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'He contributed more than anyone'

Bob Lawrence and the rise of Mountain View

The 1960s were the days when some of Mountain View's biggest projects were envisioned: Shoreline Park, the Stevens Creek Trail and a revitalized downtown. The person behind much of it was Bob Lawrence, the city's planning director from 1962 through 1974.

As planning director, Lawrence's role was to coordinate city projects, solving problems as they arose.

"He contributed more to the city of Mountain View than anyone," said 1969 Mayor Bill Jelavich. "He was enormously creative."

He went on to work in Santa Cruz, but even today Lawrence still lives in Mountain View, in a five-story condo building on Castro Street above Amici's Pizzeria. When his wife passed away a few years ago he decided to sell his Waverly Park home and move downtown, where there's lots of life, he said.

In 1969, Lawrence revealed the details of a plan for the revitalized downtown of today, with its widened sidewalks, "head in" parking, flourishing trees, new curbs and gutters -- even a parking garage at California and Bryant streets that took almost 40 years to break ground.

But the plans were even more ambitious earlier in the 1960s. Lawrence and other Mountain View city officials had seriously contemplated the possibility of building several high rises on Castro Street. A physical model was constructed to show what the metropolitan downtown could look like. But after Mountain Bay Plaza was built, there never was much interest from the public in putting more high-rise buildings downtown, Lawrence said.

Part of what stopped it was the idea that the city had too few homeowners and too many renters, Lawrence said.

"It was almost a mantra," he said: The city needed people who would stick around and invest in making the city a better place. That's why developing downtown never gained ground -- it would threaten the single-family homes that surrounded Castro Street.

Lawrence, with his ideas for a denser downtown, was certain that some people back then thought he was "the devil incarnate," he joked.

As he follows the city's planning efforts today, Lawrence says he is impressed, especially with the public's input in recent general plan hearings. Perhaps it's evidence of the city's "strong planning program" in years past, he said. The city created a few things that people really care about -- including its downtown, trails and parks -- which a new generation of residents is now working to protect and build on.

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