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Palo Alto celebrates 125 years at inaugural ‘Palo Alto Day’ ceremony

Courtesy of Bradford Freeman

The city of Palo Alto kicked off a year-long celebration of its 125th anniversary on Sunday with the inaugural Palo Alto Day, a ceremony honoring the successes and people of the city. The event featured speeches by several members of Palo Alto City Council and a display in City Hall of the contents of a time capsule stored in an unused City Hall elevator shaft during the city’s centennial.

Palo Alto Day is the brainchild of former mayor and Palo Alto Day chairwoman Judy Kleinberg, who conceived the idea for the celebration in 2006 during her term as mayor. The pitch didn’t came to fruition until this year, however, when City Council voted on April 2 to establish Palo Alto Day on April 9 as an annual recognition of the town’s history. Palo Alto Day was later moved back to April 28.

On Sunday, over 100 residents gathered in King Plaza on Sunday afternoon in recognition of the city’s history over the past century and earlier.

After a flag ceremony led by local boy and girl scouts and a performance of the national anthem by Gunn High School student Isabel Stewart, Kleinberg opened the proceedings by welcoming those in attendance and affirming the city’s core values.

“We here in Palo Alto want to recommit to our love of each other, our tolerance and our ability to get along even when we have differences, so that is what Palo Alto Day is all about,” Kleinberg said.

Kleinberg then introduced current Palo Alto Mayor Eric Filseth, who urged Palo Alto natives to take pride in their city for its self-sufficiency. He cited the fact that Palo Alto is one of the few cities in California to manage its own utilities. Filseth recalled that in 1912, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company surreptitiously attempted to install its own power lines, but the next day, residents tore them down and forced the company to pay for them to be taken away.

Filseth continued, saying that Palo Alto’s gestalt nature epitomizes Silicon Valley.

“We have been and still remain a town of contrast, of variation, a residential college town and a post-industrial high-tech nexus,” Filseth said.

Filseth then expressed his confidence in Palo Alto to continue to be the vanguard in modern technology and innovation.

The ceremony continued with speeches from vice mayor Adrian Fine, former mayor and current councilwoman Liz Kniss, city manager Ed Shikada and Castilleja High School senior and President of the Palo Alto Youth Council Alyssa Sales. The speakers expressed their pride and admiration for Palo Alto and their unwavering belief that the city would continue to be a model society.

Kleinberg brought the celebration to a close and encouraged listeners to examine the exhibit of time capsule items recovered from Palo Alto’s centennial, displayed in City Hall.

Among the eclectic keepsakes from 1994 were a Stanford course catalog, a binder outlining the then-nascent Palo Alto Recycling Program, a Stanford magazine covering the 1994 World Cup –– for which the University hosted several games –– and notes from teenagers the year the time capsule was stored away.

Excerpts from the students’ letters included facts that showcase how the city has changed and the teens’ predictions about what life would be like in 2019.

“Gas prices range from about $1.39 to $1.63,” wrote Emilie Mead. “I bet in the future computers will be everywhere.”

The city also solicited recommendations from residents for items to include in the next time capsule, which will be opened during Palo Alto’s bicentennial.

Kleinberg ended the ceremony by expressing her hope that Palo Alto Day becomes a holiday that citizens look forward to and one that enables the city to celebrate its past and find inspiration to surge into the future.

Contact Andrew Tan at tandrew ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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