Josephine and Frank Duveneck Life, Part 2

The Duvenecks' fourth child, son Bernard, was born in late December 1922.

Hope, Elizabeth, Francis, and Bernard by the family fireplace

The Duvenecks, like others born into privilege, were determined to make a contribution to society. Settling into a permanent residence for the first time since marrying gave Josephine an opportunity for community involvement.

The City of Palo Alto had created a community center, one of the first such municipal bodies in the United States. Josephine served as an employment referral counselor, although she had no experience whatever, with mixed success. Discovering a gift for organization, she ran for the Palo Alto City Council and was elected to a four-year term. Frank became active in Democratic Party state and county politics.

The Duvenecks had always greatly loved open spaces. In their Model T Ford they chugged over the Santa Cruz Mountains - quite a hazardous drive in those days - and camped out in redwood forests, on the Big Sur coast, and as far as Sequoia National Park, where they experienced a bear raiding their campsite.

They had dreamed of an open space of their own, and scouted places to buy on their rambles. In 1924 they were driving home one afternoon by way of Los Altos, when they saw a sign advertising a thousand acres for sale. The property was behind a gate above which were metal flags with the writing "Hidden Villa." A thousand acres was far bigger than what they had ever considered, but they opened the gate and drove in. They found the Franciscans' olive grove, a pasture with cows grazing, bay trees, and at the end of the road the old white house, barn, and outbuildings. A stream ran down the hills towards the road. The Duvenecks were completely thrilled with the place, and contacted the sales agent whose name was on the gate.

After buying, the Duvenecks continued living in Palo Alto, but spent weekends and summer at Hidden Villa, and acquired a couple of horses and a goat. As Palo Alto expanded around their house there they decided to uproot and move to a new house at Hidden Villa they would build themselves, living at the old ranch house-stagecoach stop during construction. The old house was cold, with no electricity and just a makeshift bathroom on the back porch, but they had the thrill of watching the new house go up, beginning winter, 1929.

The design is Spanish-Mediterranean, nestled against a hill on the opposite creek bank from the older buildings. Just right of the entryway is a large living room, planned for folk dancing, music and parties, with a vaulted redwood beam ceiling.

The Duveneck House, 2009, photo curtesy of Ralston Independent Works

Josephine insisted on a large picture window, unusual for the time, over the objection of the architect, who wanted conventional small lead-pane windows. A local mason built a massive fireplace using stones the Duvenecks gathered. Left of the entryway is a dining room, with a kitchen and laundry room beyond.

A cellar had a guest bedroom, and office and storage rooms. Upstairs were family bedrooms, which looked down on a front garden and the hillside in back. Compensating for only one bathroom at the old house, the new house had several. Electric wiring came up Moody Road. The family moved in just before Thanksgiving, 1930.

Hidden Villa, with the new house, was the most significant event in the Duvenecks' lives, and it took on great significance for the community; not just locally, but for the whole human community. In her autobiography Life on Two Levels, Josephine wrote:

One evening not too long after the move, I was alone sitting on the stone seat on the hearth by the open fire. As I looked around the room which was lighted by the flickering light of the burning logs, it seemed to me that our dream had materialized. The room was indeed a lovely setting. Yet something was missing; it was still only a backdrop with no inherent quality - no soul. I realized that human relationships provide the only real dynamic in an environment. The subtle essence that we call atmosphere was still to be created by those living within the four walls and by the friends or strangers who would pass through. What happened here would make the difference between just a house and a home. This thought laid on me a deep responsibility for the development of the quality that I desired…


Hidden Villa. Camp days

Hidden Villa became a center for social, educational, environmental, and humanitarian activities. It summer it was a youth camp, to which the Duvenecks brought minority and disadvantaged children, and minority counselors, which given the mostly white demographics of the San Francisco Peninsula, was particularly unusual and innovative.

It had the first youth hostel on the Pacific Slope. World War II refugees and Japanese-American victims of the World War II "relocation" - internment - were released to Hidden Villa. Gatherings included church outings, interracial parties, and fundraisings. Minority groups were welcome. The hostel accommodated a Moslem group which met to instruct children in Moslem faith and rituals. Native Americans met for dancing and feasts.

In the late 1950's Hidden Villa Camp was incorporated as a non-profit. Hidden Villa charged fees, but they were reasonable, although the Duvenecks generally paid the taxes, utilities, maintenance, and capital improvement costs.

Josephine and Frank Duveneck maintained other interests, chief among them being the Peninsula School, which opened in 1925 as a progressive, Montessori-type institution.

The Duveneck children went there (they had no choice), but were treated like other pupils. Josephine was school director for 16 years, and Frank taught mathematics, shop, and served on the board.

Hidden Villa, however, remains the Duvenecks' greatest legacy, embodying their generous, humanitarian spirit.

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