DALY CITY — Westlake rose up from an 800-acre tract of sand dunes and small farms 60 years ago.
Its creator was Henry Doelger, a San Francisco developer who looked south and saw housing potential for the northwest corner of San Mateo County.
"He wanted homes to be available to the working people," said Daly City historian Bunny Gillespie on Thursday. "And he did it."
Gillespie explores Doelger's legacy in her new book, "Images of America: Westlake," available Sept. 29. It is a new installment in Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series. She wrote "Daly City" in 2003.
Gillespie knew Doelger for about 25 years.
She said they'd always had a funny repertoire going when she was a reporter for the now-defunct Westlake Times.
He would always ask when she was going to write his story.
"I said, 'Oh, someday,'" Gillespie said. "It's the little funny things that stick in your mind. I've seen a lot of Westlake feature stories in the paper, but I thought there's more to it than that."
So she decided to write the 128-page book.
Doelger was born in 1896 in San Francisco to two German immigrants, John and Julia. The family, which also included four children, had a small grocery store on Seventh Avenue in the city's Sunset District.
He strengthened his business acumen while growing up through various investments.
In 1922, Doelger bought a parcel of land at 14th Avenue and Irving Street in San Francisco for $1,100, and later sold it for $25,000 two months later.
Four years later, he bought 11 square blocks in the Sunset, and became the district's largest landowner, according to Gillespie's book.
And in 1945, Doelger purchased 1,350 acres from Spring Valley Water Co. in unincorporated San Mateo County bordering Daly City. He paid $650,000 before the area was annexed into Daly City.
What sprang up was affordable housing for thousands of service men and war-industry personnel who stayed in the area after their tours of duty, Gillespie said.
By 1956, there were 16,139 people living in Westlake.
What's still a mystery is the origin of the area's name.
She said Doelger would often say that Westlake was named after his cousin, Mae.
As in Mae West, the Hollywood starlet, famous for the flirtatious quote, "Come up and see me some time."
"Henry used to be sort of playful when he wanted to be," Gillespie remembered. "You didn't know quite when he was joking or not joking."
Gillespie said West is connected to a Doelger in New York who started breweries there. The connection between the New York and San Francisco Doelgers, however, has not been established.
In "Westlake," Gillespie included an autographed photo of West. The actress inscribed it "Relatively yours, Mae West."
Another major accomplishment in Westlake was the Westlake Town and Country Shopping Center.
Back then, it was considered the Bay Area's most complete one-stop shopping center, with its expansive 3,000-car parking lot.
"I don't know how you can fall in love with a shopping center, but it's true," said Georgette Sarles, who has owned Georgette's of Westlake for 46 years.
Today, it is the last original independent shop in the center.
Sarles, also president and chief executive officer for the Daly City-Colma Chamber of Commerce, bought the beauty salon when she was 19 years old.
She said she was the youngest merchant there, and was mentored by "sage" business people who operated Arthur's, a men's store, and King Norman, a popular toy store.
"They all carved a little niche in my life, and they were important," Sarles said. "I was at a unique place at a unique time."
Her experience with Doelger was equally gratifying. He died in 1978 at age 82.
"His model for merchants was: If you did good, ran a good operation, worked hard and did everything correctly — he was behind you all the way," Sarles said. "He would help; he would listen; and he would try to help promote you. Henry's word was his bond."
Her love of Westlake has never waned either.
"I think everything is special about it — the fog is special," Sarles said. "It got me completely and never let go."
Gillespie often thinks about Doelger whenever she drives through Westlake.
"It's still a good looking area after 50-plus years," she said.