Twenty-five years ago this summer, Stanford renovated its iconic welcome mat

Palm Drive reconstruction during the summer of 1994. (Photo: Linda A. Cicero/ Stanford News Service)

It’s hard to imagine, but 25 years ago, the university completely shut down PALM DRIVE, our beloved tree-lined welcome mat, to traffic for several months for renovations.

According to 1994 Stanford News reports, in photographs taken before the project began, “the mile-long promenade is hemmed in by deep potholes brimming with standing water. In the ‘after’ shot, the palm-bordered arterial … shows clearly defined bicycle lanes and runoff drains where swamplike shoulders existed previously.”

The project, completed three weeks ahead of schedule and under budget, earned the university the 1995 American Society of Landscape Architects Award.

It turned out to be a good thing, despite the inconvenience to vehicular traffic. As Stanford News reported, “It’s difficult to savor the stunning vista of the red tile-roofed Quad, the mosaics of Memorial Church and the spreading foothills beyond when you’re dodging potholes and trying to get around drivers waiting to make left turns.”

The article continued, “One reason for the road’s sorry state – conditions are worse in the winter when rainstorms cause mini-floods along sections of Palm Drive – is that it was never designed to carry modern automobile and truck traffic. The horse-and-carriage path, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted with input by university founder Leland Stanford, has simply been patched over now and then.”

Palm Drive, which connects the university to Palo Alto, dates back to the 1890s. An automobile ban on Palm Drive was lifted in 1914, according to A Chronology of Stanford University and Its Founders, published by the Stanford Historical Society.

The work, scheduled to begin after the final World Cup soccer match was held at Stanford Stadium, involved a new drainage system, the installation of granite curbs, a reduction in lanes, a new surface, reconfigured traffic patterns and the evaluation and treatment of 152 palm trees. At that time, the road handled about 23,000 vehicles per day.

The project was done under the direction of the since-retired JUDY CHAN of the planning office, who explained, “We kept in mind that Palm Drive is a ceremonial, as well as a symbolic, gateway to Stanford. But it also needed to be modernized; it just wasn’t meant to handle modern forms of transportation.”

Read more about the project in this archived news story from 1994.