Great Value for East Palo Alto Landlords
The Ohlone tribe of Native Americans inhabited this area at least by 1500 to 1000 BCE. One tumulus was discovered in 1951 during development of the University Village subdivision near today's Costaño School. After a year-long excavation of 60 graves and 3,000 artifacts, researchers concluded Native Americans had utilized the area as a cemetery and camp, rather than as a permanent settlement. In later years another mound was found near Willow Road and the railroad right-of-way.
From the 1850s through the 1940s, the area which was to become East Palo Alto went through many changes. In 1849, Isaiah Woods attempted to make the area around what is now Cooley's Landing in the northeast of the current city a major shipping town and named the area Ravenswood. In 1868, after Woods' investments failed he sold the wharf to Lester Cooley, who built a brick factory. When the brick factory closed down, it reverted to a farming community.
With the outbreak of World War I, the north side of East Palo Alto became a military training ground, of which only the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Menlo Park still exists. In the 1940s, East Palo Alto was a farming community with many Japanese residents. During the war, the Japanese were forced out, many to relocation centers, and did not return after the war. In the 1950s the farms were built over with cheap housing and many African-American families moved in. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s there was a renewed interest in African history, one expression of which was a fad for Swahili. In 1968 the area was almost renamed Nairobi, after the center of the Swahili-speaking area, to reflect the population's African roots. Critics of the change pointed out that Nairobi was the capital of Kenya, in East Africa, and had little to do with the cultural roots of most black Americans. In the end, the change was not made.
Historically East Palo Alto had relatively little shopping and business compared to surrounding areas, and most of it constituted an unincorporated "island" within San Mateo County, depending on county government for services and on the San Mateo County Sheriff for police protection and ineligible for many revenue benefits requiring city status. After several years of pro-incorporation campaigning by local community groups, a 1982 ballot measure that was stopped by a lawsuit, and a subsequent election the next year, East Palo Alto became a city in June 1983, with Barbara A. Mouton as its first Mayor. However, because of subsequent legal challenges to the last ballot measure, it was not until 1987 that the city was officially recognized as such. The legal challenges were led by former U.S. Congress member Pete McCloskey, who represented one of the real-estate brokers whose original blockbusting campaign had turned EPA into a mostly black town. The final tally was 1,777 for and 1,764 against, a margin of 13 votes and a majority of 50.2%.
Significant gentrification occurred in East Palo Alto from around 2000, with the construction of a large shopping center named Ravenswood 101—including a Home Depot, a Best Buy, and an IKEA store—and several upscale housing communities intended for high-earning Silicon Valley workers. This development faced opposition from some residents, who charged that it priced locals out of one of the region's only affordable communities while providing only low-paying retail jobs and consuming disproportionate land area (2.2 square miles). Supporters pointed to an increased tax base.