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News

Q&A with Anne Wojcicki: 23andMe founder, local resident discusses Los Altos investments

Q&A with Anne Wojcicki: 23andMe founder, local resident discusses Los Altos investments


Anne Wojcicki

For the past several years, Anne Wojcicki (Wo-JIT-skee) has been quietly involved in efforts to spruce up downtown Los Altos. She and her husband, Google Inc. co-founder Sergey Brin, helped form Passerelle Investment Co., which own...

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Schools

Foothill fall registration opens Monday

Local residents interested in earning a specialized career certificate, associate degree or updated job skills can enroll beginning Monday when Foothill College opens fall registration.

In addition to its continuing-education courses, the college pr...

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Community

Horse show this Sunday in Los Altos Hills

The Los Altos Hills Horseman’s Association will be hosting a summer schooling show this coming 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday (July 27) at the Los Altos Hills Town Arena on Purissima Road.  Equestrians and spectators are welcome. Activities include jum...

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Sports

Stewart accepts job as baseball coach at Los Altos High

Stewart accepts job as baseball coach at Los Altos High


Los Altos High administrators offered Gabe Stewart the job of head baseball coach at Los Altos High even before he could apply for it.

“They approached me – they wanted an on-campus coach,” said Stewart, an AP History teacher at ...

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Comment

A good start – now follow through: Editorial

The recent announcement of a five-year agreement between the Los Altos School District and Bullis Charter School is welcome relief for the entire community. After years of dispute and litigation, the pact is nothing short of a minor miracle.

Among t...

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Business

In the business of fostering business

In the business of fostering business


took over as Los Altos’ new economic development coordinator in May after spending the past two years working as city assistant planner. Ellie Van Houtte/ Town Crier

Sierra Davis is wearing a slightly different hat these days as a Los Altos cit...

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Books

"Frozen in Time" chronicles harrowing WWII rescue attempts


Many readers can’t resist a true-life adventure story, especially those that shine a spotlight on people who exhibit supreme courage in the face of adversity and end up surviving – or not – against the odds.

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People

RICHARD PATRICK BRENNAN

RICHARD PATRICK BRENNAN

Resident of Palo Alto

Richard Patrick Brennan, journalist, editor, author, adventurer, died at his Palo Alto home on July 4, 2014 at age 92. He led a full life, professionally and personally. He was born and raised in San Francisco, joined the Arm...

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Travel

British Columbia: Richmond, Steveston, Victoria hold surprises

British Columbia: Richmond, Steveston, Victoria hold surprises


Courtesy of Tourism Richmond
Shops, restaurants and museums dot the boardwalk in British Columbia’s Steveston, a great site for strolling.

Picturesque British Columbia has long been on our bucket list, and we recently fulfilled that dream.

We...

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Stepping Out

LA Youth Theatre, LA Stage Company join forces for 'Oz'

LA Youth Theatre, LA Stage Company join forces for 'Oz'


Joyce Goldschmid/Special to the Town Crier
The cast of “The Wizard of Oz” includes, clockwise from top left, Dana Levy (as Tinman), Rebecca Krieger (Cowardly Lion), Sarah Traina (Scarecrow) and Osher Fein (Dorothy).

Los Altos Youth Theatre and L...

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Spiritual Life

Stanford students study religion through campus artifacts

The inscriptions inside Memorial Church, the death mask of Jane Stanford and the nod to the Egyptian ankh symbol formed by Palm Drive and the Stanford Oval all have one thing in common: Each was a topic of discussion for the students enrolled in a un...

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Magazine

Festival features fun for everyone

Festival features fun for everyone


TOWN CRIER FILE PHOTO
The Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival boasts more than 375 craft and arts booths.

This weekend’s 35th annual Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival promises to be jam-packed with fun activities for just about everyone. The eve...

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Pioneers in LAH history: Maury Johnson family were key figures in development

Photo Dru Anderson/Special To The Town Crier Helen and Maury Johnson, staunch conservationists, enjoy a visit to Yosemite, left. The Johnson home on Weston Drive in Los Altos Hills shows a design that blends in with its surroundings.

The rural, pastoral scenes of 1950s-era Los Altos Hills seem light years away from today’s ultra-affluent community. It was a time when Maurice (Maury) and Helen Johnson began to make their mark as housing developers and civic leaders. Much of the history of early Los Altos Hills runs through them.

