The Pink Horse Ranch, Past and Present

Presented by a historian John Ralston on Sunday, February 24, 2013.
Please read more about John Ralston history projects at

As I imagine you all know, one of the earliest European-descended settlers of what is now Los Altos Hills was Juana Briones de Miranda.

In the mid-1840's, even before the United States occupied what is now the State of California, Juana purchased Rancho La Purisima Concepción from an Indian named Gorgonio. This plat map was drawn in 1863. On a line running approximately southwest to southeast, Juana's large property bordered on Rancho San Antonio, which had been granted by the Mexican government in 1843 to Juan Prado Mesa. The border was a creek variously called las Yeguas, Purisima Concepcion, San Antonio, and the name by which we know it, Adobe Creek.

Rancho La Purisima Concepción

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Rancho San Antonio originally comprised over 4,400 acres. By the early 20th century a parcel of 365 acres, bordering Adobe Creek on the north and known as the Stone and Sanborn Ranch, was owned by a family named Barroilhet.

On this aerial view with approximately North at the top, Moody Road runs from the direction of where Foothill College is now, then forks at Altamont to the west.

The road at far right, now Elena, was still called Purissima, after the rancho purchased by Juana Briones. The ranch property was bounded by Moody Roady and extended up this hillside.

Aerial View of the area dated 1951

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In 1915 a man named Horace Hill bought the Barroilhet property. Renaming it Toyon Farm, after the shrub that grew profusely, Hill raised Holstein cattle, and later, Irish Wolfhounds.

On a hilltop above his ranch Hill built a mansion complete with a rock-lined wine cellar for his stock of fine French wines.

Horace Hill House

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Down the hill close to Moody Road, was a Spanish-style barn, with two silos. A large natural reservoir, fed by underground springs, was enclosed by concrete to create a lake almost three hundred feet long, set off by overhanging willow trees.

A Spanish-style barn, with two silos

Plese click here for larger image

A guest house was added. The Hills created quite a rural paradise.

Hill's Guest House

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A lake

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In 1915 William Henry Davis, former secretary to Henry Gage, California's governor from 1899 - 1903, bought the Hill property.



Renaming it "Toyon Stock Farm," he enlarged the Hills' paradise, buying more acreage, and built corrals, riding stables, and another, larger, barn, near what is now Tepa Way.

Toyon Stock Farm Barn

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The barn entrance is shown here. From inside we see a man, possibly Davis, arriving on horseback.

This view gives an impression of the barn's size and layout.

Toyon Stock Farm Barn entrance

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In 1950 the Davis family retired from horse-raising. They sold the property to a family named Cunningham, which created the property's most colorful use, but also its most short-lived one.

A Ms. Cunningham, whose father was a doctor and whose uncle was apparently wealthy, envisaged a western-themed resort: there were plans for a stagecoach line to carry patrons to and from Palo Alto, but that never materialized. They did however come up with a catchy name for the resort.

Gelett Burgess, born into a distinguished Boston family and educated at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, came to San Francisco in the 1890's and was captivated by the city's Bohemia. He edited The Lark, a short-lived but influential humor magazine, and contributed a whimsical quatrain:

I never saw a Purple Cow
I never hope to see one.
But I can tell you anyhow
I'd rather see than be one.

Gelett Burgess

The Purple Cow was a prime example of one of those doggerel pieces that become famous all out of proportion to its creator's intentions. Burgess wrote many other things, but, like Ernest Lawrence Thayer's Casey at the Bat, Purple Cow was the one thing with which he was most associated, to his dismay.

Years later he penned a sort of retraction. Inevitably, there was a restaurant or maybe roadhouse called The Purple Cow, which I understand was in San Bruno. Seeing it or hearing of it, Ms. Cunningham came up with a similar name for the resort: the Pink Horse.

A logo was designed by a Walt Disney Studios animator.

Pink Horse Ranch Logo









The Pink Horse opened in April, 1951. Use was made of existing structures, such as the lake and the barn, which was converted into a restaurant. See two images below.

