Carol Jacobs learned from a woman who babysat in Portola Valley about the special qualities of the town. Although the Jacobs family bought a house in Hidden Valley, they were in closer proximity to Portola Valley than Woodside, and her thoughts and activities always revolved around Portola Valley.
One of her special memories is taking a family walk every Thanksgiving while the turkey baked. One walk she especially remembers was with Herb Dengler, an early and longtime resident who knew and respected every aspect of nature. [The Herb Dengler Preserve near the top of Hayfields and the Larry Lane Trail honors his memory.] This hike took them to the hills of the then-Morshead property above the schoolhouse where Herb showed Carol an albino redwood. If it is still there, no one knows its location any more.
John Wilson was stationed at Moffet during the war and loved the area so much that he bought ten acres in what became Portola Valley from Dent Macdonough, owner of the Ormondale Ranch. One day in the late fifties, his mother in Akron, Ohio told him to look up the daughter of a family friend, also from Akron, who was also living in the Bay Area. So he met Nancy. Shortly thereafter, on New Year’s Day in 1957, they went for breakfast at the Stanford Golf Course Club House, the only place they could find that was open. Afterward, John suggested that they go for a drive since it was such a beautiful day. He took her to his property on unpaved Golden Hills Drive. They scrambled up a hill to the top, the property John had bought, where he said, “Let’s build our dream house here some day.” And they did. John went on to found a major Silicon Valley law firm and served on the Town Council while Nancy was busy raising their three children. When she moved to the Sequoias, she met a man there who had worked with the architect who designed their dream house. He was able to give her the original architectural plans for that house that had been build half a century before.
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.
When the Larkins moved to the Bay Area because Ken was hired by Lockheed, they stayed at first at the Cardinal Hotel in Palo Alto. Marge had the responsibility of finding permanent housing. She toured the area with a realtor, looking for a house with some land and was discouraged until one day, they visited Portola Valley. It was a “spec house” on Valencia that attracted her attention.
Ken liked it too, although the steep price, $110,000, was beyond their budget. They liked it enough to take out a second mortgage. After about ten years, they found almost three acres on Golden Hills, built a house there and moved. “We always wanted to look out on land, not houses,” she says. She remembers meeting Sandy McKay and hearing his plans for a swim and tennis club. They were among the first to become members.
The Hopkins came in 1959 to Alpine Hills. Crystal’s husband told her to go out and find what she wanted.
She remembers that the view was like a picture. “You could look out and see the water of the bay,” she says. She remembers how bare the land was then, which made the views possible. Her mother kept a beautiful garden on the property, much admired by everyone.
Documenting life and times in the Town of Portola Valley, California