Lodato Park is probably one of the best-kept secrets in the area. This hiking-only park has a 1.2-mile handmade trail that wanders through the redwoods and is carved out of the hillside in some places.
Although Lodato Park Trail is close to the original Borland site near Highway 17, the forest is so thick in parts that hikers may feel as if they're miles from civilization.
The park was part of a 50-acre parcel that was gifted to Scotts Valley in 1974 by Frank Lodato — one of Santa Cruz County's greatest contributors.
The son of an Italian immigrant railroad worker, Lodato began serving his country at an early age. He joined Boy Scouts of America during the Great Depression, eventually becoming the national commander of the Eagle Scouts Society.
After graduating from San Mateo High School in 1943, he served in the U.S. Air Force.
Following his discharge, Lodato attended Stanford University. He graduated in 1949 with a bachelor's degree in economics, followed by a master's degree in education in 1954. He married and had four children, three boys and a girl. Lodato later became a trustee on the university's board, and in 1977, he headed the search committee that hired Bill Walsh to coach Stanford's football team.
“Frank Lodato gave me the chance that led to my successful career. He was admired and respected by everyone,” Walsh said in a statement that appeared in the Palo Alto Weekly on Aug. 4, 1999.
In addition to his work at Stanford, Lodato was appointed as the first chairman of the Central Coastal Conservation Commission by Ronald Reagan in 1973.
Lodato was also a venture capitalist. He bought the old Brown Ranch property in the 1960s and developed the 41st Avenue shopping center in Capitola. Besides creating countless jobs, this new mall drew shops and department stores, allowing customers to shop locally rather that commute over the hill.
“Frank and my dad, Joe, were forced to go into real estate to help their father when he got in trouble on a land deal he bought off of Highway 280 in San Jose,” said Linda Bartlett of Ben Lomond, Lodato's niece. “They started buying land in Santa Cruz and Santa Clara, building some of the first subdivisions.”
Frank Lodato worked hard to boost the economy in both Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties.
He was the co-founder of the Sutter Hill Cos. — a venture capital firm that invested in emerging companies in the early years. In addition to developing 41st Avenue, Lodato also purchased a sizable amount of land of the eastern side of Scotts Valley and built a business park that included the original Borland facility. Once again, hundreds of new jobs were created in the area.
Part of the land behind this local development was hilly and hard to develop. When Lodato gave the land to the city of Scotts Valley, he requested that a balance between open space and development be maintained. When city residents voted on whether to develop the land or turn it into a park, the majority wanted a park. Thus, Lodato Park was born.
Conrad Sudduth, Scotts Valley recreation division manager, said the city's recreation commission was working on getting Lodato Park Trail connected with the trails on the 31-acre Blair Ranch property.
“The city is still attempting to work out an easement with Sundean Foundation between the properties,” Sudduth said. “Chuck Blair is very cooperative, and he's even willing to help build and maintain the connection.”
Besides developing large parcels of land, Lodato acted as chairman of several other startup firms. He received awards for his volunteer work and statewide attention for his philanthropy.
“Frank cared about everything and everybody — especially his family,” Bartlett said. “We were all close. He was a very generous man and even gave away hundreds of acres to the Boy Scouts. That's the type of person he was.”
“I feel as if I have lived a very good life,” Lodato wrote to family and friends, shortly before he died from cancer in 1999.
- Sandi Olson of Scotts Valley is a writer, speaker and teacher. She writes about interesting people in Scotts Valley and the San Lorenzo Valley. Email her at email@example.com.