Historic Hawthorns House

Hawthorns Historic Complex

Historic Hawthorns House (Midpen Staff)

The 79-acre Hawthorns Area of Windy Hill Open Space Preserve was protected from development when it was gifted to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District in 2011. The Hawthorns Historic Complex (Historic Complex) is approximately 13 acres located within the Hawthorns Area and includes an old olive orchard and several structures that date back to the late 1800s.  

The Historic Complex planning effort is a separate process from the Hawthorns Area Plan and Public Access Working Group effort. Having two distinct planning projects provides Midpen with the flexibility to plan for public access for the Hawthorns Area on a separate timeline, as planning for the future use and management of the Historic Complex will be a lengthier process. Midpen will evaluate potential opportunities for public access connections between the Hawthorns Area and Historic Complex while preparing the Hawthorns Area Plan.   

The Historic Complex represents the social, agricultural, and architectural history of the San Francisco Peninsula estate property and retains historical integrity. Planning for the long-term use and management of this unique cultural resource is expected to begin in early 2024.

Hawthorns Area - Aerial Map
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Land Preservation
Public Access, Education, and Outreach
Public Access
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In early 2024 Midpen’s Board of Directors will consider exploratory ideas for the potential re-use of the Historic Complex. Staff will develop a planning and engagement process to plan for the future use and management of the Historic Complex following the Board’s input and guidance.  


The 79-acre Hawthorns property was historically home to the native Ohlone people who lived throughout the San Francisco Bay region and beyond for approximately 10,000 years. There were many different tribes and villages throughout the area and each village had its own land and customs. This all changed after the Spanish explorers arrived in 1769, changing the Native people’s way of life and dramatically reducing their population. The subjugation towards Native people continued when California became a state in 1850. The descendants of the native Ohlone people have survived, are part of our community, and many are working towards revitalizing their cultural practices.  

After Mexico gained independence from Spain, the lands controlled by the Spanish were divided into large ranchos. The 13,000-acre Rancho El Corte de Madera was granted to Maximo Martinez and it encompassed much of Portola Valley. During this time the land was used primarily for agriculture, especially cattle grazing. Maximo Martinez’s ranch was sold off by his descendants after his death in 1863.  

Since the early Spanish ranching period, the agricultural landscape changed in California and horticulture expanded. The land in present day Portola Valley was leased in small acreages for orchards, vineyards, and vegetable gardens to local farmers who used Los Trancos Creek for irrigation.   

In 1885, a prominent San Francisco couple, Judge James Monroe Allen, and his wife Ida Davis Allen, purchased the Hawthorns property, where they planned to grow grapes, olives, apples, prunes, strawberries, and peaches. They devoted to the estate a substantial labor and financial investment, reflecting the wealth of Judge Allen. This follows the trend of wealthy families developing summer estates along the San Francisco Bay Peninsula. This merging of developing agricultural uses and the recreational or leisure activities that attracted wealthy San Franciscans to the Peninsula makes Hawthorns an excellent example of a gentlemen’s farm. After the Woods family purchased the property in 1916 the land use focus shifted from horticulture to livestock, which included raising horses and hogs.   

The Woods family gifted the overall Hawthorns Area property to preserve its natural, scenic, historical, and open space values. The name of the property comes from the hedge of Hawthorns, a small flowering tree that blooms either pink or white, that lined the historic driveway. 

Since owning the Historic Complex, Midpen has taken steps to clean up the site and stabilize key structures to temporarily halt the deterioration of the historic structures until the future use of the Historic Complex can be planned and implemented. These interim site clean-up and stabilization measures are not intended to be long-term solutions:  

  • Site security including installation of a security system, security patrol, and fencing 

  • Fire safety prevention measures such as tree trimming and annual mowing 

  • Invasive plant removal 

  • Removal and relocation of beehives 

  • Boarding up windows to minimize vandalism 

  • Adding and replacing plastic sheet to the roof to reduce interior water damage 

  • Rebuilding a portion of the foundation 

  • Rodent control 

  • Collecting and documenting historic artifacts on site and storing them in a safe location 

Midpen has also completed studies on the geology, structures, and historic resources of the Historic Complex. The Historic Resource Study noted that the Historic Complex appears eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as an historic district (a group of buildings and structures that relate to one another historically, architecturally and/or culturally). The site conveys a visual sense due to the pattern of estate settlement of “gentlemen’s farms” along the Peninsula in the late 19th and 20th century. Four of the buildings are more significant contributors to the historic district and these include:  The Hawthorns House, garage, lower barn, and cottage.