T. B. Downing (1864–1916) and his wife Margaret (Sanford) built one of the most ornate and largest houses in early Palo Alto history, arising only three years after the incorporation of Stanford University. The couple arrived in California in 1879 and then to Palo Alto in 1894. T.B. served as an early school board member and on Palo Alto's first City Council. He also invested heavily in Palo Alto, helping it grow at the expense of nearby Mayfield. The growth of the University and the town laid the groundwork for what eventually became twenty-first century technology hub in the U.S -- Stanford University is a large part of the Silicon Valley story.


  • Photo taken in 1978
    Photo taken in 1978
  • Photo taken in 2015
    Photo taken in 2015
  • May 27, 2012: T. B. Downing House, 706 Cowper St., Palo Alto
    May 27, 2012: T. B. Downing House, 706 Cowper St., Palo Alto

The Downing House, built in 1894 by W. Matlock Campbell for T. B. and Margaret (Sanford) Downing, is one of the most extravagant Queen Anne buildings remaining in Palo Alto. Its round "witch's hat" corner tower is its most striking feature, but the house abounds in ornate details. While it stands as an architectural marvel, the house also stands as a monument to the birth of Palo Alto and Stanford University, the seeds of which blossomed into what became Silicon Valley and a technological hub during late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. 
 
The house arose three years after the incorporation of Stanford University, which eventually became highly influential in the growth of the technological revolution that forged the growth of Silicon Valley.  

Though the history of the area pre-dates European and Asian influence by centuries, its modern history begins in roughly the middle portion of the nineteenth century with the establishment of the town of Mayfield in 1855. The San Francisco and San Jose railroad arrived in 1863. 

By the 1870s, Leland Stanford began purchasing property including land that became the Palo Alto Stock Farm. Stanford sought a space in Mayfield to create a new university, but Leland wanted the town to ban alcohol sales. When that demand wasn't met, Leland bought land outside of Mayfield and established the city of Temperance Town, which is where he built Stanford University (incorporated in 1891). 

A few years later, in 1894, the area was renamed Palo Alto, which is when T.B. Downing had his house built. Downing was instrumental in developing Palo Alto, which eventually included the annexation of the fledgling Mayfield; the town ceased to grow once Stanford and Palo Alto realized its urban success. Downing served on the first Palo Alto City Council and served on the school board. He also invested heavily in the city, including developing the large Downing Block that eventually housed the U.S. Post Office (1909 - 1928). 

The building represents the dual histories of Stanford University and Palo Alto. Stanford Alums such as Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, as well as the founders of Google, Sun Microsystems, Intel, Instagram, Netflix (and many more),  helped turn the area into its informal name, "Silicon Valley." The region and university are noted for its profound influence on the twenty-first-century technological revolution and the dawn of the digital age. 

Noehill Travels in California. National Register of Historic Places in Santa Clara County: National Register #73000452 Downing House 706 Cowper Street Palo Alto Built 1894. . Accessed March 22, 2018. https://noehill.com/santaclara/nat1973000452.asp. 

Palo Alto Historical Association Publications. Palo Alto Historical Association. . Accessed March 22, 2018. http://www.pahistory.org/publications.html.

Palo Alto Stanford Heritage. Palo Alto Historic Buildings Inventory: Downing Block. Accessed March 21, 2018. http://www.pastheritage.org/inv/invH/Hamilton205.html

Palo Alto Stanford Heritage. Palo Alto Historic Buildings Inventory: Downing House. Accessed March 21, 2018. http://www.pastheritage.org/inv/invC/cowper706.html.

Stone, Madeline. "The Most Successful Stanford Alumni In Tech." Business Insider. Business InsiderAugust 14, 2014. . http://www.businessinsider.com/tech-stars-who-graduated-from-stanford-2014-8

Woolley, Gay. "T.B. Downing House." National Register of Historic Places. October 30,
1973. https://npgallery.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/NRHP/Text/73000452.pdf

World Population Review. Palo Alto Population 2018. . Accessed March 22, 2018. http://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/palo-alto-population/. 

Photo Sources

"Photo Taken in 1978" and "Photo Taken in 2015" from Palo Alto Stanford Heritage at
http://www.pastheritage.org/inv/invC/cowper706.html

May 27, 2012: T. B. Downing House, 706 Cowper St., Palo Alto, by Sanfranman59 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19738562