Who Named San Anselmo’s Yolanda Neighborhood?

By Matt Thompson

Photo postcard with handwritten label of “Yolando,” showing view from Scenic Avenue looking northwest, circa 1908. The street on the right is San Anselmo Avenue, and on the left is Elm Avenue. Jim Staley Postcard Collection, Anne T. Kent California Room.

The Yolanda area of San Anselmo is generally centered on the site where Yolanda Station once served railroad passengers at the location where today’s Center Boulevard, Saunders Avenue, Redwood Road, and San Anselmo Avenue meet. The exact boundaries and the origin of the name of this neighborhood are not as clear.

The small business area where these roads meet is known to locals as Yolanda. On the north side of Center Boulevard, just off of Saunders Avenue is Yolanda Court, a housing development first planned in 1909 that is accessed by Yolanda Drive. Popular for many years, the Yolanda Trail connected hikers arriving at Yolanda Station to the wilds of Mt. Tamalpais. Although this long-established residential area bears the name Yolanda today, Yolanda was more than this. Early newspapers, postcards, and advertising tell us that Yolanda covered a fairly large area. Residential areas on both the north and south side of the railroad, now Center Boulevard, were once known as Yolanda.

Yolanda Station, San Anselmo, circa 1914. Jim Staley Postcard Collection, Anne T. Kent California Room.

On the north side of Yolanda Station, the old Taylor home at Saunders Avenue and Taylor Street, the Manuella Sais home once located on the knoll along today’s Park Drive, and residences on Calumet Avenue, were all considered to be in Yolanda. The Cordone property where Archie Williams High School (previously Sir Francis Drake High School) is today was also considered to be in Yolanda.

The October 17, 1928 edition of the Fairfax Gazette reported that Mr. E. E. Wood of Tamalpais Union High School announced the purchase of the Cordone vegetable garden “in Yolanda on Redhill Avenue” for a new high school site. Sir Francis Drake Boulevard was known earlier as the San Rafael-Olema Road, and then as Red Hill Avenue in 1928 when the article was published. The proposed high school in Yolanda was tentatively called Northern Tamalpais High School during its earliest planning phase.

Red Hill Avenue was soon renamed Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in 1931. This apparently influenced the naming of the high school that was built at this location a few decades later.

Many Italian immigrants who arrived in San Francisco during the late 1800s and early 1900s, first established themselves in the North Beach area of San Francisco. Eventually, some North Beach residents moved out of the city to other areas of the Bay Area. Some relocated to relatively rural and less crowded Marin County in search of work, land, and new opportunities. Stops along the railroad were frequented by weekend visitors from the city, supporting restaurants, resorts, camps, and picnic grounds. Some of these were located between the main railroad stations at San Anselmo and Fairfax.

The earliest known reference to the name Yolanda and its connection to San Anselmo was found in the April 24, 1902 edition of L’Italia, an Italian language newspaper popular among the local Italian population, and published in San Francisco. The article stated the owner of the Como Villa Resort, Salvatore Borello, was reopening under a new name, Yolanda Villa Family Resort. It mentioned the location was between San Anselmo and Fairfax, and the train, upon request, could stop at the entrance to the Villa.

An advertisement appearing on another page in the same newspaper claimed the Yolanda Villa Family Resort was the best vacation spot in the county with good hunting and fishing, and weekly and monthly rates available. The ad said the location was just 5 minutes from San Anselmo.

English translation: “VILLA YOLANDA.” On Sunday, the 27th, in a pleasant location between San Anselmo and Fairfax, and precisely where the Como Villa ‘resort’ was already located, it will reopen to the public under the name of YOLANDA VILLA FAMILY RESORT. The owner, Mr. S. Borello has completely modernized the place and promises to the public excellent service, excellent cuisine and selected wines. At the opening on Sunday, Mr. Borello hopes to be honored by a large crowd and informs the excursionists that the trains, upon request, stop in front of the entrance to the Villa.” (L’Italia, April 24, 1902, Page 3)

Salvatore Borello was born in Italy on June 21, 1867. He immigrated into the United States in 1888 and lived in New York City in a lower Manhattan Italian neighborhood in an area now known as West Village. He married Marietta Careggio in 1889. Marietta also arrived from Italy in 1888. Salvatore worked as a cook and a butcher for the next ten years until he and his family moved from New York to San Francisco in 1901. He continued to work as a cook near their home in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. We know Como Villa was already operating at that time, apparently under an earlier proprietor, near San Anselmo as early as 1897 when San Francisco newspapers mentioned the villa as a popular destination for cycling groups. We first hear about Salvatore being in Marin County when his Como Villa is renamed Yolanda Villa in 1902.

The reason why Salvatore Borello and his wife, Marietta, chose to rename their resort Yolanda Villa Family Resort in 1902 raises an interesting question. We don’t know for sure if the name Yolanda was already associated with this area, or if the name had some other significance for the Borellos and they were the first to associate this name to the area. The North Shore Railroad opened a new station called Yolanda Villa in 1905, a few years after the Borellos established Yolanda Villa. The Marin Journal reported on March 5, 1908 that Northwestern Pacific, successor to the North Shore, was renaming the Yolanda Villa station to Yolanda Station. This raises the strong possibility that the railroad station and the area around it derived its name from Borello’s Yolanda Villa. If so, why did Salvatore and Marietta Borello name their resort Yolanda?

