Remembering the Atherton of his youth


It's been many years since Jonathan Berg has lived in Atherton.

Still, he says, the recent death of his mother, Noyon Berg, at the age of 98, brought back fond memories. His family moved to Atherton from San Francisco in 1950, just before he turned 7. His mother lived more than six decades in Atherton and Menlo Park.

"Atherton was great," he says. "People had money but it wasn't terribly obvious. The houses were reasonably big, but they were on big properties."

Before moving to Atherton, the Berg family had spent summers in Palo Alto. Their Atherton home, like many in the town at the time, was originally a summer cottage.

In those days, Mr. Berg says, Atherton actually was "the country." At the time, he says, the only way to get to San Francisco by car was on El Camino Real, an almost two-hour drive.

Young Jonathan fell in love with horses, somewhat to the consternation of his mother, and spent most of his free time at Bill Gilmore's farm, where he became a stable hand. "I spent a lot of time mucking stalls and riding horses," he says.

The farm was about 30 acres, between Isabella and Alejandra avenues, fronting on El Camino Real, he says. There were as many as 40 horses in residence, a half-mile exercise track and 10 acres of alfalfa growing in the middle.

The farm was also home to one of the best 10-goal (elite level) polo teams in the country, he says.

From the farm, Mr. Berg says, he could ride to Woodside, Palo Alto, even Half Moon Bay if he wanted. There was no Sand Hill Road and no I-280 freeway.

The Berg family lived on nearby Winchester Drive. A street over, Ty Cobb lived on Spencer Lane. "We were "backdoor neighbors," Mr. Berg says. "I got to know him from his walks in the neighborhood he had me over a few times and showed me a silver bat and other memorabilia."

"It was pretty wonderful," Mr. Berg says of those days. "There were no leash laws, dogs ran free." His family had a duck that wandered the neighborhood and made messes in the neighbors' yards.

Mr. Berg says that in those days, neighbors were truly neighborly and moms were usually at home being moms, as well as supporting various philanthropies. His own mother was involved with organizations from San Francisco to Palo Alto.

Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park was the big shopping area until the Stanford Shopping Center opened, he says.

One thing that was the same, though. "Rossatti's was a hopping place in the 60s," Mr. Berg says of the Portola Valley icon. Even though the official name of the establishment is now "Alpine Inn Beer Garden," pretty much everyone still calls it Rossatti's.

"When I wasn't riding a horse I was riding my bike," he says. His father took the train into San Francisco for his investment job, and with the stock market open for shortened hours on Saturdays, would often travel to San Francisco that day as well.

He went to elementary school, before Hillview was open, in classrooms that were rented from the Presbyterian Church and reverted to church school classrooms on Sundays.

He attended the nearly new Menlo-Atherton High School, graduating in 1961.

Many of today's local institutions barely existed. "Menlo Circus Club was a big field, a starter clubhouse with a pool, and a few tennis courts at the time," he says. "Burgess Gym was basically a wood barn, and that was it."

"Stanford was truly the farm," he says, with long stretches of weeds between campus buildings.

After Olive Holbrook-Palmer donated her family's land to the town for a park, his parents got involved. "It was all you could do to get the Atherton Township to accept it," he says of the donation. "Now, I read that the township is building a multi-million dollar town hall and library – a lot has changed."

Related story: Noyon Berg, 98, worked to establish Holbrook-Palmer Park in Atherton.

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Like this comment
Posted by Kathy True Bejarano
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jul 21, 2016 at 12:32 pm

Brings back lots of memories! We also moved to the area (Menlo Park) in 1950 from San Francisco, went to the Presbyterian Church classrooms for third grade while they were expanding Hillview School, then on to Hillview and Menlo-Atherton.

I remember Noyon Berg - a lovely woman, and also remember sharing many a classroom with Jon (as he was called then). Thanks for the memories!

4 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Berg
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 2, 2016 at 8:56 am

Responding to More than "just a mom.” The article is about my remembrances of growing up in Atherton. During my childhood, the late 1940s, 50's and early 60's, it was very much a Leave it to Beaver life with mothers staying home. But, don’t misinterpret what that meant. At the time when my mom was at home being a mom, she also was extremely involved in a number of charitable organizations that touched the lives of many people on The Penninsula. You should also know that my mother was widowed relatively young, age 60, and went out and found a job in an investment firm to keep herself busy and relevant. She continued her charitable work until well into her 90s.

All this meant is that it was a different time than it is today, and your daughter should read about a wonderful woman who tried to better the lives of a great many people with her work, even if she was a “stay-at-home mom."

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