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.
Backstory and Context
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.