CTRA Website Article

by Pria Graves

On Sunday, August 30, 2003, a group of friends gathered in Mayfield Park to celebrate the life of Jim Culpepper and to plant three trees in his memory.

Jim has left an amazing legacy in our neighborhood. With his wife Kay, he helped create the College Terrace Residents' Association some 35 years ago. He fought for closing our streets and for incorporating permanent open space in the development on Peter Coutts Hill above College Terrace. He advocated on behalf of the renters in Palo Alto and encouraged others to take action to protect the quality of life in our neighborhood. Jim was always there for College Terrace and left it a far better place than it would otherwise have been.

Jim's interests extended far beyond Palo Alto. He was a skilled writer, and had a play performed in Cambridge before he came to Stanford for law school. He was also a passionate musician, and composed four symphonies as well as a number of shorter works. And he loved marine biology, helping his friend Jack Rudloe to expand his aquarium and biological supply business, Gulf Specimen [this was a link to http://www.gulfspecimen.org/], located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Jim's other "home".

Generosity came naturally to this Southern Gentleman as did his charming way of persuading folks to do things they might not otherwise have done. His wit infused the many emails he sent to friends over the years. A small sample is is available below.

Our neighborhood owes a great deal to Jim Culpepper: the three saucer magnolias will remind us of the many gifts he has given us all over the years.

Thanks to Canopy, Trees for Palo Alto, for arranging the trees for us. If you would like to make a donation in Jim's memory, make your check payable to Canopy and send it to 3921 East Bayshore Road, Palo Alto, CA 94303. Indicate that it is for the Jim Culpepper Memorial.

Thanks also to J J & F Market, which kindly donated a cheese and fruit platter to make our celebration of Jim's life more enjoyable.


Guest Opinion: Remembering Jim Culpepper's contributions to College Terrace and Palo Alto

(Published August 13, 2003 in Palo Alto Weekly)

by Pria Graves

Jim Culpepper, the original organizer of the College Terrace Residents' Association about 30 years ago, died last spring.

He left behind a legacy of leadership both for our neighborhood and all Palo Alto.

Eventually, I and other neighbors hope to install a memorial bench up on Peter Coutts Hill, the open area above College Terrace that Jim was instrumental in preserving.

But this could take time for approvals and funding, and in the interim we plan to do something less bureaucratically complex but equally appropriate: plant three trees in Mayfield Park (by the College Terrace Library) on Sunday, Aug. 31 at 4:30 p.m. Anyone who knew Jim or would like to commemorate his achievements is welcome.

Jim's work on behalf of College Terrace started long before I arrived -- in the early 1970s, so far as I can determine. He was the instigator of the College Terrace Residents' Association. He insisted, quite correctly, that the association needed to represent all residents, including renters.

The three trees represent the three living issues of those early days: (1) the street closures that curtailed the cut-through traffic that had been a problem for our tiny neighborhood for many decades; (2) a zoning change in the "lower" few blocks that has protected many of our older homes from demolition, and (3) the dedication of Peter Coutts Hill as permanent open space.

He and his wife, Kay, spent many hours walking the neighborhood, distributing leaflets, talking to residents about these issues.

The zoning change was brilliant, an idea cooked up by Jim and former Mayor and Councilwoman Gail Woolley. They created the RMD-NP zoning, which allows the creation of a second full-sized unit on each lot (providing it passes some city reviews and that the original historic home be preserved). In the 18 years I've been here this has protected at least two of our historic homes.

"The wonderful part is that it worked," Gail Woolley said of the ordinance. Yale Street still has an amazingly high percentage of its old homes.

The street-closures involved pure persistence -- the final plan was about the 24th version, as I understand it. I think of that when I get frustrated about the slowness of our current efforts to effect change.

I know less about the Peter Coutts Hill battle, but I am impressed that Jim managed to negotiate that concession from Stanford. Not having Stanford housing -- as originally planned -- right above College Terrace has been a great boon to our whole neighborhood.

Jim was less involved during the 1980s. Others took the leadership during the "College Terrace Rapist" days and for many years the association was inactive. But when a house known as Big Blue was demolished the issue of historic preservation and the erosion of neighborhood character roused the residents.

