Menlo Oaks History

Menlo Oaks was part of the 32,240-acre Rancho De Las Pulgas land grant made by the King of Spain in 1769.

Menlo Oaks was once a savannah of oak trees, rich with wildlife. Today many Heritage Oaks, Redwoods and other old-growth trees are descendants from those days—some of our trees are 300 and 400 years old.

The Coleman mansion (now Peninsula School) was built in 1882 by Maria Coleman for her son James and his wife Carmelita. An 1878 inheritance from “Bonanza king” William S. O’Brien allowed his sister, Maria O’Brien Coleman, to purchase 165 acres in Menlo Park from O’Brien’s partner, James C. Flood, and from Robert Doyle. The property was bounded by Ringwood Avenue, Bay Road, Berkeley Avenue, Coleman Avenue and Arlington Way. Maria hired architect, Augustus Laver, the architect of Flood’s opulent neighboring estate, Linden Towers, to design a mansion as a wedding gift for her son, James, and his bride, Carmelita. Among the social elites of San Francisco, James Valentine Coleman was a San Mateo County Assemblyman and Georgetown Law School graduate, and Carmelita Parrott Nuttall was the granddaughter of wealthy San Francisco banker, John Parrott. It took two years to complete the 22–room Italianate mansion and over $100,000 to build it. In the early hours of June 8, 1885, Carmelita was fatally shot in their San Francisco home.

Coleman Mansion

Peninsula School remains a centerpiece of Menlo Oaks; it’s fairs and fundraisers are open to Menlo Oaks residents. Many local children attend the school, and many activities take place there—including MODA’s annual picnic and its annual meeting.

In 1905, the mansion and 150-acre tract were sold by James Coleman to Livingston Jenks for subdivision. In 1925, Peninsula School was founded by a group that included Frank and Josephine Duveneck. They rented the mansion and 10 acres for $100 a month. In 1929, the Duvenecks purchased the Coleman mansion along with 10 acres for $26,500 to house the Peninsula School.

Other mansions, and later hunting cabins dotted the area, homes built by many living further north on the Peninsula or in San Francisco. They served as summer homes for families, and some remained into the 21st century.  World War II gave way to developments by Joe Eichler and others—more permanent homes for the middle class. Many of those, including the Eichlers, are still part of Menlo Oaks more than 60 years later.

In 1976, voters approved the move of Menlo Oaks from the Ravenswood School District to the Menlo Park School District, only to be sued by the Ravenswood School District. In 1978, an attempt was made to reduce Coleman Avenue traffic. A barricade was installed, but soon removed. In 1994, Menlo Oaks became smaller by four acres when land owned by St. Patrick’s Seminary south of Arlington Way was annexed to Menlo Park. In 1994, at the request of residents, Coleman Avenue traffic circles were installed during the county’s repaving of Coleman Avenue.

Jerry Garcia

Jerry Garcia, founding member of The Grateful Dead, was born in SF in 1942. He graduated from Menlo Oaks school. His original band Warlocks in 1965 played at Magoo’s Pizza, 635 Santa Cruz Avenue, and later at Menlo College. As the Grateful Dead, they first played at Peninsula School. He and other bandmates lived at The Chateau, at the southwest end of Santa Cruz Ave.

Many well-known people have been part of Menlo Oaks—the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia first played at Peninsula School; folk singer Joan Baez lived here as did jazz expert and radio personality Herb Wong and well-known Silicon Valley graphic designer and artist, Sam Smidt. Academy Award winning filmmaker Dorothy Fadiman has lived in Menlo Oaks for many years.

Sometime after 2000, Menlo Oaks became a popular place for development. While there were few comps in the 1990s to determine the value of homes, new home owners and developers began to remodel or tear down homes and build much larger ones, in that Menlo Oaks large lot sizes could accommodate them. This growth and development continues today, creating higher real estate values and the need to make sure old-growth trees and their younger siblings continue to survive; so that Menlo Oaks can remain a very special and bucolic place on the San Francisco Peninsula.

Click here for History Timeline.