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Issue date: September 27, 2000

Portola Valley: New owners of historic Jelich Ranch say they'll restore it to its former appearance Portola Valley: New owners of historic Jelich Ranch say they'll restore it to its former appearance (September 27, 2000)

By Marion Softky

Almanac Staff Writer

The Jelich Ranch, where generations of children remember frolicking in a real live orchard while their parents bought apples and apricots, will be restored to its historic appearance, say its new owners, Phillip and Cindie White of Atherton.

The Whites plan to restore the buildings along Portola Road and rehabilitate the historic orchard, whose spring blooms furnished inspiration to generations of photographers. "We want to restore it to the way it was," said Mrs. White, who grew up in Portola Valley as Cindie Lozano, and attended Portola Valley School next door to the ranch, before it became Town Center. "My number one goal is preservation of nature and history."

The Whites bought the 14-acre ranch from the Jelich family in May. They have cleaned up junk that's been accumulating on the ranch and cleared the weeds in the neglected orchard. Crews from Second Harvest Food Bank are gleaning apples and pears from the fruit trees, and giving them to soup kitchens and charities around the Peninsula.

The purchase marks a new era for the historic ranch. Jelich family members have farmed the heart of Portola Valley for more than a century, since the first Walter Jelich immigrated from Croatia in 1892. His son, Walter Jelich, who ran the orchard for a generation and is fondly remembered by thousands of apple eaters, died in January.

Ed Jelich of Walnut Creek, Walter's brother, is delighted the ranch will be restored and loved. Even though it wasn't on the market, he received numerous offers for the prime acres that could be subdivided for two or three super homes. "I was anxious to sell it to (the Whites) because they want to rehabilitate it as it was," Mr. Jelich told the Almanac.

Mr. Jelich was born in the old farm house on Portola Road by the fruit stand. Built in 1916, "it was the first house in Portola Valley with indoor plumbing," he said.

On a walk around the property, the Whites are enthusiastic about their plans. They will rebuild the lattice on the old tank house opposite the end of Westridge Drive, which was damaged by a runaway truck. Towards Spring Down Farm, they want to dig up a bunch of cattails to restore an old farm pond where wild ducks can rest.

Their new home will be set well back from the road, in keeping with the spirit of the old ranch. "We'd like to do something that fits the land and the history," said Mrs. White. "We want a simple, old-fashioned farm house -- no Tudor."

The Whites have already started planning to restore the orchard, which has gone untended for several years. They have walked through the apricots, apples, plums, pears and quince with Mr. Jelich and an orchard guru, to decide which trees can be saved and which replaced. "The orchard needs a lot of pruning and TLC," Mr. Jelich said.

"We'd like to have a working orchard so kids can come and see where their fruit comes from," said Mr. White, who is now a marketing consultant for high-tech companies. "We're going to try to get it back like it was 30 years ago."

The revived orchard will represent a slice of history, Mrs. White added. In contrast to today's orchards that cluster semi-dwarf trees for maximum yield, the Jelich orchard still has antique apples and trees that are 80 years old. "They really don't grow apples that way any more; it's not cost-effective," she said.

Most of all, the Whites and their two children, 5 and 7, have been enjoying their new property, exploring its natural areas and planning its future. "We've had so much fun out there. We've gone out and picked blackberries and found a deer hoof," said Mrs. White. "I want to get back to nature and make jam and pickles, and have the children play with sticks and stones and animals."


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