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Palo Alto Historic Buildings Inventory

1020 Ramona Street
Professorville

1020 Ramona Street
Photo taken July 2010

 

The following was begun in 1997 by Jana Luft and her father Hal Luft. Hal Luft completed the history in 2010.

A story on the front page of the October 20, 1909 Palo Alto Times noted that many building permits were issued, including one for a residence for C. A. Ducker at 1018 Ramona Street. (There is no structure at 1018 Ramona, the only other buildings on this end of the block are at 1000 and 1006, 1020, and 1024.) The value for the permit was given as $2650 which seemed to be in the mid to high range for the permits listed.

We know a good bit about the Ducker family, but not exactly why he had this house constructed. Below are the facts that can be gleaned about the family:

According to his obituary in the Mercury, in June 1910, by 1909 Christopher Ducker was already 67 and retired. He was born in Hamburg in 1843 and came to California when he was 17, first working for Claus Spreckels in San Francisco, but then moved to Mayfield in the early 1860s and was elected its first Trustee. According to the obituary, upon retiring in 1907 he moved to Palo Alto and established the family home at 651 University Avenue, where he died.

In an obituary for Mrs. S. M. Vandervoort dated May 26, 1906, we learn more about the Ducker family. Alena D(ucker) Vandervoort was 31 at the time of her death during childbirth at the family residence, 651 University Avenue. Alena was the daughter of Christopher and Lois (Peers) Ducker. (The Peers family had a farm at Page Mill and Arastradero. Peers Park at 1899 Park Boulevard is named after her brother, Alexander Peers.) Alena graduated from Stanford in 1898 and married Mr. Vandervoort in 1902. Her obituary mentions that Mr. Vandervoort was a member of the firm of Fuller and Company. Alena was survived by her parents and two sisters, Edith and Vida Ducker.

Not only was Lois Peers Ducker a member of prominent Palo Alto family, but she survived into her 102nd year. Her 101st birthday was the occasion of an article in the newspaper (no date or reference found). It notes that Mrs. Ducker lives with her daughter Mrs. Samuel (Vida) Vandervoort at 760 Seale Avenue, and that she has one other daughter, Edith Ducker, "for many years a school teacher in Mayfield" and that she has no grandchildren. The story also notes that when she married Christopher Ducker in 1871, the couple "moved to Mayfield where Mr. Ducker opened up a general store. Later he went into the brewery business and ran the old Mayfield Brewery until his retirement in 1906." The brewery continued its operations until prohibition closed it down. Mrs. Ducker passed away shortly before her 102nd birthday. Her obituary included no additional noteworthy information.

When Edith Ducker died in August 1956 at the age of 80, her obituary in the Palo Alto Times noted that she lived with her sister, Mrs. S. M. Vandervoort, at 760 Seale. Miss Ducker "had taught in the Mayfield schools, but had been retired for a number of years." A Palo Alto Times article on March 21, 1970 noted the celebration of the 90th birthday of Vida Ducker Vandervoort. It recounts some of the family information noted previously, indicates that Christopher Ducker was born in Hanover (not Hamburg, a minor discrepancy—they are 97 miles apart) and that the name of the eldest daughter was Lena (rather than Alena). The article mentions that the Duckers had three daughters Lena, Edith, and Vida. "All three girls attended Castilleja Hall, later Castilleja School. Lena and Edith graduated from Stanford in 1899 and Edith taught in the old Mayfield School for many years. Vida attended Stanford for one year, but since she preferred business, she quit Stanford and attended business college." The article further states that, "Vida married Samuel M. Vandervoort on Oct. 10, 1908, in a quiet wedding at home at 645 University Avenue. . .Sam was a partner in Fuller and Company, University Avenue grocers, and later branched out into the wholesale grocery business. Sam and Vida took an active role in the business. . . The Vandervoorts built a home on Churchill Avenue where Sam, Vida, Edith Ducker and Lois Peers Ducker lived for many years. When Lois became bedridden, the family built a smaller home where Vida now resides with her companion of 30 years, Rose Kimura. Lois died there in 1952 at the age of 101. Edith died there in 1956 and Sam in 1958."

[I have a note indicating that Vida died June 9, 1981—which would make her over 101, but cannot locate the obituary.]

The Palo Alto Directory lists the residents of various addresses in most years. It confirms that in 1910 Christopher (retired) and Lois Ducker, Miss Edith (teacher) and Samuel (grocer) and Mrs. Vida Vandervoort all lived at 651 University. There is no evidence of their having lived at 645 University. In the 1912/13 Directory the Vandervoorts are shown as living at 611 Palo Alto Avenue in Mayfield. In the 1915/16 Directory, Mrs. Lois (housekeeper) and Miss Edith Ducker (housekeeper) are also shown as living on Palo Alto Avenue. By the time of the 1917/18 Directory, Edith is described as a 1st grade teacher at Mayfield Grammar School.) The listing remains the same through the 1919/20 Directory.