The undeveloped hillsides of San Anselmo were probably a beautiful sight during the Spring of 1902. Wildflowers were abundant, blue and violet colors dotted the hillsides which were clearly visible as violets, iris, vetch, lupine, and blue-eyed grass reached full bloom. The word “Yolanda” comes from the Greek “Yolande” which means violet. In Europe, the name Yolanda was popular among the ruling classes, and in ancient times the color was reserved for royalty. The springtime wildflowers of San Anselmo might be one reason the Borellos choose the name, but there might have been a more interesting reason.

The name “Yolanda” appeared dozens of times in the L’Italia newspaper during 1902. Most of these were Borello’s advertisements for Yolanda Villa Family Resort, but a number of newspapers in California were reporting interesting news from Italy. A new baby girl had been born to Italian King Vittorio Emanule III and Queen Elena on June 1, 1901. The royal baby’s name was Princess Yolanda. The Italian princess was a subject of local news articles for several years as writers speculated over the nature of her first decree, if she was receiving adequate care, and whether her first word be Italian or English due to having a British nanny. Is it possible the Borellos renamed their resort in recognition of the new Italian princess?

Where was Yolanda Villa Family Resort actually located? The April 1902 article mentions the train could be asked to stop near the entrance between San Anselmo and Fairfax. This implies the Villa was located near the railroad, and near the location where the Yolanda Villa station was later established.

A few weeks after Yolanda Villa opened, L’Italia published a review. The article described the reporter’s visit as a beautiful day in the countryside, mentioning the comforts of the elegant and well maintained “building and its annexes” surrounded by dining tables, and a large sheltered area capable of holding “hundreds of people.”

An 1898 San Francisco Examiner article revealed an important clue, suggesting Como Villa was at “Como Lake” near San Anselmo. A similar San Francisco Chronicle article describing the same event, said a group of cyclists will be lunching at Como Villa on the “banks of the pretty little Como Lake near Fairfax.”

San Francisco newspapers reported on an 1898 event at Como Villa on the shore of Como Lake near San Anselmo. (San Francisco Examiner, August 29, 1898, Page 4)

A map created for Henry McCrea in 1868 by county surveyor Hiram Austin provided further clues.

The survey map, found in the Anne T. Kent California Room Collection, has faint pencil sketches on it, probably drawn onto the existing map sometime after 1868. The pencil sketches depicted building footprints and what appeared to be a small lake on a tributary flowing into San Anselmo Creek. The small lake was drawn at the location where the southwest ends of the track and football field are now at Archie Williams High School, adjacent to Fern Lane. The building foot prints were less than 500 feet away, about where the high school Student Center is now, near the center of the campus.

A 1903 photograph (below) provides a view of this same area where the buildings can be seen, although the lake is not visible and probably obscured by trees. The location seems to fit. The Yolanda Villa railroad station was only a short walk away, down Saunders Avenue.

A 1903 view from Red Hill looking west towards Fairfax. Today’s Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is the wide road to the right and Saunders Avenue can be seen making a left turn at the orchard. The buildings barely visible in the trees at the center of the image (just beyond the windmill) might have been Como Villa, renamed Yolanda Villa in 1902. Como Lake may have been in the trees just behind and to the left of the Villa. The property on the west side of Saunders Avenue is now the site of Archie Williams High School (formerly Sir Francis Drake High School). Photograph from the San Anselmo Historical Museum.

Further evidence was found in home movies that were made in 1950 during construction of Sir Francis Drake High School (now Archie Williams High School). The movies included a few short clips of bulldozers filling in a deep depression in the ground near the southwest end of the present-day football field and track. The depression was large enough to be a pond or lake, with what appeared to have a bank around the edges with vegetation growing on it. Fern Lane could be seen in the background. These movie clips seem to confirm the existence of a pond or lake as drawn on the 1868 map.

Was this San Anselmo’s Como Lake, and was it filled in during the 1950 high school construction? If so, were the adjacent buildings visible in the 1868 map and 1903 photo Yolanda Villa? We do not have definitive proof, but the clues all point to the strong possibility that Como Lake, Como Villa, Yolanda Villa, and the name Yolanda all originated on the property where Archie Williams High School is now.

The darker area near the center appears to be the location of Como Lake. The new county high school would be constructed four years after this aerial photo was taken. Graphic by Dewey Livingston from USGS photo.

Records show that while Salvatore Borello was operating Yolanda Villa, he purchased almost an acre of land in 1903 on Butterfield Road. The parcel was adjacent, and just to the south of today’s Brookside School. A 1904 newspaper said Mr. Borello was about to build a hotel on his new property. Over the next decade Borello’s place on Butterfield began to appear in directory listings as Borello’s Resort.

Apparently he and his wife, Marietta, continued to run their resort at the Butterfield Road location for a number of years. Yolanda Villa did appear in newspapers a few times after 1903, although it is not clear who the proprietor was.

Was the Yolanda district of San Anselmo named after Italian royalty? Until we find more information, the evidence points to that as a strong possibility. So far it appears Salvatore Borello was the first to associate the name Yolanda with any place near San Anselmo or Fairfax. One thing we know for sure, this area between San Anselmo and Fairfax was a popular location filled with thriving restaurants and resorts established by Italian-Americans who understood how to provide a welcoming environment, good food, and fine hospitality.

Salvatore Borello’s Resort on Butterfield Road in San Anselmo. The two-story building on the right is still there today at 102 Butterfield Road. The building was constructed in 1912. The photo was probably taken before 1920. Collection of Matt Thompson.

A special thanks to Judy Coy of the San Anselmo Historical Commission for her invaluable contributions to this article. Visit the San Anselmo Historical Museum website for more information: https://sananselmohistory.org/.

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