Hillsdale and David Bohannon

In the early 1940s, Hillsdale houses were being sold for $4,000 to $6,000.

The population of San Mateo County was 77,400 in 1930. By 1940, it had increased by 44 percent to 111,800 people with no end in sight to the increase. San Mateo’s population was 19,403 in 1940.

Although many housing tracts had been proposed in San Mateo since the 1860s, most had not offered enough inducement to be called big successes in new home construction. Early on, a person was induced to come to San Mateo and look at a number of undeveloped lots. If he bought one or two, he then had to find an architect to design a house, and finally the buyer hired someone to build the home, or he built it himself.

The Depression stopped many banks from making construction loans. The houses were being built with few frills and on a low budget. No mortgage was taken out. The Depression made lot buyers work with a pay-as-you-go attitude as money was tight and very little of it was floating around. A banker was the last resort for a home owner. This attitude in the society fostered a slow development of the cities on the Peninsula.

David Bohannon was to change all of this. In the 1930s, the federal government began backing and guaranteeing home loans through the Federal Housing Administration. Bohannon began constructing houses in the early 1930s. He purchased a 540-acre site, called Belle Haven, in what is now East Palo Alto and began the first of 1,305 units for low- to moderate-income families. Costs of these units were around $6,000.

He then purchased the St. Cyr estate in the San Mateo area in the late ’30s and he set his sights on a project that was to become the pattern of development on the vast vacant properties still available on the Peninsula.

The Burleigh H. Murray property south of San Mateo was called Beresford. Bohannon acquired 848 acres of Murray property in 1940 and he began planning its development. It called for monumental scales of construction unheard of to this time. He was to build a planned community of 5,000 low rambling ranch-style houses to be priced between $5,000 and $6,000, well within the range of the average worker at that time. These would be backed by the FHA, ensuring him of money to continue developing more homes. In addition to the houses, a shopping complex would be developed to supply the homeowners with whatever was needed to live in the community. The shopping center was to be oriented for the increased car traffic that this new generation of buyers demanded.

Hillsdale #1 was started on Hacienda near 31st Avenue and contained 84 houses. Eight were sold immediately. On Oct. 4, 1941, a 15,000-square-foot Andrew Williams Store was begun to service the community developing west of El Camino Real. Due to brisk sales, another 100 homes had been begun by Bohannon earlier in 1941.

World War II began in December 1941 and public construction was almost completely halted. Bohannon began developing houses for the war effort. Thousands of units were needed due to the Bay defense plants and Bohannon built houses in Napa County, Alameda County, the city of Richmond, plus many other cities. Three-thousand homes were built by him during the war. After the war, he announced Hillsdale #3 with another 300 houses would be started immediately. The 274-acre K.O. Grady Laurel Creek Stock Farm (area near the county medical center on West 30th Avenue) was purchased in 1946. Hillsdale #4, extending north to 27th Avenue and west to Monterey Street, was begun in January 1947, followed by #5 and #6. The price had increased considerably, now in the $12,000 to $20,000 range. In addition to the new homes being built, over 500 "garden style” apartments were built on both sides of Hillsdale Boulevard.

To complete his overall plan for his development, a $600,000 store on his 42-acre site at Hillsdale was begun. The Mayfair Market (originally Andrew Williams) was remodeled and expanded, and more stores were begun to complement this supermarket. By 1970, the Hillsdale Shopping Center had more than 150 stores in it and was considered the finest shopping center on the Peninsula.

Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal.

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