Tag Archives: Mangini’s Picnic Park

The Story of Windmill School

Everyone who travels on Portola Road in Portola Valley notices the whimsical windmill that has stood on the corner of Georgia Lane for ninety-nine years. Some probably know that it isn’t really a windmill; rather it’s a structure placed atop a well by William Fitzhugh, the owner of an estate called Catoctin, todays’ Grove and Stonegate.

But few know that a Portola Valley institution had its beginnings right beside that windmill around sixty years ago. That institution is the Windmill Preschool. Ever wondered why it’s called Windmill? Now you know. Since the preschool is soon to begin a new chapter in its evolution, this seems a good time to tell its story.

It was in the 1950s, most probably 1957, that Irma Scheller, a young mom who lived on Wyndham, decided to open a preschool in the little house that stood beside the windmill. The house wasn’t in very good shape, and It was a simple beginning for the school she called Windmill Day Nursery School. Among its features were a six-foot long green fiberglass dinosaur and a tan four-foot tall horse with a white mane.

Mrs. Scheller probably didn’t know that the very site where she started her preschool had been the home of the Corte Madera Brewery in the 1870s.

She ran the school until 1969 when the land with the house was purchased by Sharon and Dennis Reichardt. They ran the school for a few years and in 1974 hired Joan Barksdale from the renowned Bing Nursery School at Stanford to be the director. Learning through play continued to be the school’s philosophy. Since the house was small, and since our climate is what it is, much of the program was outside: walking through the nearby orchard, looking at the creek that was right there, playing with the goat, gathering eggs from the chickens and the watching the sheep being sheared every year. The garage was on a slab, and that’s where the easels were set up for art. There were ten or twelve families, who all became good friends.

When the Reichardts decided to sell the property in the mid-1970s, the families of Windmill wanted the preschool to continue. By then about seventy children were enrolled. Possible sites were few, but the little stone building on the Alpine Hills Swim and Tennis Club property that had served as the Town Hall was empty. The group created a non-profit corporation with a volunteer board of directors. They raised money, came to an agreement with with Alpine Hills and the Town,  donated hours of physical labor to get the building and grounds ready, and moved the Windmill Preschool into new quarters in 1977.

The families probably didn’t know that before their preschool became the Town Hall, the building had been Eugene Kelly’s saloon in the teens and twenties and later the center of the Manginis’ Picnic Park until 1958, a spot where many a glass of beer had been quaffed. Their historic bar is featured in the swim and tennis club today.

It turned out to be a good fit. At first a maximum of 21 children from ages 2 ½ to 6 were allowed at any one time, with up to three teachers. The youngsters could participate in a tennis camp and a swim program in addition to the regular learn-through-play curriculum.

Now we come to the present. The little stone house is really too small for the kinds of programs the staff would like to offer today. And the swim and tennis club needs the building. So the search for new quarters has been on. Options aren’t much greater today than they were in the mid ‘70s.

After a long, diligent search, the board of directors purchased the Al’s Nursery site, 900 Portola Road, in 2015. When the new buildings are ready, in the fall of 2017, they have plans to add to the program—morning classes for all preschool age groups, a ‘young fives’ class, and enrichment classes for both preschoolers and young elementary school students. They will establish also a Family Education Center.  The tradition of play-based learning for all the community’s preschoolers will be enhanced, and the school will, for the first time in its sixty years of existence, have its own home.

And those families that established the non-profit foundation in the 1970s? They established personal bonds as well, went on to play many leadership roles in the schools, and remain good friends today.

Ilsa Cauble

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.

_DSC0399_Ilse_Cauble
Ilse Cauble, May 19, 2013

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.

Ellen and Bob Mosley

Ellen and Bob Mosley met at Stanford where both were “hashers.”

Ellen Mosley
Ellen Mosley,  2009

Ellen was born in California, and Bob had come from Kansas in the late 1930s when his dad was in graduate school. In the 1940s Ellen would ride her bike out Alpine – past the Buck Estate, the Stanford convalescent hospital, Interdale, the Piers dairy, a house that became an antique store called Merryvale, Lazy Day, Rosotti’s, a chicken farm and Mangini’s Picnic Park, now almost all long gone. They bought their Westridge lot in 1953 – $5300 for two and a half treeless acres. In those post World War II days, most women didn’t work outside the home, and several families in Westridge were building their own homes. Ellen drew their plans and got a building permit in three days.

Bob Mosley, September 24, 2009
Bob Mosley, 2009

After his day job as an electrical engineer, Bob would prepare bricks for a day’s work, cutting them to shape. He’d mix a batch or mortar before he left the next morning, and during the day Ellen would lay the bricks in place.  They and their four children all rode horses, especially loving going overland on long rides. The population was rising so rapidly that one year a trail might end in someone’s patio, where the previous year it had been an open field.