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2008 History Makers - The Lane Family

Every year, the San Mateo County Historical Association hosts a History Makers Dinner that highlights an individual and/or family of San Mateo County who has made significant contributions to California history and beyond.

The Lane Publishing Co. of Menlo Park, producers of Sunset magazine, Sunset books and Sunset films, constitutes one of the most important firms to have ever existed within San Mateo County.
In 1951, when the Lane Family made the move from San Francisco to properties once belonging to Timothy Hopkins, the company had a long record of helping Western America to define and enjoy a new suburban lifestyle called “Western Living.” In architecture, home improvement, food and entertainment, travel and gardening, Americans, and especially westerners and especially Californians, derived from Sunset’s pages, inspiration and solutions for bettering their lives.

In 1928, Laurence W. Lane purchased the ailing Sunset magazine for $60,000. The publication had originated as a very respected promotional magazine for the Southern Pacific Railroad and was later sold to several employees whom Lane bought it from. Lane was born in Horton, Kansas in 1890. In 1913, he went to work for the Meredith Publishing Company. After serving in WWI, Lane helped develop Better Homes and Gardens in Des Moines, Iowa. With wife, Ruth Bell Lane, and two boys, Bill and Mel, the family left Iowa in 1928 to start a new adventure in California. While the company’s offices were in San Francisco, the family lived in Burlingame.

Immediately Larry and Ruth Lane changed the magazine into a home and garden publication as well as food and travel, with emphasis on the special nature of the West. Through depression and war, the magazine managed to survive. After Bill and Mel came back from serving in the Navy during World War II, plans were made to move the firm to Menlo Park. California’s booming post-war era witnessed growth in suburban development, thought unbelievable before. Guiding the new pioneers of the suburban communities was Sunset magazine and the books and films divisions of the Lane Publishing Co.

Several years after the new Cliff May designed headquarters was complete, it became time for Laurence to hand the company over to his sons, who then led it through its greatest dynamic and profitable periods. In 1990, the Bill and Mel Lane families sold the company to Time Warner, but they continued to be involved in serving their country, state and local community in a variety of important volunteer and philanthropic ways.
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