Bob and Sue Katz bought their lot on Mapache in 1958, even though they were living in the East at the time. Four years later they moved into their new home. It was two years before incorporation, and Bob became interested in the discussions within the community. Seeing the benefits of decisions being made by local people instead of by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors or Planning Commission, Bob led the campaign for local control. He still remembers a great celebratory party on June 24, 1964 when residents voted “yes” to incorporation.
He became the first chairman (and last survivor) of the first Portola Valley Planning Commission. He says that the town’s spirit of volunteerism began in those very early years of the town’s history.
He remembers those early years as wonderful. Twenty or thirty families all had children about the same ages, and everyone played together and walked to school together. The creek that runs behind and below the Katz house (and several others,) was a favorite spot. One day as one of the Katz sons came home after playing for hours down there, he said, “Every boy should have his own creek!”
August 14, 1945.Thirty million persons had died, but World War II was over, and the world began to revert slowly to normalcy. Boom time lay ahead. The war had had a powerful effect on San Mateo County. Thousands of workers had moved into the area to staff the military installations created in the war effort. Tens of thousands of members of the armed forced had passed through on the way to the Pacific theater. Many liked what they saw here and planned to return once the war ended.By 1950, more than 20,000 people a year were pouring into San Mateo County, looking for homes and jobs. The county population had increased by 110% between 1940 and 1950, and the 1950s saw another 89% increase. Subdivisions popped up everywhere. Assembly-line construction produced apartments, single-family dwellings and other necessary facilities at a rapid clip.The open land that once made San Mateo County the immense garden of San Francisco began to disappear. Eminent County Historian Frank Sanger summed up the situation in 1954: “Today the word most characteristic of the times is ‘subdivision.’ Divide and subdivide is the order of the day, driven on by the pressure of increased land values.”Little Portola Valley, a quiet hamlet of estates, small farms and summer cottages, wasn’t immune to the pressure. Two of the large landowners or their heirs put their properties on the market. In 1948, the Fitzhugh heirs sold their estate, Catoctin, today’s Grove and Stonegate neighborhoods, to the real estate firm of Cornish and Carey for 41 building sites that ranged in size from one to two and a half acres.
In 1946, Dent Macdonough sold the first portion of his Ormondale Ranch to a cooperative, the Peninsula Housing Association, that began the development of Ladera.
Old Ladera Brochure
At first Macdonough was horrified at the thought of 400 houses rising on those 260 acres.
But he realized that civilization was closing in, and he was ready to move on. In 1947 he sold 209 acres to the Westridge Company, which eventually increased its holdings to 750 acres. Respecting the beauty of the land, these developers restricted lot size to 2 ½ acres. In 1955, Macdonough sold another 125 acres that became the Oak Hills development with two acre minimums. Between 1957 and 1963, he sold the flat land around today’s Ormondale School, the heart of his immense ranch, thereby creating Arrowhead Meadows.These were very tempting properties to young families. Although many buyers and their friends thought Portola Valley was too far out in the country, prices were less than those in Palo Alto. And the land was beautiful.
A look at the school population from 1944 to 1957, thirteen years, reveals how rapidly the young families were arriving:1944: 24 students; 1949: 62; 1951: 149; 1953: 230; 1957: 464!
The two one-room schoolhouses weren’t sufficient for the young students. One was divided into two classrooms; the other was dismantled to make room for Portola Valley School which was built in sections in the 1950s but not fast enough to accommodate the increasing enrollment.
For a time kindergarteners met at Our Lady of the Wayside. Some classes went into double sessions. Fruit picker shacks and dormitories were revamped for classrooms.The superintendent held parent conferences in his car.
The band practiced in the redwood grove.During one election, a class was held in the school bus because the room was needed for the voters.
Thanks to regular bond issues, Corte Madera opened in 1958, the last wings of PVS were finished in 1959, and Ormondale was ready in 1961.
At last every child has a regular classroom, but growth was predicted to continue. In 1956 a survey conducted by the San Mateo County School Board and Stanford’s School of Education predicted that the population would double from 2800 within 5 years, eventually reaching 2637 to 4000 families with a school population that would reach 1900. In 1959 the county planning commission projected a population of 17,000 by 1990. It was not only families that were tempted by the open spaces in Portola Valley.
California Cabana Clubs planned a country club at Portola and Westridge with a 9-hole golf course among other sporting amenities, just one of three such plans being proposed.
“Mama” Garcia, proprietor of the popular restaurant bearing her name, applied to open a rest home.A 75-bed hospital at Nathhorst was in the works as was a convalescent hospital on Hillbrook. Apartments were being considered. Thoughts of a new state college on the Bovet property arose. Multiple plans were broached for extending Willow Road [now called Sand Hill] along Alpine Road which would become a four lane parkway astride Los Trancos Creek. It could then extend over Coal Mine Ridge to connect with Page Mill Road. Or Willowbrook could become that extension.It gradually became apparent to the new residents that the ambiance of their new hometown could change drastically. They loved the quiet rural quality, the wildlife, the views, the pleasure of riding horses over open space. They worried about decisions that the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors or Planning Commission might make for their little corner at the very southern tip of the county, so far away from the seat of government. Realizing that the post-war boom was reaching the valley, on January 13, 1955, a group of 75 residents met at Portola School to discuss how to protect the character of the area, to defend it against intensive development, the population boom and urbanization. This group, originally led by Robert Paul, Ray Garrasino, Tony Rose and Jeffrey Smith eventually became the Portola Valley Association. The drive for incorporation had begun.
The Jean and Bill Lane have been enormous benefactors to Portola Valley for decades.
Bill Lane camped in Portola Valley as a boy; Jean, however, came to California after college, met Bill, and first visited our town when she was looking for horse property . When the Realtor showed her the site where she still lives, she knew immediately that it was the right place.
Their Westridge property eventually extended to ten acres, over which they placed a conservation easement, to maintain open space into the future. This agreement means that the two lots they purchased in addition to their original site cannot have houses built on them.
Bill was a key figure in the incorporation of Portola Valley, and Jean was a founding member of the Westridge Garden Club which recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.
Bill loved colorful clothing and enjoyed being Santa during the holidays at the Ladera Country Shopper. He was an active participant in local government and always wore a flag pin on his label.
Documenting life and times in the Town of Portola Valley, California