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 going.

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 restaurants.

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 for $13,500.

" 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 face.

" 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 to address."

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 said.

These days, world politics and family hold central places in the couple's life.
" 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 said.

BOX: Biography
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


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25th Anniversary • 1979-2004




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