Viewpoint - May 19, 2010

Guest opinion: The storied life of Jack Mangini

by Nancy Lund

When Jack Mangini died in March at 92, Portola Valley lost not only a beloved elder citizen but one of the last of our pioneer residents. Jack's grandfather, Andrew Mangini, came to Portola Valley around 1885 and joined other ethnic groups from many countries. They were truck farmers, raising strawberries and vegetables for San Francisco and the local market.

Jack's mother Ida and her husband, another Andrew Mangini, had five children. In 1924 they bought property at the site of today's Alpine Hills Swim and Tennis Club, a saloon and other small buildings. They began improvements, primarily two dance floors (one covered, one open) and barbecue pits. The Mangini Picnic Park became enormously popular. Thousands of people would show up on weekends to enjoy the enticements; their cars would line Alpine Road from Los Trancos to Arastradero roads.

In 1939, the Manginis built the stone house at 4141 Alpine, now the home of Windmill Preschool. Jack remembered bringing the stones down the hill from a quarry in Alpine Hills. For 20 years, Manginis' Roadhouse was one of the area's biggest attractions. It fell into disuse when the Manginis sold.

However, in 1964, the little stone house was called into service once again; the roadhouse became the first Portola Valley Town Hall.

Jack had a remarkable memory and loved to tell stories about growing up here in the 1920s and 1930s: Mayor Rolph stopping for strawberries; bootlegging ("everyone had a still"); going to work at 5 a.m. on the estates in a horse-drawn wagon and returning at 7 p.m.; watching the Chinese strawberry pickers; waiting half an hour by the road for the next car to drive by.

When he married Laura Ramies 63 years ago, their marriage united two pioneer families. The Ramies family originated in Spain and arrived in Portola Valley in the 1920s via Hawaii and Morgan Hill. They worked for the Schillings, Jacklings or Phlegers, picking prunes and apricots. Son Martin bought the Portola Valley Garage in 1963, and it has become an institution. He and his sister Laura are now the last survivors of those early families who came here to make a living off the land and stayed to watch a little town emerge.

Nancy Lund is town historian of Portola Valley.


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