Just a short block to
the east of El Camino Real (U.S. Highway 101) at the northern entrance
to the city of Palo Alto stands the ancient Palo Alto tall tree which gave
the lovely college town its name. This magnificent tree, which rears
its stately head above the live oak and eucalypti around it, was once regarded
by the Indians on the Peninsula as the dwelling place of the Great Spirit,
and they often held their council meetings beneath its spreading branches.
In 1769, when the Gaspar de Portola expedition was exploring the Peninsula, this tall tree, because of its great height, was chosen as a landmark, and the expedition camped in the shade of its many branches from November 6 to 11.
Some five years later, when the expedition led by Don Fernando de Rivera y Moncada was searching for a mission site, a location near the tall tree was found suitable and so marked with a cross by Fray Palou. In March, 1776, the Juan Batista de Anza party, moving toward San Francisco, found the cross erected by Fray Palou.
In those days the tall tree was double-trunked, and it is believed that one of the trunks fell across the San Francisquito Creek in the late 1890's. This date, according to Mr. Guy C. Miller, Palo Alto historian, is in doubt, for existing records fail to give the exact year the trunk fell.