Greenmeadow Goes Americana for the Fourth

An Eichler home becomes part of a fashion statement in this photo from an earlier Greenmeadow July 4 celebration. July 4 photos from Karen Pauls, Greenmeadow Community Association

Few Eichler neighborhoods are as tight knit as Greenmeadow in Palo Alto – and the nation’s birthday has got a lot to do with it. Neighbors have been celebrating July 4 in Greenmeadow for decades now – and they are inviting the wider world to join them.

“It’s a classic, fun event,” says Karen Pauls, who’s lived in the neighborhood, one of two Eichler neighborhoods to be listed on the National Register, for seven years now. She’s been helping put the event on for seven years. July 4 has been celebrated at Greenmeadow at least since 1958 -- and maybe since the neighborhood was built.

Putting on the event “just gets easier and easier,” she says. “People joke this event could run itself, which isn’t true. But it’s almost true.”

The Fourth celebrations start in the morning, she recounts, with footraces, followed by a neighborhood parade at 11 a.m. featuring seven to 10 non-motorized floats, all built around the annual theme which, this year, is “water wise.”

Kids with a spaceship -- or missile -- took part in an earlier Greenmeadow parade.

Folks in Greenmeadow, some of them at any rate, are so water wise they are starting to call the place “Brownmeadow,” Karen jokes.

“Some people spend weeks making their float,” says Chris Eberspacher, Karen's husband. “Some people put them together that morning.”

“No, no one does them in one morning,” Karen says.

Always, they say, Palo Alto’s mayor attends and, Chris says, “The mayor always agrees to wear the goofy hat,” the Dr. Seuss-like thing done up in red, white and blue.

It’s hard to say if there are more people marching in the parade or watching it, Chris says. “That’s why we want more people” to attend, Karen adds.

“The more the better,” she says. “We’d love to have more people come.”

“They might get solicited to join (the community association,” Chris says of visitors. The community association, which provides access to pool and community center, is open to people from outside of the neighborhood as well as to neighborhood residents.

July 4 is a good occasion for neighborhood outsiders, or those who don’t belong to the Greenmeadow Community Association, which runs the pool and community center, to enjoy the facilities. Though the pool on July 4 gets remarkably crowded, Karen and Chris say.

Back in 1963 a rocket ship landed on the occasion of the nation's birthday.

With much attention being paid these days to Eichler homes being torn down in Palo Alto and some nearby communities, visiting Greenmeadow is also an opportunity to see a neighborhood that remains largely intact, in part because of CC&Rs and an architectural review committee, and because the neighborhood has a single-story overlay zone that prevents second-story additions.

“Because of that it’s a beautiful neighborhood,” Karen says. Greenmeadow celebrated its 60th anniversarylast year.

One of the highlights of the parade is the marching band, which has been led for decades by Dan Swinehart. The band features players of all skill levels, Chris Eberspacher says, drawing out neighbors and a core group of musicians every year.

“There’s one man who brings his tuba out. You never see him with his tuba other than on July 4,” Karen says.

Greenmeadow homes are well preserved and more and more often their lawns are brown. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Past themes for the event have include “science fiction,” “Winter Wonderland,” oddly enough for Palo Alto in the summer, and “state fair,” complete with homemade jam and pickle competitions – but no cows. There were a few hay bales, though.

Greenmeadow is a great place for such neighborhood shenanigans because there are no through streets. For the 4th, barriers are set up at neighborhood entrances to keep cars at bay. (Parking, though, is easy on nearby streets and at the nearby Cubberley Community Center.

The parade, which finishes at the community center is followed by, what else, lunch. Folks bring their own or buy prepared meals from the swim team, which uses the occasion as a fundraiser. This year, rather than cooking it themselves, the team is bringing in a caterer.

After lunch, for those who haven’t over-indulged, come games -- three-legged races, wheelbarrow races, the balloon toss.

“Really 1950s, 1960s stuff,” Karen says. “You feel like you’ve been transported (back in time). You get 200 people doing balloon tosses!”

Hippies invaded the neighborhood during one July 4 celebration.

There’s a great deal of continuity in the neighborhood, which is another reason people really know each other – sometimes for decades. Looking at old photos from past July 4th celebrations recently, Karen noticed one from 1972 showing a dad holding his small daughter in his arms.

Chris laughed. “She’s now on the (community association) board,” he said of the daughter.

The after-parties on July 4 certainly add to the community feeling. The neighborhood has 22 blocks and after the main event most blocks throw a block party potluck, Karen says. “It’s a really wonderful way for the neighborhoods within the neighborhood to stay in touch, to be close,” she says.

Then, if neighbors really are energetic, it’s a short bike ride to Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View to catch fireworks.

Even dogs get into the act. Photo by Karen Pauls.

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