A buffalo ranch on Alpine Road in La Honda? You might be thinking, yeah, right--about as likely as a golf course or a landing strip. Circle B Ranch was the location where all three of those things once were proposed. But the buffalo ranch was the one that came closest to reality, if only briefly. It's interesting that as short lived as the buffalo ranch was, the word buffalo has persisted through 40 years into the present in legend and in a street name. (We call 'em roads out here but someone named this one Buffalo Valley Drive.) There are probably many versions of the buffalo legend. For what it's worth, here is mine.
Circle B Ranch was located straddling Alpine Road. The present road to Pescadero Creek Park runs through part of it. On the other side of Alpine Road, the sign for Buffalo Vally Drive marks the location of the old main entrance to the ranch headquarters where a house and barn stood near the present location of the lake.
The B in Circle B has nothing to do with the buffalo (which are technically American bison or Bison bison, not buffalo--just so you know). During the 1950s the property was owned by Lawrence Baleri, a grocer from Palo Alto. He called his ranch Circle B but did not live there. He had it farmed to supply oat hay for his horses in Los Altos.
In the early '60s Baleri sold to Associated Land Industries (ALI), a group of Peninsula investors who planned to hold the land and sell when it appreciated in value. It seems that these types of investors dream big and not just about realizing a return on their investment. ALI engaged a golf course architect to look over the property (his verdict was that, yes, a golf course could be constructed). ALI also had roads bulldozed to access remote areas of the property and cleared off a semi-flat wooded area with an eye to a landing strip for small planes. They had big plans for when the huge reservoir that was to inundate much of today's Pescadero Creek Park became a reality. The dreams of the ALI investors did not come to pass and neither did the reservoir, so they split the property into the several parcels allowed by the zoning regulations of that era and sold it to another group of investors. Although it may have appeared that different groups of people had purchased the property, all the parcels were being managed by the same General Partner who was also attending to an additional splitting up of these parcels into "ranchettes". Live Oak Ranchettes, Alpine Valley Ranchettes, Montebello Ranchettes, Deer Trail Ranchettes, Indian Valley Ranchettes and (finally, here it is!) Buffalo Valley Ranchettes would be split into two to four parcels each for a total of 23 homesites.
Local residents were not happy with the slicing and dicing of property in the area but that will not be dealt with in this article.
It's not clear whether the ranchette investors were also funding the buffalo, but the manager and spokesman for the buffalo was the General Partner for all the ranchettes, Gerald Colombi. The buffalo came from South Dakota to become "San Mateo County's first buffalo herd" They were pastured on 20 acres of Horseshoe Ranch (which adjoined "Alpine Valley Ranchettes") where they were to be contained by an electric fence. The first of a proposed 400 animals were a bull and five cows with calves. A newspaper article at the time said 12 more were on the way (but I'm not sure they ever got there since the herd never seemed that large). Eventually they were to become an "attraction" and an "educational experience for school children". And then there was the production of buffalo meat.
But the buffalo kept roaming. Apparently the electric fence wasn't working very well. The Sheriff's Department sent out their helicopter time after time to "help" when the buffalo escaped. I can't count the times that locals would round a turn on Alpine Road to be faced with the herd of buffalo trotting back to North Dakota.
A neighbor couple put much planning into their wedding at their house on Alpine Road, complete with an old fashioned barn dance for the reception. With little place to park besides the shoulder, guest's cars were lined up all along the road. As we were departing, what should be stampeding up the road, through the parked cars and past surprised guests but the buffalo. An interesting sight for city folk and I'm sure some of them thought it was just part of the old time wedding reception.
The article I've been quoting concluded, "...Colombi and his investment group are betting that buffalo will become popular in San Mateo County once they've grown accustomed to our way of life." Apparently they never did grow accustomed. I'm not certain when they left or how. One day it occurred to me that we hadn't seen them in a while and the helicopter hadn't been buzzing Alpine Road.
The old Circle B barn burned in August of 1974 when (according to a news article) some of the "buffalo ranch hands" were camping in it. The ranchettes were developed and sold. But the buffalo story persisted and has become a legend.
One interesting turn of events for Buffalo Valley, besides the street sign, is that in later years the owners of one of the properties also bought the adjoining property when it came on the market and tore the house down to bring back the open space. A reverse split?