Helen Eells: Helen Returns to Homestead Valley

A Homestead Headlines Article by Chuck Oldenburg
Helen’s Oral History
Chapter 10
Helen Returns to Homestead Valley

Published April, 2011


After attending the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, Helen, with her two sisters, mother, aunt, grandmother, and great-aunt, continued to live in the elegant mansion at 123 Edgewood Ave. in San Francisco. Helen’s mother bought a ranch in Gilroy, where she and her daughters spent summers to get away from the fog. Helen did not do well in school. In 1922, when she was 18 years old, she eloped with 20-year old Edward Vandevere who had graduated from the University of California Dental College at the UC Medical Center which is adjacent to Edgewood Ave. They lived in a house next door to the elegant mansion. A son was born in 1924 and a daughter in 1928.

In March 1937, Helen purchased the Homestead Valley farm where she had lived as a child from 1906 until 1914. Edward built a dental office attached to the house. He maintained dental offices in San Francisco five days a week and at his home two days a week. The children attended public schools.

Finding the soils suited to the growing of rhododendrons, Edward made this his hobby, raising over 200 varieties and winning prizes in England for new types. In 1942, having been in ill health for some time, he committed suicide. He had been scheduled to enter the army as a captain a few weeks later.

Helen gradually sold off parts of the farm for housing development. In 1953, she sold property on Montford to Roscoe MacIntosh and David Smith, both black carpenters, who built houses for their families at 409 and 411 Montford. Some folks in the community were furious, and the real estate agent was fired. Helen went to a Homestead Valley Improvement Club meeting at Brown’s Hall and told the board that she was the largest land holder in Homestead Valley, and that she had a right to sell property to these black families who were fine people.

In 1955, Helen sold most of the property with its original house at 424 La Verne to Dan and Ida Grae. In 1976, a small parcel used for the farm’s water supply was donated to the Homestead Valley Land Trust for open space. Dan Grae built a studio for Ida, an expert weaver and author of books on natural dyes. They gradually sold off parts of the property for development, e.g., the Glen Grae development of four houses on La Verne and a row of five houses on Montford. The estate of Dan and Ida Grae recently sold the house, studio and most of the rest of the original Eells gentleman’s farm. Only one parcel along the creek remains unsold.

It is hoped that someday more of Helen’s recorded oral history will be transcribed. Sections dealing with the period 1937 to 1955 should provide insight into what her life was like in Homestead Valley during that era.


If you have comments or questions about this article or other topics
pertaining to the history of Homestead Valley,
please feel free to e-mail Chuck Oldenburg.