Two years ago, Fran Dehn, president of the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce, saw a gap in books about Menlo Park history. Yes, there was a big, text-heavy tome on Menlo Park's history "Beyond the Gates," by Michael Svanevik and Shirley Burgett (2000). But what about a book that just had photos and a little bit of context about the people and places that made Menlo Park unique? A book people could give as gifts to showcase their town's history?
Ms. Dehn said she was familiar with Arcadia Publishing, a press that works with local authors to create books of photographs focusing on a local area or topic as part of its "Images of America" series. She had seen some of these books in nearby towns.
"I thought it was remiss that Menlo Park didn't have one," Ms. Dehn said.
During the hubbub of Menlo Park's celebration of the 150th anniversary of Caltrain in October 2013, she approached two local authors: Janet McGovern and Nick Veronico. Ms. McGovern had worked as a reporter for the Redwood City Tribune and in communications at Caltrain, and Mr. Veronico has authored or coauthored more than 35 books on transportation, the military and local history.
The two accepted the challenge, enlisting the collaboration of their respective journalistic spouses, Reg McGovern, longtime photographer for the Redwood City Tribune, and Betty Veronico, senior property manager at Hudson Pacific Properties and author of an "Images of America" book called "Lighthouses of the Bay Area" (2008, $21.99).
The four were not new to the collaborative art of crafting these concise, image-rich books, which, due to tight word limits for captions, is a bit "like writing a haiku," according to Ms. McGovern.
Prior to embarking on their project to capture the photographic history of Menlo Park, the four had written books with Arcadia Publishing about Redwood City, titled "Redwood City" (2008, $21.99) and "Redwood City: Then and Now" (2010, $21.99). Nick and Betty Veronico had compiled "San Carlos" (2007, $21.99), and Janet McGovern had written one on her own titled "Caltrain and the Peninsula Commute Service" (2012, $21.99), drawing upon her time working in Caltrain's marketing department and covering the commuter rail line as a reporter for the Redwood City Tribune. Many of Mr. McGovern's photographs were used in the Caltrain book.
Mr. Veronico said the team worked hard to gather photos from all over the community. The Menlo Park Historical Association agreed that the authors could use photos in the association's archives for free, according to Jym Clendenin, president of the association. The authors also went door-to-door, visiting churches, businesses and organizations across Menlo Park to track down old photographs.
"It's easy to go to just one source but I think that would be pretty transparent," Mr. Veronico said.
The team divided the work by their interests: Ms. Veronico wrote the chapters on the early history of Menlo Park, Ms. McGovern wrote about schools and churches, and Mr. Veronico wrote about infrastructure, technology and military history.
Reg McGovern, the fourth collaborator on the project, died on Aug. 5. Many of the photographs in the book were his.
One surprising finding and a recurring theme of the research was the longevity of small family businesses, Ms. McGovern said. Citing local "institutions" such as Beltramo's, Ann's Coffee Shop, Draeger's, and Hoot & Toot Cleaners, she noted that many small family businesses in operation today have lasted for generations.
Betty Veronico agreed. "As big as it has grown, I think it's still a mom and pop kind of town," she said.
Since the book's publication, Ms. McGovern said, new stores have opened and others have closed, already making the book outdated.
"History is happening right around us all the time," she said.