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The 1960s was a time of turmoil in the streets and Council chambers.

By the early 1960s, the bubble of prosperity had begun to burst, giving way to new problems: traffic congestion, smog, parking shortages, industrial pollution and vanishing open space. By the end of the decade those problems would be overshadowed by even more pressing ones: drug abuse, racial tensions, an unpopular war, student demonstrations and a distressing rise in violence.

For Palo Alto, the decade began and ended in conflict. The earliest clash for Palo Alto arose over what the city was, and what it should become.


Acrimony in Politics

Early 1960s view of the Stanford Industrial Park looking westward with El Camino Real at the bottom. Kodak Eastman, Varian and Hewlett-Packard facilities are visible; the Palo Alto Square is an open field. Barron Park and the open foothills are visible. Photo: Palo Alto Historical Association
Early 1960s view of the Stanford Industrial Park looking westward with El Camino Real at the bottom. Kodak Eastman, Varian and Hewlett-Packard facilities are visible; the Palo Alto Square is an open field. Barron Park and the open foothills are visible. Photo: Palo Alto Historical Association

The political scene exploded over the issue of growth, giving way to divisive, turbulent, polarized City Councils. The era was marked by slate elections, personal acrimony on the part of many of the players and, in 1962, one of the closest elections in the city's history.

From the perspective of many residents who had moved to Palo Alto for its residential charm, the 15-member pro-growth City Council seemed determined to transform the city into a Manhattan West, with huge monolithic buildings and sprawling industrial complexes.

Former Mayor Kirke Comstock remembers that Council members "had so many plans to make this place great. They wanted to turn the baylands into a huge industrial park and build housing all the way to Skyline."

"Palo Alto was becoming the everything of the West--the financial center of the West, the technological center of the West, the medical center of the West," added Enid Pearson, a member of the City Council minority at the time. "You name it, they (the Council members) wanted to do it."

As opposition to the Council's pro-growth stance grew, the two factions broke down into sides: the "residentialists," who wanted to put the brakes on growth, and the "establishment," which had lofty ambitions for Palo Alto.

The first major election of the decade, in 1962, sought voter approval for construction of Oregon Expressway, turning two-lane Oregon Avenue into the four-lane thoroughfare that exists now. The election came at a time when the City Council still was dominated by pro-growth forces, known by their rivals as the "establishment." On the other side were the "residentialists," who favored no growth or slow growth and showed that they could put up a good fight.

Because traffic congestion made it difficult for workers to get to work, companies in Stanford Industrial Park supported the expressway, and were willing to go to some lengths to get it.

One of the men who helped engineer the pro-Oregon vote, Hewlett-Packard division manager Jack Beckett, recalled a publicity stunt designed to call attention to the traffic problem, using a Channel 5 news crew that Beckett invited down to check it out.

And just to make sure that congestion would be bad that day, industrial park workers lined Oregon Avenue with their cars, ensuring a big jam-up, good TV footage and support at the ballot box.

More than 18,000 voters went to the polls a few days later. The expressway won, but only by 350 votes.

Although the residentialists lost that round, they began winning seats on the City Council, which was whittled down slowly from 15 members to nine in the '60s.

The 1965 election proved that residentialist sentiment was growing. A young Stanford law professor, Byron Sher, was one of the residentialists who came to the fore as a result of the Oregon Expressway debate. In 1965 election, Sher was elected to the Council, joining newly elected residentialists Enid Pearson and Ed Worthington and incumbents Kirke Comstock, Philip Flint and Bob Debs.

The result was a City Council whose votes consistently split 7-6, establishment versus residentialists. Acrimony ran so high that routine actions, such as approval of the Council's minutes, often bogged down on 7-6 votes. At times, Council members became so disgusted they would walk out of meetings.

Residents soon tired of the bickering. A 1967 research report prepared by the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce showed that 36 percent of residents polled felt "conflict on the City Council" was the most important issue facing Palo Alto.

Palo Alto Times editor Alexander Bodi became so fed up with the situation that he wrote an editorial saying the whole Council should be recalled, Jay Thorwaldson said. That led to the 1967 recall election that stands out as the most bitterly fought in Palo Alto's history.

The recall saved the day for the establishment, delaying residentialist control of the Council until the early 1970s, thanks to some clever campaign tactics. "The establishment ran as residentialists and made the residentialists look like obstructionists," explained former Mayor Ed Arnold.

Residentialists Flint, Sher and Worthington were ousted as a result of the recall. It was the only election that Sher, now a California assemblyman, has ever lost.

"I still consider the recall the blackest page in Palo Alto's history," said residentialist Enid Pearson, who withstood the recall and was re-elected to the Council. "It was a shock and it ruined a lot of people's lives. There were 13 people recalled and 26 were running. It was complete confusion."

