|Palo Alto Weekly 25th Anniversary
Bill and Barbara Busse
Long-time residents reflect on lucky breaks, Summerhill homes and
the state of the world
by Jocelyn Dong
If there is social glue that holds together the 900 block of Ramona
Street, it's Bill and Barbara Busse. It's the Busses who host the
annual ice-cream social for some of the neighbors and the Busses
who can rattle off the pertinent details on who lives in each home.
Residents on Ramona since 1976, the Busses (pronounced "BUS-ees")
are among the handful of homeowners who've lived the longest on
the street. The Busses entered the neighborhood, in a way, because
of the whims of Palo Alto voters. When the electorate voted against
a planned Palo Alto Medical Research Foundation hospital in 1970,
that decision triggered the foundation to sell properties it had
accumulated - including those on Ramona Street.
Together with other families they knew, the Busses pooled their
resources and bought five homes for $256,000. The Busses initially
shared their four-bedroom, 109-year-old house with another couple,
as a duplex. Eventually, they bought their friends out.
Back in 1976, the Busses admitted, the neighborhood was not much
to write home about. Next door lay the Palo Alto Medical Clinic
parking lot. Across the street were four rental homes. At the end
of the block sat a halfway house whose residents kept coming and
But the Busses held out hope for things to become more neighborly,
owing to the area's proximity to the downtown shopping district
and the couple's own enthusiasm for their new home. It was an optimism
Barbara now shakes her head at and chuckles over.
We thought, well, five years from now, this neighborhood is really
going to sparkle," said Bill, a retired architect. "We
may have guessed wrong."
Instead, it was 10 years before the first signs of life sprang
up, when two new homes were built across the street from the Busses.
That's when some of the new residents started taking an interest
in getting to know the couple, and they in turn grew interested
in befriending their new neighbors.
Over the years, the Busses have seen life, especially the life
of downtown Palo Alto, change dramatically. They recalled a time
when no one went out at night. Then came the rolling back of prohibitions
on liquor in the 1960s, and slowly downtown became populated with
The high quality of Palo Alto schools also began to attract new
residents to the city, as did the growth of high-tech in Silicon
Valley, Barbara said.
The change in cost of living amazes them. Veterans of Palo Alto
since 1954, they recalled buying their first home on Kellogg Street
I wasn't making any money and we could afford to live in Palo Alto," said
Bill, who worked while Barbara stayed home to tend to the kids.
Today, they wonder how anyone can afford the multi-million dollar
homes on their block. They praise the new development of SummerHill
Homes, including the four on their block, because it upgrades the
whole character of the neighborhood, they said.
And yet, they also notice it takes two incomes in a family to survive
in Palo Alto.
That's a huge change from when we were young," Barbara said.
Some couples can afford to hire a live-in nanny; others rely more
on their parents. Others end up having latchkey kids. It's a situation
that concerns Barbara and Bill.
There needs to be help for younger families who haven't made their
fortunes," said Barbara, who's involved with her kids and
grandchildren, along with Bill.
Around the neighborhood, the Busses are known as "the walkers." Every
day, they depart from their porch, destined for parts well-known:
California Avenue, Town & Country Village, downtown Palo Alto.
It's been that way for years, and access is a central reason why
the Busses chose to live on Ramona Street.
Even though downtown has changed considerably and the shops are
a little more upscale than they used to be, the Busses still adore
the area - except perhaps for one thing.
When asked about the cars parked on the street, Barbara made a
You hit a sore spot," she said, referring to the downtown
workers who leave their cars on Ramona all day. "When we moved
here, no one parked here. Then downtown changed and a lot of people
work there. ... It's a huge problem. It's something the city has
Palo Alto's civic life has been inscribed on the Busses' own. When
their three children were growing up, Barbara was involved in Brownies,
Girl Scouts and the PTA. Bill's volunteer resume includes stints
as president of both the YMCA and, just last year, the Rotary Club.
Both have been members of the Palo Alto Housing Corporation and
the Foundation for Global Community.
Barbara's noticed the civic life of Palo Alto has heated up.
I feel sorry for our City Council. The residents in this town get
very involved --that's good, but sometimes they're too involved.
There has to be a happy solution. Someone's got to give," she
These days, world politics and family hold central places in the
Right now, my priorities are, let's get the world in shape. In
this country in particular, you know, our kids and our grandkids
- what kind of world are they going to have? It really concerns
me," Barbara said.
For all the transformations going on in the neighborhood, the Busses
say they aren't too worried about the future of the block, or the
city for that matter. The dogged optimism that has characterized
their life together continues to hold firm.
Just to live in this town -- it's the good life, you know?" Bill
Age: Bill & Barbara Busse, 76 and "young at heart" Income:
$400,000 Kids: Curt Busse, Janet Chambers and Matt Busse, all adults
Years in home: 28 years Price of house: $60,000 Community Involvement:
Palo Alto Rotary, YMCA, Palo Alto Housing Corporation, Foundation
for Global Community, PTA, Brownies, Girl Scouts and more. Car:
2001 Prius; 1994 Saturn Where'd You Grow Up: Prescott, Ariz. and
Los Angeles, Calif. :Profession: Architect (retired) and homemaker/volunteer
Mortgage payment: $2,500 Property taxes: $5,500/year Do You Consider
Yourself Wealthy?: "We're wealthy. We do not want for anything.
And we're able to contribute to our kids and other charities. It's
a lot of things. We've had 56 years together. We've got kids who
are all doing well. We've got grandkids and we love them all, so
we've been really fortunate. So I'd say we're wealthy in spirit,
for sure." - Bill Busse
25th Anniversary • 1979-2004