The Kee House is one of the oldest buildings in Palo Alto. Built in 1889 by an unknown architect, it existed when that part of Palo Alto was called the village of Mayfield, and is the oldest dwelling remaining from that community. It is also the oldest house on College Terrace, the tract where it is located. It was constructed by Robert Norton Kee, who had a transfer business in Mayfield in the 1880s. It is considered an outstanding example of the Eastlake style of Victorian architecture.
It was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
In 1888, businessman Robert Norton Kee purchased several lots in the village of Mayfield. His home was completed on the site in 1889, at a cost of
$3500. Although the house was less ornate than some of its neighbors, it was considered one of the grand houses of its time. The following year, Kee added a barn for his draft horses, which was razed in 1938. Kee retained the house until 1910 and, after
several changes of ownership, the single-family dwelling was converted to
rental apartments in the 1930s.
In the 1880s, a wealthy
farmer named Gordon who owned land in the College Terrace district christened
the district “Palo Alto.” However, Stanford University persuaded Gordon to allow the Palo
Alto name to go to a new village, University Park, to the north of the area, in which alcohol would not be permitted. The
village of Mayfield was almost 40 years old when Palo Alto was incorporated in
1894. It was formally annexed to Palo Alto in 1924.
The house has a simplified Italianate design with
some Eastlake elements, with horizontal wood siding and a composition shingle, truncated
hip roof. It has two stories and an attic. Porches with turned posts and sawn
brackets appear across the front and side. The major exterior changes are the
partial enclosure of the front and side porches, and the addition of a small
apartment wing across the rear. A gazebo, tool shed, and large barn appear to belong
to the original. In short, the house retains much of its original late-19th century domestic design and character.
According to its NRHP nomination form, it is significant for two reasons. One reason is that it represents the type of housing afforded in
its time by the typical middle class owner of average means. Its survival
conveys something of the qualities of life and neighborly atmosphere of the era
and animates modern appreciation of those aesthetic and social values. The second reason for its significance is that it is typical of such dwellings, in that it began as a single-family dwelling, but was converted into apartments for students and teacher families, a pattern repeated nationwide.
The Kee House is included as one of major importance to be protected by Palo Alto's Historic Preservation Ordinance.