Tag Archives: Alpine Inn

A New Claim to Fame for Zots

First Internet Transmission right here at the Alpine Inn
First Internet Transmission from Zots

2006 was the year of two important local anniversaries. More than a century apart, one is of regional interest; the other marks an event of worldwide significance. Each has a connection to one Portola Valley building.

First, the oldest commemoration. San Mateo County is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year. It was April 19, 1856 when the county was created. Few county buildings have survived for those 150 years. One is Portola Valley’s Alpine Inn, also known affectionately as Rossotti’s or simply Zot’s. Opened originally in the 1850s by Felix Buelna as a place for Californios to drink and gamble, its survival is one of the surprising quirks of history.

In 1908 David Starr Jordan, Stanford’s first president, wrote to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors about the little building known today as the Alpine Inn.   “The Wunder is unusually vile, even for a roadhouse, a great injury to the university, and a disgrace to San Mateo County,” he said.

Wouldn’t he be surprised to know that that same rough little structure at the intersection of Arastradero and Alpine roads has not only survived but also was the site of an event that marked the beginning of an unparalleled change in the way people across the planet live, work, and play?

The second event commemorated that year took place thirty years earlier, on August 27, 1976.  Researchers from SRI International in Menlo Park chose Zot’s for a special ceremony. The SRI mobile radio laboratory, housed in a large van, pulled up outside the roadhouse one warm summer afternoon. The scientists placed a computer terminal on one of the picnic tables out behind the building and connected it to the van. Then they proceeded to send a long electronic report.

In a February 2002 article from CORE 3.1, the journal of the Computer History Museum of Mountain View, former SRI Computer Science Division Vice-President Don Nielson called this electronic message (not yet called e-mail)   “… the first internet transmission…”  What a surprising addition to the annals of the oldest surviving roadhouse in California!

And why did the scientists choose Rossotti’s for this event? “It was a well-known place and far enough from SRI to qualify as ‘remote’ but close enough to have good radio contact through a repeater station atop a hill above Stanford,” Nielson reported.  Perhaps they also liked the idea of linking the past with the future, using one of the oldest buildings in the area for a landmark event they believed would revolutionize the future.

Scientists at SRI and other places had been working on developing this  flexible integration of dissimilar digital communications networks for two or three years. The SRI scientists had been testing this new  protocol for some weeks and decided to acknowledge their success with the little celebration at Rossotti’s. Technical details, including a diagram of the Rossotti’s transmission, can be found in the article “The SRI Van and Computer Internetworking” in that 2002 Computer History Museum journal.

Although ARPANET transmissions had been taking place since 1969, now two dissimilar networks had been linked for the first time. A year later, in 1977,  three neworks were linked in transmissions, and the Internet was on its way.

Few who join the crowd at the rustic tables for hamburgers and beer know about that momentous afternoon in 1976. The internet age began when an electronic message was sent from the picnic grounds of Zot’s via the radio network to SRI International and on through a second network (the ARPANET) to its final destination in Boston.

Internet Transmission from Zots
Path for Internet Transmission from Zots

 

Alpine Inn – Zots, Rossotti’s, Casa de Tableta

alpine inn
Alpine Inn by Artist Jean Groberg

In 1908 David Starr Jordan, Stanford’s first president, wrote to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors about the little building known today as the Alpine Inn.   “The Wunder  is unusually vile, even for a roadhouse, a great injury to the university, and a disgrace to San Mateo County,” he said.

Wouldn’t he be surprised to know that that same rough little structure at the intersection of Arastradero and Alpine roads is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a California Registered Landmark?  It is considered to be the oldest surviving roadhouse in California and the longest continual business operation in San Mateo County.  How has it managed to survive and thrive despite such prestigious opposition?

Its story begins in the tumultuous 1850s.  California was a new state, and Anglos were pouring into our area from the gold fields, bringing with them the English language and American laws and customs.  San Jose became the state capital, and many Mexican Californios  of pueblo and rancho days retreated to more outlying areas such as Portola Valley.  Felix Buelna was one of them.

He had served as alcalde [mayor] of San Jose and later in a group of Californios appointed to help ease the transition to the new government.  He left, perhaps in disillusionment after being told to enforce the laws only against his ‘own kind’.

After a brief stay on a ranch near Skyline and Page Mill, he opened a roadhouse and casa de tableta [house of cards] on his friend Maximo Martinez’ rancho about 1852.  He chose his site well.  At the intersection of the old Arrastradero leading to Mission Santa Clara and points south and the Old Spanish Trail [Alpine Road] extending over the mountains to the coast, it was a convenient spot for thirsty men and horses to stop.   It was also a respite for his countrymen away from the Anglos.

In 1868, the property passed into the possession of a Scotch-Irishman, William Stanton.  According to a Buelna grandson, it was to pay a gambling debt.  County recorder’s records show that the 95 acres which include today’s Alpine Hills subdivision sold for just under $1200 gold coin.  Although Stanton was killed in a train-buggy collision twenty years later, the land and the roadhouse remained in his family’s ownership until 1940.

The list of proprietors who leased the roadhouse from the Stanton family reflects the early ethnic heritage of the region:  Mexican, Portuguese, Italian, German, and a Croatian in the person of Walter Jelich, Sr.  His is probably the only name known to residents today. The names of the place changed during these years to reflect the lessee’s origins:  Fernando’s, Philpot’s, Stanton’s Saloon, Chapete’s Place, The Wunder, and Schenkel’s Picnic Park.

The most infamous lessee was Rodriguez Crovello, familiarly known as “Black Chapete”.  He held forth at the bar in the decades around the turn of the century.  He was short and plump with a big handlebar mustache.  Considered easy-going and likable, he was known to like his liquor and to be unlucky at cards.  He was fined for operating without a license, accused regularly [but never convicted] of running a house of ill-repute, and known for serving minors. He ended up at the poor farm in 1911.

The opening of Stanford University in 1891 immediately brought a boost to business.  Throngs of students loved the place that was described in an alumnae magazine as “a miserable, low-class saloon of the San Francisco waterfront type.” Its unsavory reputation added to its appeal in the minds of many students

Mayfield’s 23 saloons closed in 1905, and in 1909 the mile-and-a-half law [no liquor sales within 1 ½ miles of the campus] took effect, closing Menlo Park’s 14. The Wunder escaped.  Business remained good, even after forty Stanford students were expelled for drunkenness.

Not even the five mile dry zone imposed around Menlo Park’s Camp Fremont during World War I reached The Wunder.  Its location continued to be an advantage, if for a new reason.

During prohibition, Julius Schenkel opened the adjacent field for camping.  City folks came down for a few days or a week to enjoy the country creekside ambiance.  He painted out the name of the establishment and added a dance pavilion.  Stories of its role in bootleg operations in an area renown for its stills are as varied as they are impossible to confirm.

In 1938, Mrs. Stanton, who had received rental income from the roadhouse since the death of her husband in 1887, died at the age of 84.  Enter the most famous proprietor, Enrico Rossotti.  He took over the lease and purchased the property in 1940.  Although he only owned his beer garden for eight years, the old place is still affectionately known by his name, or by the even more familiar “Zot’s.”

Don Horther and John Alexander and their wives leased and then purchased Rossotti’s Beer Garden in 1959 and gave it its current name, Alpine Inn.  For the last year and a half, for the first time in 140 years, a woman has been the sole owner and proprietor, Molly Alexander, the widow of John.  She plans to stay on indefinitely.

And so the rude little building, so well situated along important early roads, just distant enough from the arm of the law, and always tended by genial barkeepers, has become an institution.