Jim again got involved. Several meetings of the revived association were held at his home, and he helped educate me, a political neophyte, on strategies for gaining the council's attention. In his inimitable style, he immediately dubbed me the head of the association (it had never had formal elections) -- a role I filled for about six years until we finally developed bylaws and elected our first board in 2001.

Jim helped support the association financially as well, helping us to deliver quarterly newsletters to every front door. I agree fully with Jim's belief that the association must be inclusive of all residents and during the development of our bylaws I lobbied hard to continue this tradition. Having distributed newsletters several times with only my husband to help, I have a good sense of both the effort required and the cost -- but still feel that it's very worthwhile.

Jim had a wonderful gift for storytelling and used it to great effect when speaking to the council or writing long e-mails to the papers and friends. I think he got so much done for the neighborhood by talking folks to death -- "It's a terrible fate to be talked to death," as Mark Twain said. A collection of "Vintage Jim" e-mails is being compiled and I know will make good reading long into the future.

I credit Jim for my personal involvement in Palo Alto politics. He pushed me hard. I probably would have been content to let someone else take charge of the preservation effort if Jim hadn't handed me the College Terrace scepter. The rest, as they say, is history. I was astonished to discover that I liked politics!

Jim had another side as well. Once he decided to tackle an issue, he never let up nagging about it. In recent years, he wanted Peter Coutts Hill made more park-like and kept insisting that the CTRA should take up that cause. We all had to ignore his jabs about that -- sometimes quite pointed. But even when one disagreed with him it never made him any less a friend. He could be frustrating to deal with, but College Terrace owes him a lot, as do I and perhaps even the whole of Palo Alto.

Pria Graves is the former spokesperson for the College Terrace Residents' Association, and a candidate in 2001 for the Palo Alto City Council. She can be e-mailed at priag@birketthouse.com.    



Founder of College Terrace Residents’ Association

James Culpepper is the first resident the CTRA Board voted to recognize as a College Terrace hero.  He lived in College Terrace from 1964, when he came from Harvard to attend Stanford Law School, until his death in 2003.   Along with his wife Kay and other neighbors, he led successful efforts to protect our neighborhood by saving Peter Coutts Hill as open space, closing streets to through traffic, saving the library, and founding the College Terrace Residents' Association.  Recently, Kay has let it be known that the 2001 anonymous donation of $5000 to CTRA was yet another of Jim’s important contributions to College Terrace. 

Pria Graves wrote an article about Jim that was published in the Palo Alto Weekly in 2003.  She also wrote about Jim and the memorial gathering in his honor for the CTRA website she established and maintained for years.  Both of these articles follow, along with a few photos and email excerpts.  The email excerpts, retrieved by Pria and Paul Lomio, exemplify Jim’s wonderful sense of humor and outlook, and are just plain fun to read. 

Do you remember Corinne Brazier? She was

actually the "mother" of the College Terrace

traffic barrier system. I was impressed with her

achievement of shutting down Park Boulevard to

through traffic (after cars had hit several kids).

So I went to Corinne to find out how she had

accomplished this considerable political stunt.

She told me, and I followed her advice.

The results are fairly evident! The city closed

every street in College Terrace (10 in all) in an

effort to get me to shut up. Otherwise, the

Council would never be able to proceed to the

truly important matters on their agenda.

Enid Pearson and Al Henderson designed the final

plan, which will stand forever as a monument to

their perspicacity.


Other kinds of “traffic”:

P.S.! In September and October the tarantulas in

Foothills Park start walking around all over the

place, including the roads. You have to drive very

carefully to avoid running over them.

As far as I can tell, these arachnids are utterly

harmless to human adults.! I have picked them up

in my hands many times, and have never noticed

the slightest interest on the part of the spider of

injecting me with venom.


Jim always supported renters… and watched

Stanford’s policies:

Surrounding Stanford University as we do, we all

have a heavy responsibility to ensure that the

university's land use planning is "up to snuff," as it

were. As a graduate of the Law School, I consider

my responsibilities in this area to be Draconian.

Seriously, my main concern in this election is to

support candidates who demonstrate concern for

the 43% of Palo Alto's population (and that of

College Terrace) who are renters. This is the

toughest political and practical challenge any of us

will ever encounter. Which is precisely why we

need to confront it, preferably with teeth bared.


