Then & Now

Recently digitized city photographs illuminate a Menlo Park of yesteryear

Menlo Park 1968: El Camino Real, east side, showing East West Books and the Phillips 66 gas station next to it. You can see Foster's Freeze in the background.

"IIt started, honestly, as office clean up," said Thomas Rogers, principal planner at the city of Menlo Park. When Menlo Park's City Hall was being renovated in 2017, Public Works Director Justin Murphy delivered a number of boxes that had been sitting in his office to Rogers.

In the boxes were hundreds of old photographs of Menlo Park over the years, many dating as far back as the 1960s.

In the months that followed, the Planning Department proceeded to digitize those photos, which have been publicly accessible since about last August, according to Rogers. They are considered part of the public domain and are available online via Flickr, he said.

Many of the photos are from September 1968 when, for some reason lost to time, the department took a photographic survey of the city's downtown.

Other photographs were slides that were "kind of random," Rogers said. When planning officials were able to figure out the time period that a photograph was taken, they listed it beneath the image, Rogers added.

A few of the interesting things he learned from the project about the city's history are that Kepler's used to be located on the other side of El Camino Real, near where the Starbucks is in the 800 block; that Menlo Avenue and Ravenswood Avenue didn't intersect at some point in the past; that Santa Cruz Avenue had no median running through it at one time; and that in 1968 the BBC building was an office for the Richard Nixon/Spiro Agnew presidential campaign.

Access the full photo archive here.

Do you know more about these photos? Email Kate Bradshaw.

Here are some of the images, how the sites looked in the photos found in the archive and what they look like today.

Kepler's Books, at its former location on the west side of El Camino Real, in September 1968. The space is now occupied by a Starbucks Coffee.

The BBC building on Santa Cruz Avenue, east of El Camino Real, served as a Republican Party headquarters in the late 1960s. Built to house a bank, the building in 1939 became the second home for Menlo Park City Hall. Photo taken September 1968.

In September 1968, Foster's Freeze stood in front of an auto repair shop. Today, the area is under development as "Station 1300," a mixed-use project that will include housing, office and retail space.

Magoo's Pizza Parlor at 639 Santa Cruz Ave., where the Warlocks, the band that later became the Grateful Dead, played its first gig on May 5, 1965, shown here in September 1968. The site is now home to Harvest Furniture .

Construction on the Menlo Park City Council Chambers, September 1969. The same structure still houses the council chambers.

The Park Theatre stood at 1275 El Camino Real in September 1968. The theater closed in 2002 and was demolished in November 2013. Construction is ongoing on a project that includes condos, office and retail space.