The Frenchman's Tower – Palo Alto, California - Atlas Obscura
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Palo Alto, California

The Frenchman's Tower

This odd California folly seems like it was almost designed to accumulate urban legends. 

Stumbling upon the strange two-story Frenchman’s Tower in Palo Alto, California may make you think you’ve fallen into a storybook.  The strangely out of place folly was originally built as part of a French immigrant’s irrigation system, but now it simply stands as a curiosity.  

The Tower was built in 1875 by a reclusive French refugee by the name of Paulin Caperon, who had fled France after the Franco-Prussian War. He purchased land in what is now Palo Alto, and built his enigmatic tower.  The spire is said to have held his library on the first floor, while the second floor held a water tank.

A number of stories and rumors have sprung up, telling of underground tunnels branching off from the Tower into the surrounding hills. Everything from tunnels used as secret passageways to the Stanford Memorial Chapel, to a getaway route for the killer of Arlis Perry in 1974 have been talked about. Myths aside, the tower never had any doors, and its windows appear to have been bricked in since the beginning. Today, there is a very small hole in the back side, where anyone sufficiently small can crawl through.

The tower has accumulated an interesting collection of graffiti over the centuries. Some of the scratches in the bricks are nearly 100-years-old. There is a plaque near the building with some details about the building, but even the modern graffiti on the inside of the tower doesn’t seem to dispel the storybook feel. In the dirt floor of the tower is a charred fire pit, while above, only a few centuries-old wooden beams, and then the sky.