On defeating the enemy:

As regards what stance the Residents'

Association should take Monday night, trying to

discredit the [opposition] is unnecessary. They

have already discredited themselves.


What we want to do is build our own credibility

with the Council and the general public by being

softspoken and reasonable in the face of

outrageous provocation. I can remember leaning

over to Pria during all the ranting and raving

against the moratorium back in September of

1996. I knew the opponents were blasting

themselves into political oblivion with their own


So I leaned over and whispered to Pria, "You

couldn't wish for better opponents!" I think that

cheered her up a little, and she made her usual

reasonable presentation, pretty much ignoring the

opposition. I did my usual "courtly, slightly daft,

Southern gentleman," act, with the usual lack of

discernable effect.


Vintage Jim Culpepper

Excerpts collected by Pria Graves and Paul Lomio

The following letter rambles its way through the history of one of Jim’s
abiding passions:
        As my Leon High classmates know, I love to tell a tale, so I am going to tell you the improbable story of Gulf Specimen Marine Labs, Inc. For Jack Rudloe, and myself as well, it all began at St.Teresa Beach.  
        My late father, Jack Culpepper, a building contractor, bought the old Culpepper place in 1942, the year of my birth. My earliest memories are of tidepools and of the mazes of tracks of a prickly creature I loved to scoop up and watch flip itself over. I created my first saltwater aquarium in high school, and its first occupants were a baby horseshoe crab, a couple of sea horses, a plumed worm, and a scallop.  
      Jack Rudloe was a year behind me at  Leon. My father, concluding that I was of no practical use to his construction business, shipped me off to Harvard so that at least I was out of his way. Jack Rudloe later went to Harvard as well, but having no money for tuition, he spent his time learning what was to become his life's work at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, which was free to visitors.  
        At Harvard I studied philosophy, but I never did learn the answer to the question I came to college in the first place to find out: What is Life?  Not having found answers in Massachusetts, I migrated to California, which at least had a milder climate in which to speculate.  
        In California I discovered the same question had interested John Steinbeck, America's greatest writer, long ago as a Stanford student studying at Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey. Steinbeck learned that life began in the sea, and he spent the rest of his days studying how it "progressed" from the trilobite to the dinosaurs to the walking bag of seawater known as Homo sapiens.  
        Steinbeck was by calling a marine biologist. He wrote his novels to support his real passion, including Cannery Row, set in Monterey, one of his best. He was a patron from the first of Ed "Doc" Ricketts, the Monterey author of the classic Pacific coast beachcomber's guide, Between Pacific Tides. His other protege was Jack Rudloe,with whom he corresponded regularly at Rudloe's home in Panacea, Florida.  
        A train killed Ricketts in 1948, but not before he coauthored with Steinbeck the most fascinating book of the sea since Moby Dick, the massive Sea of Cortez. Steinbeck gave Rudloe the original drawings from Sea of Cortez to aid him with his work in Panacea, went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, then died of heart problems in 1968. But he left a long shadow in Panacea.  
        Jack Rudloe spent his youth working on shrimpboats out of Carrabelle and poking into tidepools at St. Teresa Beach. He examined his own finds first at Wilson's Beach Cottages, where he rented a place to stay, then later at his lab in Panacea, which was set up in much the same way as Ricketts' in Monterey. At twenty-eight, Rudloe authored the classic Florida beachcomber's guide, The Erotic Ocean, which made him the "Doc" Ricketts of the Florida coast, and a hero to Florida conservationists.  
        Of these three legendary friends, Ricketts, Steinbeck, and Rudloe, the last is still alive, though somewhat incrusted with barnacles. The Culpeppers invited Jack and Anne Rudloe to visit us at our Palo Alto, California home a couple of years ago, and Jack and myself got together at the Fish Market (a restaurant) with Virginia Scardigli. Virginia was a friend of both Ricketts and Steinbeck, and full of memories of both. Jack and Virginia went on to visit Ricketts' lab on Cannery Row, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where Jack lectured to the senior staff on jellies. 
        Last October the Rudloes gathered with my family and friends at SeaScape, the Culpeppers' Florida beach house at St. Teresa, to celebrate the 400 millionth birthday of Limulus polyphemus, the mysterious creature who still appears regularly in my dreams of childhood. Anne gave a brief talk to the kids on her specialty as a marine biologist. What is a horseshoe crab? We now know it is a living fossil, a visitor from the Cambrian period, stranger than a flying saucer.  Horseshoe Crab larva appear identical to trilobites, one of the earliest lifeforms preserved as fossils in the Burgess Shale. 
        The approach of the Millennium has brought us another special anniversary, the 35th birthday of the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab of Panacea. As one of the Lab's trustees, I extend to you a cordial invitation to visit us, to use the enclosed card and envelope to become an aquarium member and subscriber to our bimonthly newsletter, and to think about what the Lab's collection of 400 million years of living history means as we approach another of time's landmarks. Does it enrich your experience of St. Teresa Beach to have the lab available as a living encyclopedia of the earth's biological history? Did you know that a walk down St. Teresa Beach is literally a walk through time, if only we "knew" what we were seeing? 
         The Lab is that rarest of animals, a nonprofit corporation which actually supports itself, mainly by the sale of marine specimens for educational purposes. As I have explained, it has a long and interesting history behind it. But to enlarge and expand its educational mission, we need a supportive membership committed to continuing its existence as a community institution for our children and grandchildren. We are asking you to join us, and contribute your ideas to a project which continues to evolve to serve the needs our children.  
        But surely you didn't need me to tell you that everything about life's ancient history can be learned in Panacea--and in a presentation far more accessible to the needs of children than the huge Monterey Bay Aquarium. So welcome to the renovated Gulf Specimen Marine Aquarium! Come by and say "Hello" to the Rudloes, a couple of incredibly tenacious human beings. And say "Hello" to a collection of creatures stranger than any you saw in the movie, "Jurassic Park," including a 10' 10" hammerhead which Kay and I recently donated.

