Scenic Alpine Road. Local residents who don’t use it every day might know it as a hair raising commute alternate when Highway 84 is closed. Bicyclists seem to love it--the eastward pull to panoramic Skyline Boulevard or the westward downhill rush toward Pescadero Road. How many people are aware of the part played in improving safety on Alpine Road by the former head of the General Services Administration? The evidence has mostly disappeared and now, with a yellow line down the middle of the road, it probably doesn’t matter. Maybe it never did matter.
A little background. At one time our smaller county byways did not have dashed yellow lines down their middles. In those days drivers were expected to know where their vehicle was on the road, to drive slowly and to pull over if it didn’t appear that there was enough room for an oncoming car to pass. And then, of course, there was less traffic. Although, even in those days Alpine Road between Skyline and Portola State Park Road got more than local traffic due to visitors to the popular state park.
In the mid 1950s Edmund F. and Julia (Judy) Mansure moved to California to retire. (Bear with me, this has something to do with the story.) They purchased Horseshoe Ranch on Portola State Park Road. Ned, as he was known, was the former head of the General Services Administration, appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953. There was some rumor about a Cuban nickel scandal and the General Services Administration but we won’t go into that now. Maybe Ned just stepped down from his position to become a gentleman farmer in California. Ned settled into keeping the ranch water tank full, supervising ranch activities and flying off to meetings of the several Wall Street listed company boards on which he served as a director. Judy set out to raise Scottish Terriers and Collies and called her business Merry Oaks Kennel.
Ned had been a businessman and a low level bureaucrat in his hometown of Chicago before he ended his career with his three year appointment as head of the General Services Administration. He was known as being a frugal administrator. A magazine article from that era describes his actions as head of the GSA: “Mr. Mansure personally examines travel requisitions of his Washington staff; he encourages removing clips from waste paper; to limit phone talks, he has put three-minute egg timers on subordinates' desks“
He may have relaxed a bit when he retired and hung up his suits, but dressed in a plaid flannel shirt and jeans he could have stepped out of an L. L. Bean catalog.
Apparently Ned was concerned with vehicle safety on Alpine Road. Even today with a center yellow line it is difficult to see the edge of the road in the fog or at night. Especially when the fog and night occur together. A few feet can make a big difference on parts of the road where trees will be the only impediment keeping a wayward automobile from plunging into the canyon. Resourceful Ned found a use for dog food can lids, something Judy’s kennel supplied in plenty. He painted the lids white and nailed them to tree trunks and fence posts and telephone poles along the road, usually in a highly visible spot that would be easily illuminated by headlights in the dark. Occasionally he would touch them up with more paint. When my children were young we spotted Ned spray painting his reflectors and they christened them Ned Lids. It’s not known how many lives these home-made reflectors may have saved, but thanks should go to Ned Mansure.
Ned became a victim of Alzheimer's disease and finally had to move to a residential facility where he passed away in 1992. Unmaintained, the lids rusted in the rain and fog. Trees became victims of old age themselves or succumbed to Sudden Oak Death and fell, taking the Ned Lids with them. Years passed. The Ned Lid on the telephone pole
One day I recalled drives when the kids and I played “spot the Ned Lids” as we traveled Alpine Road. So I looked for them. Most are gone. I have identified two on upper Alpine above the intersection with Portola State Park Road (I don’t think he ever put any on the La Honda side of the intersection). An additional lid is located on a post on a fence on Portola State Park Road not far below Ned Mansure’s driveway.
The pictured lid (if you can see it) is the one on the telephone pole--a pole no longer used for the telephone line because it has been underground for years, but that’s another story!
Here is a link to a 1955 article from Fortune about the GSA, Cuban nickel and Edmund Mansure. It also contains the quote I used above.