When Johnson and his wife of 70 years, Helen, both died last year, they left a 52-year legacy of community service, creatively designed homes and strong family ties. The Johnsons had lived in town since 1957.

Together, they worked side-by-side with their four sons to develop properties and homes in the Los Altos Hills area, including their first home on Moon Lane, as well as their last residence on Weston Drive.

 

Purissima Hills

Maury served as a director on the Purissima Hills Water District Board of Directors in Los Altos Hills, retiring in 2006 after 47 years of service. He saw the district grow from a small organization of middle-class residents, irrigating backyard fruit orchards, to a district providing water for some of the wealthiest households in Northern California.

“I came here (to his property near Fremont Road) because I heard there was water, and that I would have a water supply at the lot I had,” he recalled in an interview on file with the water district. “All the wells were generally not producing – people were running out of water.”

With Maury’s help, the district brought in pump stations, tanks and, finally, pipelines carrying quality water from the Hetch Hetchy system. He also helped establish the town’s first sewer lines.

Despite nearly 50 years on the water board, Maury said, “I wish I could be on the board again. … It’s interesting – you do some good, and you meet interesting people.”

 

Beginnings

Maury, born in Chicago in 1910 to Swedish parents, helped his father with their family dairy delivery business. Helen, born in 1918 in Youngstown, Ohio, spent most of her youth in Claremont, where she developed an early interest in land and home development.

Maury later attended Pomona College, where he earned a degree in economics and met Helen. They were married in 1939 and moved to Ontario in 1940, where they owned two large orange groves. After 14 years as a teacher in public and private schools, Maury started a construction business.

Helen, who had an eye for real estate, located all the properties they purchased and developed, and handled all the business finances. They built several homes in the Claremont and Palm Springs areas, then spent four years in the Bellingham and Waldren Island area of Washington state before relocating to Los Altos Hills.

Green builder

Maury, a designer and builder of many homes in the area, was regarded as green builder decades before “green” became popular. The Johnsons constructed their home on Weston Drive, as well as a house they designed and lived in next door, out of recycled cedar salvaged from the old Yolo Causeway roadbed near Sacramento. The 3-inch-thick cedar planks were used in the ceilings. The wood was split to measure 1-inch thick for the exterior siding, lending a natural feel to the design.

“Like pioneers,” their son Tor noted, “they bought the land and designed and hand-built the houses. Between them, they touched just about every piece of history in the town.”

The massive redwood beams in the home were recycled from torn-down old buildings in the San Francisco business district. The style Maury admired and built was contemporary, influenced by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whose work he admired.

Inside the homes, Maury designed and handcrafted built-in drawers and doors. He even handmade the hammered-copper custom 2- and 3-switch wallplates.

Other homes were built on land they developed on Todd Lane, Weston Drive, Baker Lane, Aric Lane and Altamont Circle, where they developed lots. Weston and Aric were named after two of the Johnsons’ sons. Maury also developed plans for a housing development in Summit Woods in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Tor recently toured the lots and homes he and his brothers and their parents worked on in Los Altos Hills, and he recalled the many features of contemporary design and creative use of recycled and unusual woods and techniques of post and beam construction.

The Johnsons designed and built their first home on what is now known as Moon Lane in the Saddle Mountain area.

 

Varied interests

Both Helen and Maury had a passion for the outdoors, nature and the arts, and they decorated their homes with art, sculpture and books from Japan, Sweden and other areas of the world. They had a special fondness for American Indian art, jewelry and culture. Japanese garden design is featured in their entryways, and plantings are accented with colorful maples.

Maury and Helen took pride in their respective Swedish and Polish heritages. Both were active members in the Swedish cultural fellowship of Lindbergh Chapter No. 494 of the Vasa Order of America, with whom they enjoyed dinner meetings at the American Legion Hall in Los Altos.

Helen was devoted to her family as well to music, organic gardening and cooking. Their kitchen had a full view of her beloved vegetable garden and the Japanese garden in the backyard.

Maury’s passions included architecture, music, literature, art, history, hiking in the mountains, skiing and working with his sons. Maury and Helen, members of the Sierra Club, were committed to conservation.

 

Note: Maury died Sept. 11, just shy of his 99th birthday. Helen died May 17 at the age of 91. They are survived by their four sons, Soren (Medford, Ore.), Aric (Oklahoma City), Tor (Los Altos) and Weston (Menlo Park); their grandchildren, Angelique, Greg, Toren, Lisa and Susanna; and their great-grandchild, Victoria.

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