There was no liquor license, but beer was served. The ranch was obviously well-patronized, as these contemporary aerial photos show the parking lots full up.

Please click here to see the aerial photo on the left larger size

Please click here to see the aerial photo on the right larger size

Poolside drew a typical crowd of California sun worshippers.

Poolside at the Pink Horse Ranch

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In spite of its patronage, however, the Pink Horse had parallel with another resort, the Adobe Creek Lodge. Just a couple of miles down Moody Road, the lodge drew patrons, but had financial and legal problems.

The Pink Horse resort lasted only five years. Part of the problem was the barn, which although converted to a restaurant, still smelled like a barn; no amount of air fresheners will clear barn odors. An historical project at De Anza Community College attributes the Pink Horse's demise to bad management and poor business skills by the Cunninghams, but I am told it was more: embezzlement, the partners stealing from each other. By 1956 the business was in debt a million dollars, meaning that the Cunningham uncle lost his whole investment.

The property was sold in several parcels. One of the buyers was Wendell W. Roscoe, who had served in the United States Army Air Corps in World War II, and was a flight instructor to the British Royal Air Force as well as a pilot.

Wendell Rascoe in 2013

A self-taught contractor with a good eye for possibilities, he bought the lowest 40 acres, which included the resort site, well below their value at bankruptcy sale. Wendell proceeded to subdivide, build, and advertise, cleverly incorporating the logo of the now-defunct Pink Horse as an attraction. Coming just after incorporation of Los Altos Hills, it was the town's first subdivision.

Wendell Roscoe faced obstacles. The Los Altos School District trustees voted to seek eminent domain condemnation to acquire all or part of Roscoe's property for two or three new schools. Roscoe, then in the process of constructing, offered to sell the property, all or whole if need be, for $12,000 an acre.

The school district eventually withdrew. Roscoe faced another obstacle when heavy rains in the 1960s caused Adobe Creek to overflow, destroying the dam containing the lake built by the Hills. Roscoe bulldozed a section of the creek to divert it and prevent further floods, which brought conflict with the Santa Clara County Flood Control district.

A compromise was reached with the Town Council of Los Altos Hills over a planned community center, which would incorporate the resort's swimming pool and clubhouse. No alcohol would be served at the community center, but it never came about. Instead, Roscoe added a house to the pool and clubhouse, which became 12243 Tepa Way.

Roscoe also engaged a contractor to demolish the existing barn-restaurant. The contractor however absconded with the choicest timbers, leaving half-demolished ruins that mysteriously caught fire and burned to the ground. Finally, someone reported Roscoe to the State of California for not being a licensed contractor. Roscoe took the state examination and passed easily.

Wendell Roscoe designed and built about 400 houses. Journalists have written accounts of several.

Wendell Rascoe Ad during the offering his homes for sale

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In 2005 Palo Alto Weekly Assistant Editor Carol Blitzer wrote on 25446 Adobe Lane, Los Altos Hills.




The house, nestled on a hillside on approximately the site of the Davis barn, is over 5,600 square feet. Roscoe installed a wine cellar with limestone racks drilled to hold bottles. Two silos, relics of the Davis's barn, are visible from the driveway.

Please click here to see the larger size of the image of the house

Please click here to see the larger size of the image of the silos

Souvenirs and artifacts of the Pink Horse inspire other articles. On Sunday, October 30, 2011, the San Francisco Chronicle Home & Garden section ran a piece by staff writer Sam Whiting on 12243 Tepa Way, which Roscoe and his wife Nancy owned after combining it with the Pink Horse clubhouse and pool.

In 1964 it was bought by Dr. James Mayfield Harris and his wife Joan. Dr. Harris, when a medical student at Stanford, had been to the Pink Horse Ranch, and kept the house in original condition.



The clubhouse still has the bar and soda fountain.

The spacious kitchen, and living and dining areas are separated from the bedrooms by a covered bridge that spans the pool. To get from one wing of the house to the other, said the article "you can swim it or walk it."

The Bridge

12243 Tepa Way went on the market in 2012 and sold in January, 2013.

The Pink Horse logo is on a pillar on Tepa Way.










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