Unfamiliar Land

Frenchman's Tower

Palo Alto, CA


I imagine the Frenchman’s Tower is an endless source of urban legend for incoming Stanford students. This small, brick building was built in 1875, a few miles from the university’s campus. It’s the only structure left from the estate of Paulin Caperon, a wealthy Frenchman who was not especially friendly or forthcoming with his neighbors. Rumors spread quickly when he left the country without notice. He was a criminal, on the run from the French secret police. He was a military commander who embezzled millions from the army. He was secretly royalty, hiding the French Empress on his estate along with her royal jewels.

The building itself is odd. There are windows, but no doors. Newspaper stories say it was once a library, or housed a water tank, or was a lookout tower, but today it no longer has any clear purpose. The windows have been bricked up by the current owner, although at some point vandals made an entry hole through the side. A section of earth was dug out inside the tower, presumably to find the hidden tunnels that are rumored to run beneath it. I didn’t find any hidden gold, or French jewels, but then I didn’t bring any tools other than my camera.

Further Reading: Palo Alto’s “Mysterious Frenchman”

# Posted on June 13, 2018 by Marc Charbonneau.