In retrospect, suggests Arnold, "there's enough blame to go around. Both sides contributed to it. Both sides were unwilling to enter a zone of reasonableness. There was quibbling about procedures and minutiae--you couldn't believe it."

The Willow Road Conflict

In Menlo Park, the extension of Willow Road had been an issue since the 1940s, at one point including grandiose plans to run a freeway from the Dumbarton Bridge all the way to the coast, possibly slicing a path through the headquarters of Sunset Publishing Co. in the process. Ultimately, the debate over extending Willow Road fractured the community.

Led by a committee called WilIow Road Never!, opposition to the mega-highway grew throughout the '60s, culminating in its defeat by voters in 1971.

The furor over growth on the Midpeninsula also led to the formation in 1962 in Ruth Spangenberg's Palo Alto living room of the Committee for Green Foothills, one of the most effective environmental lobbying groups in the Bay Area.


In the 1950s, Palo Alto and Menlo Park built 13 schools to accommodate the huge numbers of baby boomers. But by the middle of the '60s, school construction and enrollment were on the wane.

Voter attitudes also began to change. In 1967, three years after the new Gunn High School opened its doors, Palo Alto voters said no to a $10.7 million proposal to raze and rebuild Palo Alto High School to make it larger and safer. It was the first school bond election loss in Palo Alto in 28 years.

College was the next collective stop for the baby boomers. To accommodate them, Foothill College relocated from Mountain View to a new expanded campus in Los Altos Hills in 1961, and Canada College opened its doors to 2,000 students in 1968.

The race riots of the 1960s, which exploded in communities from Watts to Detroit, helped push the question of civil rights to the top of the national agenda. As a result, race became an issue in the public schools.

In 1967, Dr. Bernadene Allen, a counselor at Stanford University, warned educators and parents that Menlo-Atherton High School was a "time bomb" waiting to go off. A year later her words echoed that prophecy as racial incidents and demonstrations erupted at the school.

The Multicultural Curriculum

In Palo Alto, schools responded to civil rights issues by introducing a multicultural curriculum that would teach minority viewpoints. The move divided the community.

"The subject matter itself sparked controversy," said John Bracken, a Palo Alto elementary school principal at the time. "Many people didn't like the idea simply because it was new. But I felt it was necessary. It was a question of awareness that we are a world of different races and that we have to become sophisticated about our world."

Feelings ran high on both sides, and the editorial pages of the Palo Alto Times carried almost daily letters of citizens voicing their opinions on the value of multicultural education.

Many who were not threatened by the subject matter were offended by the district's newly hired director of multiculturalism, Sid Walton. Many viewed Walton, who voiced support for the Black Panther Party, as far too radical. "He once claimed his house was full of books and bullets," said one former teacher. In 1969, a frustrated and angry Walton resigned.

The year before, the district had upped the multicultural ante with a proposal to send Palo Alto elementary students to schools in East Palo Alto's Ravenswood School District and accept some Ravenswood students into Palo Alto schools. "We recognize that our kids are deprived of racial understanding if they have always lived in Palo Alto," said Dr. Harold T. Santee, superintendent of the district at the time.

But in the minds of many, "exchange" was just a fancy term for busing--and red flags went up. "We moved from the Ravenswood School District so we could avoid having our children attend the schools there," Menlo Park resident Glenna Violette wrote in a letter to the Palo Alto Times at the time.

By 1970 many of the multicultural programs were cancelled, not because of controversy, but due to a funding crisis.

Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll

In the meantime, students throughout the country were beginning to "do their thing" - and it wasn't just watching TV. To the dismay of their parents and elders, this generation's "thing" also included sex, drugs, rock and roll and thumbing their noses at the "establishment," which could mean anyone from an IBM executive to the local grocer.

And there to inspire them with songs of drugs and love was Palo Altan Jerry Garcia, whose band the Grateful Dead made the rounds of St. Michael's Alley, Stanford'sTresidder Union, the Tangent coffeehouse on University Avenue and other locations where revelers congregated.

During this same time period, folk singer Joan Baez, a former Paly student, and her husband, political activist David Harris, bought property above Foothills Park in Palo Alto and named the community Struggle Mountain.

"We were totally swept up in the anti-war movement," said Rain Burns, who lived on Struggle Mountain in the late '60s. "It was an incredibly exciting time. I remember feeling like we were going to change the world. I have to laugh today. We didn't understand the system."

In Palo Alto, children as young as elementary school were suspected of smoking the "killer weed," also called Mary Jane, pot, grass or just plain marijuana.

"Drinking has disappeared. But I can't help thinking they have found a substitute," warned Dr. Robert McLean, principal of Gunn High School, at a panel given for educators and parents in 1968.

By 1966, the situation was considered severe enough to warrant a youth training program at Jordan, Wilbur and Terman junior high schools, according to Bruce Cumming, a veteran of the Palo Alto Police Department who would become chief of police in Menlo Park.

