Monta Loma on

Our Neighborhood's First Inhabitants 

by Cheryl Smith 
Published in the Monta Loma News, Summer 2004

If you visited the Mayfield/Hewlett-Packard site 3,000 years ago, you would have found a thriving Ohlone Indian village. The inhabitants were known as a peaceful people who subsisted on the then-plentiful wildlife and acorns, which were stored in community granaries lined with herbal leaves and suspended in trees for preservation. They also consumed large quantities of oysters, clams, salmon, and other seafood from the bay, which extended much further inland than it does today. Salt was collected by driving willow sticks into salt-water pools; when the pools dried up, the crystals were knocked off the sticks into baskets.

The Spanish missionaries named these people the Costanoans (coastal people) and absorbed them into the missions. Though the original Ohlone lifestyle disappeared, it has been well researched because the tribe left behind large shell mounds. One, known as the Castro Mound, merged a kitchen refuse heap and burial grounds. Researchers measured it at 400 by 300 feet and 10 feet high at the center, and estimated that the mound also covered parts of Nita, Dell, Betlo, Aldean, and Mardell. Stanford University was given exclusive digging rights, and as early as 1894, its literary journal, Sequoia, published accounts of Saturday-morning digging parties. Archeologists found a circular house floor almost 20 feet in diameter, plus barbed fish spears, arrowheads, pestles, pendants, pipes and whistles, many of which were carbon dated from 1,100 to 800 BC. Whistles made from leg bones of waterfowl produce a variety of sounds, which indicate that the Ohlone had music.

The shells, left from "some mighty historic clam bakes" (as imagined by a Mountain View Register Leader writer in 1946), made the soil high in phosphates, a valuable fertilizer. Despite protests, the mound was scheduled to be leveled. Digging in relays by the light of lamps, researchers recovered as many remaining artifacts as possible. The soil was later marketed as Indian Mound Top Soil. In 1989, Stanford surrendered its collection of 550 human remains to Ohlone descendants for reburial.

Archeological Dig at Mayfield 

by Cheryl Smith 
Published in Monta Loma News, October 2005

Are you curious about the areas of torn-up asphalt in the parking lot at the HP/Mayfield site? One requirement of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is to evaluate archeological impacts. Because this site is considered to be part of an ancient burial and shell mound of the Ohlone Indians (called the Castro Mound), experts must verify whether it contains archeologically significant items or skeletal remains that might be disturbed.

An archeological consulting firm was hired to investigate. Last year, they back-hoed at several locations in the parking lots, and chose one behind the Mayfield apartment complex for extensive research. In June, they dug down to six feet and hand-sifted all the dirt. They found a few items of archeological interest, such as a bit of obsidian and shell pieces, but not enough to warrant further digging.

The original boundaries of the Castro Mound have never been clear, and it may have covered parts of Nita, Dell, Betlo, Aldean, and Mardell. In addition, it has been disturbed many times. It was heavily excavated in the early part of the century by Stanford University archeologists, then the phosphate-rich dirt was sold as garden soil in the 1930s and '40s.

"Under state law, earth-moving and other activities that disturb the soil must be monitored by archeologists," says Senior Project Planner Lynnie Melena, "and if any skeletal remains are found, construction stops for a separate procedure." Although no one really expects to find a skeleton, finding an arrowhead in your backyard might be a possibility, especially if you live near the site.

Monta Loma’s Airport in 1948

compiled by Marilyn Gildea 
Published in Monta Loma News, October 2010

“It is so cool to see what the neighborhood looked like before the houses were built,” remarked Dhananjay Ragade after a recent exchange on our neighborhood email list (mln). 

Harry Gordon had emailed, “At Costco I found a book of aerial photos, Over Time: Palo Alto, 1947–1980, by Ben Hatfield. As a former private pilot, I’ve always been interested in the airport that was located where Monta Loma is now, so I leafed through the book and was rewarded on page 74 with a 1948 aerial photo of “Progressive Airport” at Middlefield and San Antonio. The photo shows two buildings, about seven planes in the tie-down area, an apparently bare-dirt taxiway, and no paved runway, just an open grassy field with a north-south wear pattern. The area surrounding the airport is open country. [This photo is among the Airport photos on the Historical Photos page at]

“I bought the book. Aside from airports and Monta Loma, it is well worth the $17 Costco price for the many photos of Palo Alto during the 1947–1980 growth years.” [Ed. note: The author, Ben Hatfield, is the son of Adrian Hatfield, who founded Hatfield Aerial Survey and “worked with developers such as Joseph Eichler to help build Palo Alto.”] 

Ben Baumgartner added, “I am probably the only person living in the area, or alive today, who has flown out of that airport. During the war (1941–45) the airport was closed, but around 1944, when I was 13, some friends and I rode our bikes out there. We went into the hangers and sat in some of the planes and played with the controls. 

“Sometime after the war, possibly in 1947, my brother had a friend who worked at the airport and had learned to fly. He bought a surplus Stearman biplane trainer and took me up in it. I still remember that flight. I stuck my head out into the 90-mile-per-hour airstream to look at the ground falling away and the cars on Middlefield Road. The runway went almost to Middlefield. Some planes were still low as they flew over the road, and startled the drivers passing under them. The block of Alvin north of Victory was one-half of the runway, with the end at Elka.”