We’re working hard to turn 286 Chestnut into our new home…but it’s already been a home, for many years. Just not for us. Those who know me know I lean more towards embracing change than preserving the past, but as our “modest renovation” morphed into “total rebuild” I found myself wondering about the property’s “back story”.
Fortunately, because our neighbors are very friendly — and some have long histories on the block — I was able to learn about the Philips, who raised a family at 286 before moving on. I’m particularly indebted to Jack Baumgarten for most of what I know. Jack took time out of a flying vacation — he’s a long-time pilot — to share details with me via email.
Marie & John Philips lived at 286 for many decades, and may well have been the people who first purchased the existing home, or built it, back in the early 1940s. John was a butcher, who also loved to build remote control model planes. Marie was a homemaker, who loved flowers and birds — which explains all the beautiful plants on the property, not to mention the multitude of bird houses.
The two of them took in a number of servicemen during World War II who were stationed in the area. This wasn’t just for the odd meal or two; they opened up their home to these young men, and let them board with them. Proving that the warmth and friendliness of San Carlos is not a recent phenomena. Years later a number of them came back to San Carlos with their families to thank the Philips.
The couple raised two children at 286, Stan and Nancy. When they were young there were hardly any houses on the east side of Chestnut, just a fence bordering a large lot along Elm. If you’re particularly observant — I wasn’t — you can see a vestige of that time in where the water meter for that large Elm lot is placed. It’s actually on Chestnut street!
John loved to accompany Jack on his flying trips, the two of them going up many times in Jack’s Cessna 182. John remained an avid flyer even after arthritis made it very painful for him to get in and out of the cockpit. But despite ultimately having to take pain pills to get ready for each adventure, he still kept going.
Stan accompanied them on one flying trip to check out a Waco biplane that was giving tours up in Calistoga. One of John’s dreams was to build a flying model of a Waco with Stan. John told Jack he hoped they’d be able to finish the model so it could be used to fly his ashes westward out over the Pacific. Sadly, life overtook those plans. But I find the image of a model plane carrying ashes off into the sunset a very evocative one nonetheless.
After John passed Stan was able to stay a number of nights each week with his mom, and shorten his work commute. That pattern continued for a few years, but eventually Marie moved up to Oregon to live with Nancy and her family. Jack told me she enjoyed her last few years there, surrounded by grandchildren and a great-grandchild, and the trees and birds and flowers she loved.