In February 1978 Alves Dairy sold its last bottle of delicious chocolate milk. I interviewed owner Ernie Alves a few days before the famous south of Half Moon Bay dairy closed down forever. We stood outside the 1950s-style drive-in dairy and talked about the history of the Alves family and the dairy.
Ernie Alves struck me as a guy who knew everything about farming so I was amazed when he confessed, “As far as cows go, strange as it sounds, I have never milked a cow until a month ago. I’ve always been in processing. I had to give our milker a day off, so my wife, my daughter and I milked the cows. I guess we’ve done it about three times now.”
1977-78 had been a rough year for the Alves family. His brother Frank was driving the dairy’s van back from Pescadero when he was involved in an accident. Frank’s injuries included a twisted neck and broken back.
Ernie: It took three men to replace Frank. This last year has been one madhouse as far as I’m concerned.
That was one of the reasons the Alves family decided to close the dairy, lease the land and sell the cows.
Ernie’s ancestors immigrated from the Azore Islands, settling in Pescadero in the 1800s. The family produced cheese at the rustic Willowside Ranch on a stretch of scenic Stage Road marked by a grove of mammoth eucalyptus trees.
Ernie: My father told me that when he drove the cheese by wagon from Pescadero to Watsonville, they had to time it. By the time they got to Waddell Bluff, it had to be low tide or else there would be no beach.
The Alves family moved operations north to Half Moon Bay in the 1890s.
Ernie: My father knew it was noon when the stagecoach rumbled by–he was plowing the fields then.
About 1923 Ernie’s father gave up cheesemaking and purchased a lovely Victorian house on Kelly Avenue in Half Moon Bay.
Ernie: Then we took one cow and somebody wanted milk. Pretty soon we had two cows, then three cows. When they got too large for back of the house, the cows were moved down to where the Little League fields are.
A decade later a barn was built with a room to bottle raw milk.
Ernie (a student at the time): We had a walk-in box and the whole bit.
Ten more years raced by and a bigger barn was built. The Alves converted a building near the Victorian house into a processing plant. The milk was carried in 10-gallon cans from the ranch (the Little League fields) to the plant.
Ernie: The way I remember that the plant was built in 1941 is that we had two bricklayers, and it was December of ’41 when we started it. The war had begun. Highway 1 wasnot here as you see it now: Main Street was Highway 1.