Mountain View

Like most cities in Silicon Valley, Mountain View owes its existence not to technology but to agriculture. It wasn’t until the 1950s, hundreds of years after the first settlers arrived and decades past its heyday as the “Valley of the Heart’s Delight” that technology companies came to the Santa Clara Valley to make their mark.

In Mountain View, that company was Shockley Semiconductor, founded in 1956 by William Shockley. Others soon followed. Sleepy Mountain View, which entered the 1950s with a long history of agricultural success and a population of around 6,000 residents, grew by 370 percent during the decade. By 1960, the population of Mountain View, the new center for aerospace and electronics, was 30,889.

Mountain View has again doubled in size since then. Today it has 74,000 citizens living in nine separate districts. Technology still drives the city’s economy, with numerous upper-case names calling Mountain View home. The most significant of these is Google, which moved its headquarters to the former home of Silicon Graphics, in 2003. The “Googleplex” employs over 20,000 and is looking to grow. Since 2010, Google has purchased 24 buildings in Mountain View.

The influence of Google, Symantec, Linked In, Intuit and others on Mountain View cannot be overstated. Mountain View’s downtown, for example, has undergone a complete overhaul in recent years. Beginning in 1990, Mountain View city leaders took a sharp turn from decades-old policies that had turned their town into what some were calling a “dormitory for high-tech workers,” transforming downtown into a pedestrian hub and a transit hub, thanks to CalTrain and light rail stations at the foot of Castro Street.

Downtown is now where you’ll find all manner of restaurants, shops and lively pedestrian traffic. It’s where on Sundays you’ll find a farmers market and where, during the summer, Castro Street is closed to vehicles every Thursday night for Thursday Night Live, a community celebration with live music, children’s activities and, at times, a classic car show. Once a year downtown hosts a holiday tree lighting ceremony and every September since 1971 it’s hosted the Mountain View Art & Wine Festival.

Downtown is surrounded by neighborhoods dating back to the early 1900s, classic Victorian and Arts & Crafts homes and small hints of the city’s agricultural past. West of El Camino Real the streets lose their gridded pattern, settling into the curved lanes and cul-de-sacs of 1950s and 60s suburbia. These neighborhoods were built for the middle class but they’ve become upper-middle-class as Mountain View’s status as a tech mecca has grown.

As that status grows, demand to live in Mountain View grows; recently, the city responded by creating a new neighborhood on top of the 55-acre former GTE Sylvania campus. Oriented around the VTA’s Whisman Station light rail stop, the Whisman neighborhood features condominiums, townhouses, single-family homes, community pools and center and the Stevens Creek Trail, a 4.8-mile paved pedestrian and bicycle path that passes woodlands and tidal marshes on its way through town, all conveniently located for commuters and reasonably close to downtown.

While one of Mountain View’s biggest landmarks, Moffit Federal Airfield, isn’t even in Mountain View, another, newer landmark has grown up along something many people may not even know Mountain View has: its bayfront. Shoreline Park, Mountain View’s epicenter of recreation, with a 50-acre lake, a golf course, driving range and vast network of trails including segments of the San Francisco Bay Trail, was once San Francisco’s landfill. In 1983, after years of transformation, it was reborn as a park. In 1986, the city added the Shoreline Amphitheater, one of the region’s biggest outdoor concert venues, to the park.

Also located in Shoreline Park is the Rengstorff House, the 1867 home of city pioneer Henry Rengstorff. Once left destitute, the Italianate mansion was restored and moved to Shoreline Park in 1991, where it’s open to the public as a museum. The house is a rare reminder of Mountain View’s roots, aptly placed less than a mile from the Googleplex, the symbol of the present for Mountain View, the quintessential Silicon Valley city.