Ladera, Spanish for hillside or slope of a curve, is a 284-acre unincorporated community adjacent to the northeastern border of Portola Valley. Just south of Highway 280 and west of Alpine Road, Ladera's 535 homes are tucked away into serenity by winding, Spanish-named streets that translate to Meadowlark, Peach Tree and Dove.
Before California statehood, Spaniards used Ladera's land for grazing and logging. The area was part of a massive land grant that changed Spanish, then American hands throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1946 the Peninsula Housing Association (PHA), led by a group of Stanford professors, purchased the land from a rancher with the intention of creating a cooperative community. The experiment was ultimately aborted, but its legacy lives on in Ladera's culture. When asked about their neighborhood many Laderans voluntarily recite the community's history.
Although Ladera lacks an independent municipal government, self-government is as interwoven with the community as its network of walking paths. Residents are highly engaged in the Ladera Community Association (LCA) and the Ladera Recreational District (LRD), which serves as the central social hub of the community. A community listserv is constantly refreshed with postings announcing anything from free hand-me-down sports equipment to block parties and more official business like reminders about emergency procedures.
"Neighbors really do care for one another here. Everybody says hello when you walk past," resident Julie Carr said. Carr, her husband and their three young kids moved to Ladera from Menlo Park last year. "Every morning the neighbors walk their kids to the bus stop, and it becomes a very nice morning social event."
Ad-hoc social events are punctuated by regular neighborhood-wide celebrations. Ladera celebrates the 4th of July with three days of food, games and music, and Labor Day with a carnival. Every Halloween the shady walking paths are converted into "haunted" trails where teenagers spook each other and tease youngsters, and in the holiday season carolers make their rounds.
Across the street from the Carrs, Marti Tedesco and her 20-year-old son James were preparing Sunday brunch. Marti grew up in Ladera and moved back with her husband in 1991. What they thought would be a two-year stay has turned into more than 20 years and counting.
"There were very few young people with kids when we first moved," she said. "Things have completely turned over; now there are a lot more young families. You have people who could afford to live in more upscale places, but they choose to live here for the community. It's not showy, it's humble."
Down the hill from the Tedescos lives Lennie Roberts who has been living in Ladera since 1965. She was a manager of the district for five years as well as a member of the board of the LRD.
"What we loved about it was the community itself," she said recalling her and her husband's decision to move in. "My daughter, growing up, thought everybody had a community like this, and it sadly isn't true. A lot of it has to do with the way it's laid out with cul-de-sacs and walking paths that cut between houses. A lot of thought went into the way the community was developed and that same spirit continues."
CHILD CARE & PRESCHOOLS: Ladera Community Church Preschool, 3300 Alpine Road, Portola Valley; Woodland School (also a private elementary school), 360 La Cuesta Drive, Portola Valley
LOCATION: west of Alpine Road and north of Westridge Drive to Lucero Way and La Cuesta Road
PRIVATE SCHOOLS: Woodland School, 360 La Cuesta Drive, Portola Valley
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Las Lomitas School District -- Las Lomitas School, 299 Alameda de las Pulgas, Atherton; La Entrada School, 2200 Sharon Road, Menlo Park; Sequoia Union High School District -- Menlo Atherton High School, 555 Middlefield Road, Atherton
SHOPPING: Ladera Country Shopper