In the late 1950s, Maureen Kelland and her then-fiancé, Jim, were drinking beer at Rosotti’s and admiring the beautiful hill across the road.
As a part of the banter among the group, a friend suggested that Jim buy it, so they investigated, primarily as a lark. They found a little red ‘shack’ at the bottom of the hill where they met one Colonel Hunt, a real estate agent.
As Maureen tells the story, in 1959 and $9500 later, the Kellands owned a modest ranch house in Alpine Hills. The top was bare then, with only chaparral growing , but oaks grew in the gullies. For years, neighbors on Valencia closed the street on the 4th of July for a splendid neighborhood party.
Roseanne and Bard Bartelle looked everywhere around Palo Alto for a house with some land attached, with little success. Then one day, Roseanne’s hairdresser suggested that she contact a Mr. Holden, who had some lots for sale. It turned out that Don Holden had retained seven lots on the property he had just sold [land we call Alpine Hills today,] and they were indeed for sale.
The Bartelles liked the view and the thought of being in the country, so in 1955, they bought one of the lots for $8500. They chose a wooded lot instead of the one next door which was bare, built a house, and moved in in 1957.. Roseanne and others formed the Alpine Hills Women’s Club, and she and other mothers took turns with childcare.
They loved the beautiful area, removed from the hustle and bustle and stayed until 1991. They then became pioneer residents of The Forum, a place they chose for retirement because it reflected the same qualities they had so enjoyed in Portola Valley.
The Rathbuns bought property on Corte Madera Road in 1949 and in 1957 moved to Alpine Hills into a house they had designed and built. They had purchased their 2 acres in 1951, property Al believes to be the largest lot in the subdivision. At the time, Golden Oak was paved only to the end of their lot. When they saw a rattlesnake on the road, they wondered how many others were lurking around their property.
During the years when incorporation was being studied, Al carried petitions around the neighborhood, offering explanations about the advantages of local control of local issues and seeking signatures. He became a member of the first Planning Commission in 1964. At the beginning, the commission enforced county ordinances, which he says were lax and allowed almost anything, but they added more requirements as time passed. Even then they worried about the steepness of the slopes. He resigned because of a potential conflict of interest with his business, Earth Systems. He was also a founder of the Alpine Hills Investment Club, which, he says, was a ‘joke” at first, not making much money, but got better and was still in existence in 2009.
Diane and John Vedder found Menlo Park prices too high for them when they were looking for a home in 1957. They now consider themselves very lucky to have found their Alpine Hills lot. In three months in 1959, they built their house.
Peak Lane was simply a chained-off fire road when they bought. By the time they moved in, it had been paved and declared a road. There were no trees at the top of the hills. There was an Alpine Hills Ladies Club for many years, and a group of young mothers took turns running their own day care center/preschools for their youngsters. They particularly remember with fondness the local postman. He knew everyone, took pleasure in delivering packages, never mis-delivered, and occasionally served as bartender at house parties.
When Judy and Bob Falconer were Stanford students, the unpaved lanes of Portola Valley were trysting places for young couples. Later, after they married and were looking for a home, they returned to those lanes. They talked to realtor Gordon Oberg who operated from a little house on the corner of Alpine and Golden Oak. who showed them property. To get up to the property they were considering, they had to get up a head of steam to make it up the gravel road.
They bought their lot in 1955 and moved in in 1956 when there were very few other houses. They paid $7000 for an acres and a quarter, “a lot of money,” they recall today. Many years later when they moved to Westridge, they were told that their Alpine Hills house was bulldozed and taken in pieces to Pacific islands to be used for other houses. When the driveway was being constructed at their new house, an remarkable Ohlone lance point was unearthed, dated by an archaeologist who specializes in the Ohlone from 2000 BC to 800 BC.