Crime Soars

Crime emerged as a major theme of the '60s. Although the population in Palo Alto had stabilized, crime soared. From 1960 to 1970, serious crime rose 176 percent, according to Cumming. Stanford and Palo Alto also were frequent sites of large demonstrations, starting in 1965. The following year, the city saw two major demonstrations: an NAACP-sponsored freedom march in the summer and an anti-war demonstration in the fall.

As the decade progressed, demonstrations grew in frequency and ferocity. On Nov. 5, 1968, the night of the presidential election, more than 1,000 demonstrators turned out for an anti-Nixon "electoral wake." The event turned into a free-for-all, with rock-throwing, window-smashing and fires.

In 1968, events soured further with a series of bombings at Mid-Peninsula Free University at 424 Lytton Ave., Kepler's Bookstore in Menlo Park, the Tangent coffeehouse on University Avenue and the home of Council member Kirke Comstock, an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War and a strong supporter of gun control.

The bomb that blew the door off Comstock's house was a homemade pipe bomb spiked with nails. "We were out of town that weekend, at the beach in Monterey," Comstock recalled. "We were very fortunate, because you can imagine what would have happened if anyone had answered the door. They would have been killed."

The most violent protest took place on May 16, 1969, when demonstrators brought traffic to a standstill at a Stanford Research Institute office on Page Mill Road, where scientists were conducting classified research. By the time the demonstration ended, more than $20,000 in damage had been done to buildings, one officer had been injured with a bat impregnated with nails, and 93 people had been arrested.

Among Palo Altans, opposition to the war became so strong that residents drafted a resolution to declare the entire city opposed to the war, said Enid Pearson a council member, but the Council never approved the resolution.

"I think we on the Council were as confused as everyone else," she said. "Of course, I thought we should have passed it. As a result, people accused me of being hand in glove with Venceremos (a radical left-wing organization), which of course I wasn't."

Ron Jones' Experiment

When Ron Jones started teaching at Cubberley High School in the fall of 1968, it was considered the most innovative of Palo Alto's high schools. That's why the 26-year-old graduate student in the Stanford Teacher Education Program wanted to teach there. His methods were experimental and his goal was to bring social studies to life. And because it was the '60s, Jones was caught up in a whirlwind of student activism the likes of which Palo Alto had never seen before.

But what gained Jones an international reputation was an experiment in which students, the school's principal and other members of the community flirted with aspects of Nazism for a week.

Jones formulated the idea during a discussion on Nazi Germany when a student insisted "it couldn't happen here."

To find out, Jones turned his class into an efficient youth organization, which he called the Third Wave. Some students were informers, and some were told they couldn't go certain places on campus. He insisted on rigid posture and that questions be answered formally and quickly.

The experiment, initially scheduled for one day, stretched into five. "It was strange how quickly the students took to a uniform code of behavior. I began to wonder just how far they cold be pushed," Jones wrote in "No Substitute for Madness," a book that chronicled the experiment.

To his surprise, Jones found that students recited facts more accurately in this authoritarian environment and that he had no discipline problems. One previously lost soul suddenly had a role in the school--he became Jones' bodyguard.

But soon the experiment began spinning out of control.

At a Friday assembly, five days into the experiment, Jones announced, "We can bring (the nation) a new sense of order, community, pride, and action. Everything rests on you and your willingness to take a stand," he told students.

As one, the students shouted, "Strength through discipline!"

After a long silence, Jones began to speak. "There is no such thing as a national youth movement called the Third Wave. You have been used. Manipulated. Shoved by your own desires into the place you now find yourselves."

He showed a movie of Hitler at the Nuremberg rally. The students and teachers saw that they had only too readily adopted many of the behaviors they were witnessing on the screen. They realized the possibility that it could happen here.

"I wouldn't do it again," Jones said in 1991. "I put students at risk." Jones' "bodyguard" broke down in tears after the rally, as did many other students. And while the students were learning more facts, "they gave up their freedom" during the experiment, he said.

The Third Wave didn't become public knowledge for years. Jones eventually wrote about it, long after he had left teaching, in "No Substitute for Madness," one of his 30 books. A movie and a play were made about the experiment.

Len Doster coached Cubberley football Cougars

Many high school students especially male students were facing decisions about being drafted. The social unrest confused some. Pledging allegiance still took place in home rooms once a day, and many students were unaware of the Jone's experiments. There was a fire reported at a Draft Board Office where many young Palo Altons were registered. The Kingston Trio were a popular group that preformed at the "Swinging Door," in Menlo Park. A folk singer from Pally named Joan Baez, was gaining fame. She and Bob Dylan could be seen at Kepler's Bookstore on occaision. Late in the 1950's and early 1960's Len Doster led the Cubberly Cougars, quarterbacks Don Castle, Pete Shambora, quarterbacks Gilbert Moore, and Tim ? to an impressive South Peninsula Athletic League record.