Jim on sharing wisdom:

The reason I am telling you and Pria all this rather

recondite stuff is I'm 56 years old, and I can't

promise I will be around to do the things I think

can be done to further the interests of the

College Terrace neighborhood. But I can convey

the experience I have had and point out the

general direction of the field in which the truffles

are buried. After that, you guys are on your own!


At 59, I feel myself getting considerably older

than sin itself. I'm very willing to share my

accumulated wisdom, but my adult children start

laughing even before I attempt to open my mouth.

I'm reduced to writing them emails, which I'm

quite sure they don't read, unless they contain a

promise to give them money.


On CTRA governance:

The CTRA is a guerrilla organization. It has a long

string of spectacular successes, including the

barrier system, Peter Coutts Hill (4 acres),

downzoning the R-3 area between Wellesley & El

Camino, and the reservation of the College

Terrace Library. None of this is due to any

particular individual--it was a group effort.

So, I have feelings of hesitation about trying to

codify anything as subtle or effective as the

CTRA. My feeling has always been, if somebody in

the neighborhood wants to lead, for heaven's

sake, give them a chance!


What a delight to me to see the amount of

energetic political leadership the College Terrace

neighborhood continually produces! Having lived

continually in College Terrace since 1964, I have

never seen the neighborhood fail to produce a

leader, when the neighborhood's difficulties

required a leader. In general, we've always been

about 20 years ahead of the rest of the city.

We've always been the canary in the mine. If the

city has a problem, it always appears first in

College Terrace.


On CT traffic:

This report is doubly useful, because it reminds

me that Carl Stoffel has been analyzing traffic

with what is now the Transportation Division of

the Planning Department since before the most

recent Ice Age. He started out counting woolly

mammoths, then gradually worked his way up to

buffaloes, Conestoga wagons, horses, race horses,

horseless carriages, and in more recent years,


Carl was hoary with age when Ted Noguchi was

Traffic Engineer, and probably is the only official

left in city government who ever heard of the

1971 College Terrace Traffic Study, or might be

able actually to locate it in the vast pit under the

City Hall garage to which staff reports are

consigned on Tuesday mornings. The official name

for the pit is the "Circumlocution Office," but if

you try to ask anyone on the staff where it is

located, they immediately change the subject.