When Ted Lamb and his Stanford classmates visited Rosottis’ in the early 1950s, he says it was “wild country” out here. There wasn’t even a road leading up the hills across the road. After a stint in his family’s business, he returned in 1960 to find big changes in the area. Alpine Road had been realigned a bit, with part of a hillside cut away to accommodate the changes. And Alpine Hills had a road. He and his wife Jean bought land a house near the “Stanford Triangle,” that steep, wooded land extending, even today, between Westridge and the northern arc of the Golden Oak semi-circle.
Eight or nine or ten neighborhood kids would hike through the wilderness to get there to play—building hideouts, having “shoot-outs” and all kinds of fun. Working for the real estate firm of Cornish and Carey, in the early 1960s he learned of an offer by Mills College in Oakland to buy land behind Rosottis’ to relocate their campus. The deal fell through amidst valley plans for incorporation. Because of so many various proposals for development, without incorporation, “It would have been a disaster,” he says.
Although Ilsa Cauble’s husband Dale was a contractor who built spec houses around Menlo Park, she says he was an Oklahoma cowboy at heart. So in 1950, when they found “perfect” land with a pasture for two horses and a stream along the edge, they bought their Alpine Hills property. They made a wonderful riding ring. Sausal Road stopped midway then, and the rest of the way up was a steep hill, somewhat smoothed later by further development. Neighborhood kids would haul big pieces of cardboard to the top, climb aboard, and slide all the way down.
An operating-room nurse, she worked the 3-11 shift at the old Stanford hospital, now Hoover Pavilion. She remembers being told tales of local quarries from which kids would roll rocks down to Alpine Road for building the stone house at 4141 that was once the Manginis’ Picnic Park and today is home to Windmill School.
Walter LeClerc first saw Alpine Hills in 1953. He loved the wide-open spaces and great vistas. It was then covered with brush with a few small, scattered oaks. After serving in the army in Alaska, he, his wife Grace, and their 4-month old daughter returned to the land he remembered, bought property in 1960 and had built their house by 1962.
He remembers the willingness of Wells Fargo to be flexible enough with a loan that he could work (he was an orthodontist) three days a week and build his house for three days. One day the LeClerc children were delighted to see cowboys outside, looking for cattle that had strayed. Their property was flat, a rarity in Alpine Hills, and provided an excellent playground. Houses were few, but many had swimming pools, and the owners were generous in sharing. One family was a neighborhood gathering place with a pool and an outside bar. Whenever their outside light was on, everyone was welcome to come by. Even then, traffic was an issue, even though he found it a pleasure to drive to work in Menlo Park, meeting perhaps 2 or 3 cars on the way.
Elsa Roscoe and her then-husband Ray Spafford found Portola Valley on a sightseeing jaunt in the days when the Alpine Hills sub-division was just being laid out. They fell in love with the place with its few houses tucked in among the trees; they felt they’d fit in well with the outdoorsy people.
Developer Don Holden carved out an extra “problem lot” for them on Holden Court. It had an irregular shape and was overgrown with vegetation; they considered the lot a challenge, but it had a better price than the others and had a forest in back and a fine view. People said: why would you move way out there? No street lights, no sidewalks, no sewers, and no private phone lines. In fact, for years the Spaffords shared a party line with their neighbors the Linvills. That arrangement worked so well that the two families continued it for many, many years, until the phone company said they had to have private lines.
She was an ardent naturalist and loved animals, especially her cats, Reilly and ENC. Elsa modeled for Eastman Kodak and at charity events in an earlier time. She outlived three husbands, traveled the world, sometimes on freighters, went on digs every summer with Earthwatch, volunteered at the USGS and practiced yoga every day from her 60s onward.
Esther and Martin Litton bought four acres in Alpine Hills in 1958 for $9000 and built their home there. For thirty years Esther was the Instructional Materials Clerk in the school district. Martin, interested in the outdoors and conservation since he was a boy, was the Travel Editor for Sunset Magazine and led dory trips down the Colorado River for decades. He has been honored nationally for his leadership in environmental protection and is a Blues and Barbecue honoree
Documenting life and times in the Town of Portola Valley, California