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  • Writer's pictureMark Robinson

The Frenchman's Tower of Palo Alto

This past weekend, we decided to brave the Pandemic and take a quick drive to something that very few Palo Alto residents have seen. A medieval style tower hidden in Palo Alto.

This tower was built by a wealthy Frenchman named Paulin Caperon, who fled France after the Franco-Prussian War. He purchased a great deal of land in Palo Alto and build this two-story tower in 1875. The top floor of the tower held a water tank, and the lower floor was built as a library.

Paulin was known to have spent many hours in his library reading and mystifying his neighbors about the purpose of the tower.

Paulin was a colorful character. He was the son of one of Napoleon’s officers. Both of his parents passed before he was 26 years old and he was known to be openly critical of Napoleon III and opposed to the Franco-Prussian War. Later in life, he founded a bank and ultimately came to Mayfield (now Palo Alto) via San Francisco, New Orleans and Belgium. In 1875, he purchased 1,400 acres and developed the land into a thriving stock farm.

In 1882, plagued by rumors about his intentions with the land and about his past, he left the country and made his way back to France and ultimately made a home in Paris.

There are also conflicting reports about the tower being connected to a series of 6 subterranean tunnels that were used to bring water from the neighboring Matadero Creek to his property.

The mysterious nature of this tower has fueled dozens of rumors about its construction and how it has been used by people over the years.

Stanford University now owns the land. It was purchased for $160,000 after Paulin decided to go back to France.

The tower is worth a visit. It sits prominently on Old Page Mill Road. The road is about a mile long and runs parallel to (New) Page Mill Road. It is a sleepy tree lined road that will give anyone who visits a sense of the isolation that at one time as part of life in Palo Alto. Today, the road is used by cyclists and the small number of homeowners who live off the street. Stanford University also maintains a large research facility on the other side of the street.

If you are on the street, facing the tower, there is a plaque on the right-hand side. This gives a brief history of the tower. You should also note the brickwork of the tower and the fact that the windows have been filled in with brick to by Stanford to dissuade people from entering the tower. Over the years, the tower has accumulated a great deal of graffiti. Stanford has also fenced in the tower to further protect it.

If you are making a trip to the tower, I would strongly suggest that you walk down Old Page Mill Road and experience its charms.

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