In the 1920/21 Directory, however, SM (Vida) Vandervoort, a grocer with Fuller and Co., is listed as living at 1020 Ramona Street. The following year (1921/22) Lois and Edith are also shown as living at 1020 Ramona. The next Palo Alto Directory is for 1923 and the Ducker/Vandervoort family is shown as living at 538 Churchill. We stopped examining each year's directory after that, but they are listed as being at the same address in 1930, 1931, and 1941. The next Directory found was for 1961 and Vida D. Vandervoort (widow of Samuel) was listed as living at 760 Seale Avenue. This is consistent with the obituary for Edith in 1956 that says she lived with her sister at 760 Seale.

The following is a summary of what we know about the Ducker/Vandervoort family connected to 1020 Ramona. (Although there were few Duckers, and no grandchildren, Lois Peers Ducker was one of 13 children and there were quite a few other Vandervoorts in Palo Alto.) Christopher Ducker was a successful businessman and respected community leader in Mayfield and his wife was from a prominent family in Palo Alto. Their three daughters all began Stanford, after having gone to Castilleja, with (A)lena and Edith graduating in 1899. It is not entirely clear when Christopher moved to the 651 University Avenue house, nor exactly when he retired, but it seems to have been shortly before May 1906 when his daughter (and grandchild) died there in childbirth.

The death of Lena and her child, occurring after only four years of marriage, must have been devastating for Samuel Vandervoort and for the rest of the Ducker family. Having lived most of his life in Mayfield, it would not surprising if Christopher decided to have a new house (1020 Ramona) built to escape what must have been difficult memories associated with the University Avenue residence. We do not know exactly when 1020 Ramona was completed, but there is no evidence he moved in before his death in May 1910. Alternatively, the house may have intended for Vida and Samuel.

Two and a half years after Lena's death, and while Christopher was still alive, Samuel married Vida Ducker. After Christopher's death the Vandervoorts, along with Lois and Edith, are next seen living back in Mayfield, where the girls grew up. In 1920, however, Samuel and Vida were living in 1020 Ramona and stayed there for another year or so. It is unclear whether Lois and Edith were with them at that time. Ownership records were lost, but it is reasonable to assume the Ducker family owned the house through the mid 1920's.

A fire in Palo Alto had destroyed all the building department records, so no original plans exist for 1020 Ramona Street. It is clear from examining the building, however, that it was originally smaller than it is now. The first floor is unchanged in size, but the second floor originally had a more sharply pitched roof (still visible from the outside) and sometime (we were told in the late 1920s) the roof was flattened, making the size of the second floor nearly the same as the first floor. This resulted in a total of six bedrooms (4 upstairs). Even with pitched roof, there was certainly a good amount of living space on the original second floor.

The Palo Alto Directory focuses on who lives in a building, rather than who owns it. This allows us to piece together stories of some of the other occupants of 1020 Ramona Street. The 1911 Directory does not have a listing for the address, but the 1912/13 Directory lists Mrs. Herbert S. Stark as residing there. In Directories from 1914/15 to 1918/19 the residents were Mrs. Herbert S. (housewife), H.S. (student), Miss Dare (student) and Miss Vaal (student). It appears that Mrs. Stark lived in the house with her three children, although occasionally H.S. (student) was listed first, perhaps because it was customary to list the oldest male first, even if he was a student.

Vaal Anne Stark warranted a story in the Palo Alto Times on October 17, 1963 (page 9) regarding a benefit she staged at her home at 500 Melville Ave to support the Children's Health Council. Miss Stark had a collection of over 1000 dolls that she had accumulated in the preceding 15 years. Twelve years later (September 22, 1975) the Palo Alto Times published her obituary. It noted that she was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, where her family had gone for several years with her father, a geologist. After they returned, they eventually settled in Palo Alto where Vaal went to Palo Alto High School and then Stanford, graduating in 1917 with a degree in education. She was recruited by Lou Henry (Mrs. Herbert) Hoover, "a lifelong family friend" into the national staff of the Girl Scouts. In 1922 Vaal was named director of the Big Tree region of the Girl Scouts, a position she held until she retired in 1960. Vaal's younger sister, Dere Stark McMullen, was a longtime secretary of Herbert Hoover. Her brother, Herbert Stark, Jr., predeceased her. The Directory shows that by 1919/20 all four Starks had moved to 500 Melville, which was the family home until Vaal's death in 1975.

It appears, therefore, that the first residents of 1020 Ramona, from 1910 until roughly 1918, were the Starks—a mother and three children who were students. Vaal was a student at Paly and Stanford during many of those years.