Vietnam and Stanford

Student activism in the Vietnam era at Stanford University, as in other places, began as an outgrowth of civil rights activism. In the summer of 1964, known as "Freedom Summer," thousands of college students from all over the country volunteered to travel to Mississippi to register black voters. Stanford had the largest contingent of any university there, according to Bob Beyers, who was head of the Stanford news service at the time.

Among the Stanford contingent was David Harris, who was later talked into running for Stanford student body president in the spring of 1966, who won by the largest margin and drew the biggest voter turnout ever at Stanford.

The Vietnam War would change both Harris and Stanford - sending the young man to jail as a nationally prominent draft resister and converting the formerly quiet academic institution into a focal point for demonstrations, building occupations, arson fires and street fights with the police.

Before 1966, the vast majority of students had been silent on the issue of the war. But that year brought a dramatic escalation in the fighting, an increase in casualties, and perhaps most importantly, an end to automatic student deferrals from the draft.

Stanford made national news on Feb. 20, 1967, when some students shouted at Vice President Hubert Humphrey after he made a speech at the university. According to Beyers, the incident was distorted by a wire story and then picked up by other media.

In the eyes of the nation, however, Stanford was suddenly a hotbed of anti-war radicalism. It was a reputation the university wouldn't truly deserve until a few years later.

In November 1967, a protest was staged against CIA recruiting on campus. Later that month there was an all-night peace vigil at Memorial Church, and more than 2,000 students attended.

As at other universities, the debate within the movement often focused on tactics. Often student groups publicly disagreed. When seven students were suspended for their role in the anti-CIA demonstration, 200 to 300 students occupied the Old Union to protest the suspension. But at the same time more than 1,500 students gathered outside the Old Union and--on a close vote--rejected the sit-in tactics of their fellow students.

That protest led to what former Stanford President Richard Lyman remembered as the largest and most acrimonious meeting ever of the Stanford faculty. Lyman, then provost, listened as a badly divided faculty narrowly voted in favor of amnesty for the seven students, overturning President Wallace Sterling's recommendation for suspension.

Lyman went home that night and wrote a letter of resignation. "The faculty was ungovernable," he recalls thinking at the time. The next morning he tore up the letter because he didn't want to leave Sterling "the ensuing chaos" of his resignation.

As the anti-war protests continued, the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps building burned down in a suspected arson fire. In another incident, Sterling's own office was torched.

By 1969, the protesters began focusing on war research being carried out at Stanford. That spring, the focus narrowed to classified research, which began what observers recall as a tumultuous six weeks.

A large meeting on April 3 served as the birthplace of what was called the April 3 Movement or A3M. It galvanized the students into action against war research. On April 9, several hundred students began a nine-day occupation of Stanford's Applied Electronics Laboratory.

During the occupation, the Faculty Senate voted to consider guidelines that would prohibit classified research. But the occupation of the lab didn't end until the students agreed to attend an all-campus meeting called by student body president Denis Hayes.

Hayes, now best known as founder of Earth Day 1970 and 1990, recalled that the all-campus meeting drew 8,000 people to Frost Amphitheater, where students and faculty almost universally agreed that classified research should end, said Hayes. A few days later, that's how the Faculty Senate voted.

Two weeks later, Stanford trustees voted to sever the university's ties with the Stanford Research Institute. This move actually turned out to be a defeat for the students, who preferred that the university bring SRI under tighter faculty control.

By 1969, campus sentiment against the Vietnam War was nearly unanimous, Hayes recalled. "People were desperately trying to figure out what to do about it," he said. Building occupations, rallies and confrontations with the police continued.

But on May 1, 1969 occupation of Encina Hall did have the potential to turn bloody. When faculty members saw students removing administration files from the building, Lyman felt he had to call in the police. "When I called the police, I thought I could lose my job," he recalled.

Violence was averted when the students voted to leave, just before police began streaming into the building.

H. Bruce Franklin

Like other universities across the nation, Stanford had its own newsmaking rabble-rouser, H. Bruce Franklin.

A self-proclaimed Maoist, the feisty, free-thinking English professor, science fiction expert and Menlo Park resident led demonstrations, taught classes in Marxism and became a leader in the Bay Area Revolutionary Union, a Marxist-Leninist organization that espoused the violent overthrow of the government.

On Feb. 12, 1971, Stanford University dismissed Franklin for inciting "occupation of the university computer center, urging defiance of a police order to disperse, and calling a nighttime rally for violent action."

After seven years of violence that included race riots, anti-war demonstrations and three painful assassinations, America was a society sickened, but not yet chastened, by violence. More years of turmoil were still to come.



  • Palo Alto: The First 100 Years, The Palo Alto Weekly, 1994.
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