Adobe Creek Lodge Story

I. An old and distinguished San Francisco family name is Haas, associated with the clothing firm begun by Levi Strauss, who patented denim jeans reinforced with copper rivets. I mention this family in passing and only because of another San Franciscan named Haas, who may or may not have been related. In 1934 Milton Haas was vice-president of the San Francisco firm of Consolidated Chemicals, 405 Montgomery Street. It was the Great Depression, but Consolidated must have managed not just to survive but to do well, as that year Milton Haas bought 35 acres just off Moody Road in what is now Los Altos Hills.

Wanting to develop the property as a luxurious country retreat, Haas engaged prominent San Francisco architects Albert Farr and J. Francis Ward to design a 17-room English-style manor. It would cost $250,000, an immense sum then. (A Tudor-style house by Farr and Ward stands in San Francisco today, 2940 Lake Street. They also remodeled and added to Aetna Springs Resort in St. Helena, California.) Haas had the grounds landscaped with Norwegian blue spruce, Italian cypress, magnolias, and other rare and famous trees and flowers. Besides the mansion, Haas built outbuildings and accommodations for servants, 27 of them, and for maintenance and gardening personnel. The resulting property was one of the most finest on the San Francisco Peninsula, where such estates sprouted after the Gold Rush as huge fortunes were made; and lost.

II. Milton Haas had his estate just ten years. In 1945 he sold it to another San Franciscan, Henry Waxman, who owned bakeries on Chestnut Street in Cow Hollow and Geary Boulevard in the outer Richmond District. Waxman expanded Adobe Creek Lodge, purchasing 28 surrounding acres. More critically, he developed its commercial usage. He opened the grounds as a swimming club, which was so popular that he added a second swimming pool, and added a supper club accommodating 500 patrons.

A neighboring enterprise, picnic grounds called Shangri-la, was purchased by one Mario Gemello, who leased it to Waxman with an option to buy. Adobe Creek Lodge grew to 100 acres. It had parking space for two thousand cars, barbecue facilities, an 80-foot bar, and two outdoor dance pavilions. Some of most famous names of the Big Band era played at Adobe Creek: Ray Anthony, Harry James, Jimmy Dorsey, and Anson Weeks, among others. Another recreation was gambling: roulette wheels, blackjack, and dice.

III. Like Haas's, Waxman's Adobe Creek tenure was just 10 years. In 1955, suffering health problems exacerbated by overwork, Waxman sold Adobe Creek Lodge to still another San Francisco businessman, restaurateur Frank Martinelli Sr. Martinelli, being Italian, was naturally from North Beach, and was co-owner of the Bal Tabarin Restaurant on Columbus Avenue.

Adobe Creek Lodge's outdoor setting was a challenge for Martinelli, who had to learn the names of trees. Martinelli and son Frank Jr. expanded Adobe Creek Lodge to include picnicking with restaurant ambience. Patrons enjoyed fine outdoor dining without the bother of packing food, driving, and finding parking. Menus included things difficult or impossible for individual picnickers: charcoal broiled sirloin, chef's salads, garlic bread, and Irish coffee. Utensils and napkins were provided.

Under Martinelli, Adobe Creek Lodge included 5 swimming pools, hiking trails, horseshoe pits, sunbathing lawns, basketball courts, and baseball diamonds. Businesses, fraternal, and other organizations patronizing Adobe Creek Lodge included Hewlett Packard, C & H Sugar, Japan Airlines, Knights of Columbus, B'nai B'rith, and the Shriners. A membership card offering reduced admission was available to individuals who came with an organization. Kids frolicked in kiddie pools and on an old fire engine and playgrounds. Martinelli lived on the premises himself.

Its success notwithstanding, Adobe Creek Lodge's days were numbered as an ongoing commercial operation. By the early 1950's the post-World War II development of Santa Clara County was well underway. The unincorporated area known as Los Altos then being administered from San Jose, concerned citizens voted to incorporate the City of Los Altos in December, 1952. A key feature of the city was restriction of residential zoning to one-quarter acre parcels. In the mid-1950's citizens in the foothills above Los Altos proposed to incorporate what would be the city of Los Altos Hills.

To preserve a rural character, a one-acre minimum would be enforced (author Wallace Stegner, a resident, called it saving "God's Little Acre"). Town government would be limited to a five-member city council and small administrative staff. There would be no commercial zoning. Pro-incorporation citizens printed a six-page proposal on green paper, called the "green sheets." A special election was set for January 10, 1956. On December 30, 1955 an article in the Los Altos News about the proposed incorporation noted, prophetically:

The sole commercial operation inside Town territory, Adobe Creek Lodge, won't get to expand, and may be harassed in more immediate ways.

The population of the proposed town was about 2,500, with about 1,200 were registered voters, of whom 767 went to the polls on January 10th. The vote was closer than expected, 424 "yes" in favor of incorporation to 339 "no."

