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Palo Alto Historic Buildings Inventory

555 Lytton Avenue

Hannah Clapp House

Inventory photo 555 Krista van Laan
Inventory photo Photo taken 2015


The following is from the Historic Buildings Inventory as revised in 1986:

Physical appearance:  This Queen Anne design is a slightly larger version of the standard nineteenth century vernacular house with a few decorative touches at the bay and porch, such as could be ordered from a mill or copied from illustrations in carpenters' books or popular journals.

The interior was completely reconstructed in 1986. 

Significance:  A typical example of the Queen Anne style. The house was built for Hannah Kezia Clapp and her companion and partner, Elizabeth C. Babcock; in 1890 they had purchased the entire block (then vacant) from Timothy Hopkins, and contemplated retiring to Palo Alto from Reno, Nevada. The remarkable Hannah Clapp was a descendant of Massachusetts Bay colonist (1630) Roger Clapp, and was the daughter of a pioneer Michigan family.

In 1859, threatened by tuberculosis, she sought health in the West, crossing the plains on horseback wearing bloomers so she could ride astride, with a pistol at her belt to ward of any who thought her costume invited frivolity.

After teaching school for a year in Vacaville, she moved to Carson City, Nevada. There she founded a highly-regarded preparatory school, Sierra Academy, with Elizabeth Babcock. In 1889, she took a position in Reno as instructor and librarian at the University of Nevada.

She was an educational leader in the state, and at the time of her death was President of the Board of Reno Kindergarten Association. She also was noted for her historical interests and travels in the Far West.

Plans for retirement in Palo Alto were shadowed in 1899 by Elizabeth Babcock's death. However, she became a member of the Woman's Club and was a promoter of the woman's suffrage movement, and she opened her home to two other young women students, Mary L. McDonald and Frances C. Short. Indeed, Mary McDonald was to be heir to her house. However, when Hannah Clapp's sister, Sarah E. Crosswell, came to live with her from Ripon, Wisconsin, she, rather than Mary McDonald, inherited the house after Hannah Clapp's death in 1908.

Mrs. Croswell and Frances Short remained in the house for a number of years, and, from 1915 to 1935, Frances Short was the sole owner. She was a Stanford graduate (1902) who taught in the Palo Alto schools up to the mid-twenties. Her occupancy of the house continued for a decade thereafter, and she rented part of the space to others.

In 1936, the property was purchased by Soren P. Sivertsen, a real estate inventor, whose family sometimes occupied it along with other tenants. It continued to be rental property until Maxwell and Susan H. Hall acquired it in 1985 and converted it to a bed-and-breakfast inn. The current owner, Kate Richey, founded Deborah's Palm, a non-profit counseling service for women.

Read more.

2016 photo 1985 photo
1999 HHT map
1999 Holiday House tour photo Location map

This house was built in 1896 and is a Category 3 on the Historic Buildings Inventory. The architect / builder was Frank Delos Wolfe. The property measures 60 by 190 feet.

Sources: Palo Alto City Directories; Palo Alto Times 12/30/96, 10/8/08, 3/1/68; San Francisco Chronicle 8/18/54; Oakland Tribune 11/17/32, Palo Alto Assessor's Books, 1894-1900; First Biennial Report of the Nevada Historical Society 1907-8 (State Printing Office, Carson City, 1909); Palo Alto Historical Association obituary file: H. K. Clapp; Probate Case #6876, Hannah K. Clapp (records of Santa Clara County Superior Court); Book 726 (Off. Red.), p. 191-2, 3/26/35; Book 816 (Off. Red.), p. 282, 11/19/36; Book 824 (Off. Rec.), p. 384, 5/26/37 (Santa Cl;ara County Recorder); interview 1986, Susan Hall


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