residential area; they would have to incorporate separately. The author Gertrude H. Atherton, daughter-in-law to Faxon D. Atherton wrote in "The Californians", "Menlo Park (Atherton) has been cut up into country places for what might be termed the 'old families of San Francisco', the eight or ten families who owned the haughty precinct were as exclusive, as conservative, as any group of ancient country families in Europe".

Incorporation planning involving Menlo Park and Atherton, culminated in a dramatic race to the County Courthouse to file differing plans. Atherton representatives arrived only minutes before those from Menlo Park who had wished to include Atherton in their plans.  It was at that time they realized that they could not keep the name Fair Oaks that was already the name of a Town by Sacramento. It was decided to honor Faxon Dean Atherton who had been one of the first property owners in the south peninsula and name the Town for him. Atherton was incorporated on September 12, 1923.  Final incorporation of Menlo Park took place in November 1927.

The original Menlo Park School District covered the area of the first incorporation.  After this dramatic re-incorporation in 1927, the District retained its area of service, explaining why part of Atherton is now in the "Menlo Park City" school district.


Muwekma Ohlone FacesMenlo Park was originally the home of the Muwekma Ohlone Indians. At that time they spoke a variety of languages, the Ohlone languages, belonging to the Coastanoan sub-family of the Utian language family. The Spaniards called these native dwellers "Coastanoans", or Coast-dwellers. The Ohlone lived off the land peacefully, gathering nuts, berries and fish from both the ocean and the bay. Because of the abundance of food they never developed a need for agriculture. Evidence of their civilization is still being unearthed on the Filoli estate in Woodside, and along San Francisquito Creek.  Click here to learn more of the Ohlone from their tribal website.

Spanish settlement came to this area in 1769 when the exploration party led by Don Gaspar de Portola camped near “El Palo Alto" (a tall redwood tree at the north end of the city near the San Francisquito Creek) after their discovery of San Francisco Bay. The colonization of the “Peninsula” began after the expedition of Juan Bautista De Anza passed through what is now Menlo Park on his way to establishing Mission Dolores and the Presidio of San Francisco in 1776.

The mission padres, explorers, military personnel, travelers and settlers were granted huge portions of land by the Spanish (and after 1822) the Mexican governments. The largest land grant on the Peninsula was the 35,260 acres Rancho de las Pulgas, awarded to presidio comandante Don Jose Dario Arguello in 1795 by Governor Diego de Borica. It extended from San Mateo Creek to San Francisquito Creek, and from San Francisco Bay to Cañada Road in Woodside. The Arguello family obtained legal title to their lands in 1853 and later subdivided them.


Menlo Gates In 1854 Menlo Park received its official name when two Irishmen, Dennis J. Oliver and D. C. McGlynn, whose wives were sisters, purchased 1,700 acres (some sources say it was 640 acres) bordering County Road, now El Camino Real, and built two houses with a common entrance. Across the drive, they erected a huge wooden gate with tall arches on which the name of their estate was printed in foot-high letters: “MENLO PARK”, with the date, August 1854. The men named their new homes after their old, in Menlough on Lough Corrib, County Galway, Ireland. No one knows whether they abbreviated the name to "Menlo" because the space on the arch precluded the longer version, because it was their way of Americanizing the name or because they just couldn't spell. When the railroad came through in 1863, the station had no name, it was just the end of the line, but it needed a designation. A railroad official looked over at the gates and decided that “MENLO PARK” would be appropriate, and so the name was officially adopted. This station is now California State Landmark No. 955, the oldest California station in continuous operation.  (from city website)

The gates stood on the west side of El Camino Real, about 500 feet from Santa Cruz Avenue until they were destroyed by a motorist in 1922.

For people to the north and south of San Francisquito Creek, May 1861 was a landmark--groundbreaking for the railroad. On Oct. 18, 1863, the first train traveled from San Francisco to Mayfield along the San Francisco and San Jose Railway. The line was bought by the Southern Pacific in 1868.

The railroad provided wealthy San Francisco barons faster transportation to their country homes--a round-trip ticket from Menlo Park to San Francisco cost $2.50 and a one-way ride took 80 minutes, compared to the stagecoach, which took four hours from Redwood City to San Francisco.


Dibble General Hospital:

Timothy Hopkins:

Milton Latham:


Faxon Atherton:

James Flood:


From 1924-1950, one PTA served the district of Menlo Park. We recently found a treasure trove of documents from the 20's, 30's and 40's from the inception of the Menlo Park PTA to its disbandment when it separated into site specific organizations. Click on the links below to explore articles and fun facts about MPCSD's early years.


Our community was originally made up of some very large family estates. San Mateo County became independent of San Francisco in 1856. A county road had been laid for horse and carriages, wagons and stagecoaches to Belmont and soon was extended to San Jose. This opened the Peninsula to the residents of San Francisco who wished to establish summer residences in the country. Among the first to buy large tracts of land and build their mansions were the Athertons, Hopkinses, Floods, Millses, Donohoes and Feltons. The great estates were largely self-sufficient and most of the workers lived on the premises. The Hopkins estate had its own boarding house for single men, complete with its own barber shop. It manufactured gas for its own heating and lighting use and sold some to neighbors. The service part of old Menlo consisted mostly of two general merchandise stores, two or three blacksmith shops, a couple of livery stables, six or eight saloons, about three working-man type hotels. Click on the links below to learn more!

  • Thurlow (Latham/ Hopkins' Estate) & eventually Dibble General Hospital (now SRI)
  • Linden Towers (James C. Flood's Estate)
  • Valparaiso Park (Faxon Atherton's estate)
  • Holm Grove (Donohoe estate which became MA High School)
  • Woodside (I.C. Wood's estate)