In 1870, a pair of German immigrants, Peter Spacher and Frederick Weisshaar, purchased the 120 acres of land that make up present-day College Terrace. Seventeen years later, sensing an opportunity as construction began on nearby Stanford University, San Mateo farmer Alexander Gordon purchased the property.
Gordon subdivided the land into town lots and named the streets, in alphabetical order, after well-known colleges and universities. Originally, Gordon named his development “Palo Alto”, which raised the ire of Leland Stanford, who wanted the name for his own development. Eventually, they came to an agreement with Stanford’s “University Park” development becoming Palo Alto and Gordon’s renamed as College Terrace.
The neighboring town of Mayfield annexed College Terrace in 1891. When Mayfield itself was annexed into Palo Alto in 1925, streets that had the same name as those in Palo Alto had to be changed. In College Terrace, Washington Street was changed to Cornell Street (which is why that street is now out of alphabetical order), Palo Alto Avenue became College Avenue, and Lincoln Avenue became California Avenue.
For those interested in exploring our neighborhood’s past, Palo Alto Stanford Heritage has published a self-guided walking tour of historic College Terrace (a docent-led tour is typically offered each October).