The 1919/20 Directory lists the residents of 1020 Ramona as T.F. Voris and Ruth I. Voris (student). They appear only in that year and no obituaries were obtained. In the 1920/21 Directory, however, Kate G. Voris is reported living at 1139 Ramona Street, a block away.

As noted above, in 1920/21 Sam Vandervoort and his wife Vida were reported as living in 1020 Ramona. The following year his sister Edith and mother-in-law Lois Ducker were also shown as residents.

By the time of the 1923 Directory, the Vandervoort/Ducker family had moved to 538 Churchill. In that year, 1020 Ramona was occupied by Mrs. George C. Mors and her son George, a student.

The following year, the house was occupied by Edward K. Strong, Jr., a professor at Stanford, and his wife Margaret. Strong, well-known as the developer of the Strong Vocational Interest Blank, was recruited to Stanford from Carnegie Institute of Technology by Frederick Terman in 1923. His stay at 1020 Ramona was just for a year, probably until a suitable residence could be built for him.

The 1925 and 1926 Directories show the house as being occupied by Mrs. Elizabeth Ryland, the widow of Richard C. Ryland. She does not appear in the 1927 Directory, but does appear in the 1928 edition at 1020 Ramona. The 1927 Directory, however, shows the house as being occupied by O. S. Dodd, a student at Stanford. Even though Mrs. Ryland is shown living there in 1928, so is O. S. Dodd, and he continues to be a resident thereafter. In 1931 he is characterized as being a lawyer and "Mrs. Katie N Dodd" is also shown as being present.

Ownership documents have been lost, but the house was eventually sold by the estate of Kate N. Dodd in 1981. The obituary for Comdr. Onslow Sinclair Dodd, USN (Palo Alto Times, June 30, 1953) notes that he died at the age of 43 and had lived at 1020 Ramona Street with his sister, Kate N. Dodd.

A search of on-line death certificates, however, uncovered additional surprises. Onslow Sinclair Dodd died June 29, 1953, as reported in the Palo Alto Times. He was born January 7, 1907 in Virginia. Kate Novia Dodd died March 27, 1981 at the age of 58, having been born in South Carolina on October 19, 1922. This means that in 1931, when she was living in 1020 Ramona with her brother, she was only nine years old—hardly a Mrs. Katie N Dodd. Surprisingly, the birth certificates lists the maiden name of the mother of the Dodd siblings as Ryland. Thus, the Mrs. Richard (Elizabeth) Ryland listed in the 1925 and 1926 Directories is almost certainly the mother of Onslow and Kate. It appears that she was widowed and had moved into 1020 Ramona when Kate was only three and Onslow was 18, probably starting school at Stanford.

Little documentation is available about the Dodds. Long-time residents of Ramona Street mentioned that Kate and her family owned substantial property in Stateline Nevada. A Google search for "Onslow Dodd" yielded a curious reference to the Onslow Hotel in Reno that had its name changed from the Kit Carson to the Onslow to honor "longtime Reno resident Onslow Dodd."

Elizabeth Ryland seems to have disappeared after 1929, leaving her two children there, although it is not clear if Kate was there continuously before 1931. Until the recent discovery of the death certificates for the Dodds, it was not clear when the house transferred ownership to their family. The series of short-term residents after the Starks suggests it was rented out or used by the Ducker/Vandervoort family. It now seems likely they sold it to Mrs. Ryland after Professor Strong's one- year stay.

Local lore is that the second floor of the house was expanded in the 1920s. This was supported by old newspapers found from that period in the crawlspace. It was apparently common practice for workmen to leave such "records" of their presence. The plausible story is that Mrs. Ryland undertook the expansion when she moved in with her college-age son and young daughter. If the Ryland/Dodd family had property in Nevada, that could have paid for both the house and the expansion. What happened to Mrs. Ryland, however is still a mystery. So too, is an explanation for why her two children, including young Kate, bore the surname Dodd, rather than Ryland

After Kate Dodd's death, Doss Welsh bought 1020 Ramona from Wells Fargo Bank, which was handing the transaction for Kate's estate, all of which had been willed to the American Cancer Society. Welsh lived at 1020, along with various other adults to whom he rented rooms. His plans were to remodel the house and sell it. By mid-1983 he had begun to redo the kitchen.

In October 1983, Lori (Lorraine) and Hal (Harold) Luft purchased 1020 Ramona from Welsh. They halted his minimalist remodeling effort and undertook a major renovation while continuing to live a few blocks away at 151 Melville Ave. The remodel opened up the floor plan (but added no space) yet retained the Craftsman style of the building. The Lufts moved into 1020 Ramona in the winter of 1984 with their daughters Shira, age 6 and Jana, 5 months.

Research begun in 1997 by Hal Luft and Jana Luft (age 13). Write-up completed in 2010 by Hal Luft.


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