IV. Incorporation of Los Altos Hills with the restrictions on residential lots and no commercial zoning did not immediately end Adobe Creek Lodge's commercial existence. It did mean that the property would be allowed to continue in business as a day resort under a conditional use permit only for 20 more years. In 1976 its use would have to conform to Los Altos Hills residential standards. When Martinelli put the property up for sale, the use restriction was public knowledge, but nonetheless there was a buyer.

In 1961 David Belluci and his brother Alfred, hoteliers in Marin County, originally from Southern California, paid $1 million in 1961 for Adobe Creek Lodge. Little appears about Alfred's role in ownership and management. David's ownership, however, lasted almost 30 years, the longest tenure by far of any owner, and much the most tumultuous. I venture to say that Bellucci himself was the most controversial figure in Los Altos Hills' history.

David Belluci

The 1976 deadline notwithstanding, Belluci seemed to want to operate the lodge indefinitely. He even expanded the operation, and was not above playing hardball with the town of Los Altos Hills to get his way. In 1965 he asked the town council for permission to add a $57,000 swimming pool. Adobe Creek Lodge, now Adobe Creek Lodge and Country Club, was supported by 250 family memberships. These, he said, were "more desirable" than people who come to public picnic grounds. If the lodge did not thrive, Los Altos Hills would "have every resident from East San Jose jamming its roads;" a not-so-subtle appeal to racial prejudice.

At some point he gave an option to purchase part of his land to the Confederacion de la Raza Unida, a coalition of Mexican-Americans, which was then trying to overturn the one-acre restriction on housing (the group had already lost in federal court, but was appealing). The specter of East San Jose residents or others moving in on Los Altos Hills' open space, was a tactic Bellucci would use again. Bellucci also filed suit in Santa Clara County Superior Court challenging the town's right to end his business in 1976. He lost, and appealed to the California State Supreme Court, which declined to hear his case. He regularly said that if he could not continue in business he would have no alternative but to subdivide. Sounding like an environmentalist, he said that would be the end of deer and quail, other wildlife, and trees.

Meanwhile the lodge acquired livery stables, carnival equipment, tennis courts, trailers, a trap and target shooting range, the Tally Ho Restaurant, new swimming pools, and trailer houses for employees.

By 1970, according to one source, 8,000 people came to Adobe Creek Lodge each Saturday and Sunday for 15 weeks out of the year. Naturally there was resistance. One neighbor said that narrow, windy Moody Road was so clogged with traffic during a lodge party that a normal 10-minute drive from Foothill College to her home on Moody Road took 45 minutes. In 1969 a citizens committee had recommended to planning commissioners that the original end date of 1976 be adhered to. Bellucci said he was "dismayed."

In 1973, with the expiration of the use permit less than three years away, Belluci proposed converting the Country Club into a major tennis establishment. After speaking with Harry Likas, president of the Tennis Patrons of Northern California (the TPNC), Belluci said the lodge would become a nonprofit, private membership operation that conformed to Los Altos Hills zoning. Under the plan he would build up to 12 tennis courts, plus an amphitheater for 3,000 spectators, a pro shop, locker rooms, and dining facilities. Major state, regional, and national tournaments would be staged in Los Altos Hills, like Forest Hills, New York. In May, 1973 the planning commission approved a conditional use permit for the project by a 3-2 vote. The town council would have to give final approval. I have not found an account of what happened next, but it seems the tennis center failed to get the necessary approval.

In 1973 a Los Altos Hills group called Citizens United for a Rural Environment (CURE), sponsored a recall campaign against town council members Mary Davey and Lee Kubby. The two were allegedly unsupportive of the one-acre zoning minimum, and had voted to dismiss a former town manager. Davey and Kubby having been recalled in June, a special election to replace them was set for September 18, 1973.

The candidates for Kubby's seat were planning commissioner Thomas McReynolds, a former planning commissioner, a Lockheed engineer, and David Bellucci. Bellucci appears to have spent some considerable amount on his campaign, not to mention time and effort, but on September 18th he ran a very poor third. McReynolds polled 1,114 votes, the runner-up 300, and Bellucci 265.

On the last day of September he got another kind of notoriety. At a wedding party at Adobe Creek Lodge, a band named The Squeeze was playing what Bellucci considered too loudly, and he told them to turn down the volume. When they refused, Bellucci turned off their power and ordered them to leave.

In the lodge parking lot there was some kind of an argument, which ended with Bellucci firing two blasts from a shotgun. No one was hurt, but Bellucci was arrested, charged with assault with a deadly weapon, and booked at North Santa Clara County Jail, Palo Alto. He was released on his own recognizance, and the case was dropped as no formal complaint was filed.

Click here for Part 2 of the Adobe Creek Lodge Story







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