Nancy Lund, Portola Valley Historian

Fifty-four years ago, Westridge became one of the first portions of the 1400-acre Ormondale Ranch to be sold for development as a modern neighborhood. The ranch, originally known as the Menlo Stock Farm, had been in the Macdonough family since the 1890s. It had been purchased by William O’Brien Macdonough, nephew and heir of William O’Brien, partner of James Flood and thus one of the Comstock Lode silver barons.

He raised a string of prize racehorses, competing in a friendly fashion with his neighbor Leland Stanford. Because one of his horses, Ormondale, showed such great promise, he changed the name of the ranch to reflect the great hopes he had for this horse.

Through the years, the ranch passed to William O’Brien’s brother Joseph and eventually to Joseph’s son Dent. When horse racing became illegal in California in 1908, the racehorses were sold, and in the next decades cattle and sheep raising became the business of the ranch.

It was after World War II ended that the little village astride the San Andreas Fault began to boom.  Dent decided it wasn’t “country” any more and put the family ranch on the market. Three men, Jesse Hayes, Elmore Hutchinson and Albert Evers, had come to love the beauty of the valley and bought some land that Dent had for sale with the goal of developing it in a way that maintained the rolling, tree-studded rural ambiance.  

They created the Westridge Company and bought 209 acres for $125,000, eventually increasing their holdings to 750 acres. They laid out the roads and lots, setting the minimum size at 2 ½ acres, each with an easement for a bridle path.  The price then was around $10,000 for the land and perhaps $50,000 for a typical house.

To insure that buyers built their houses and outbuildings with respect for the land and their neighbors, the developers created the Westridge Architectural Supervising Committee (WASC) in January of 1948. The developers were the committee members for the first ten years and then, as today, elected residents serve. Perhaps the most unusual issues the committee has been asked to evaluate are a request for a radio tower and an inquiry by a prospective buyer if commuting by helicopter would be a problem. 

A 1954 question offers a surprising contrast to today’s discussions of house size in which the term “monster house” arises. Many current residents have objected to any restrictions being placed on additions to their homes. Back then Westridge folks voted not to impose a MIMIMUM house size on the development.

Another incident, from the late fifties before the town was incorporated, illustrates how those early Westridge residents paved the way for the preservation of the rural characteristics that make the town so special today.  95% of the residents voted to petition the San Mateo County Planning Commission to bring the county's one-acre minimum ordinance into conformance with the subdivision's 2-½ acres minimum.  This the Commission did.

And so a neighborhood of rare beauty was created in ten sections, from 1947 to 1965. The rattlesnakes and larks are mostly gone, and no one has seen a roadrunner for years. But there are more trees and birds now than there were in the early days.  Of course, poison oak continues to thrive. And for those who are very observant and know just where to look, a very few remnants of the old Ormondale Ranch remain.