The beginning of 1998 marked the end of a Los Gatos tradition, with the once-popular Villa Felice Restaurant closing its doors after one final New Year’s Eve party.
That night, Ed Bersano sported a black tie and tux for the party, which he had emceed for decades.
Bersano passed away Nov. 3 from cancer. He was 93.
Bersano was well-known in town as one of the owners of the Villa Felice at 15350 Winchester Blvd. Ed Bersano ran the restaurant and adjacent lodge with his brothers Dick and Don.
Their parents purchased the property in 1950, which was originally a resort with a dining hall and rustic cottages overlooking Vasona Lake.
Initially, Ed labored alongside his mother in the kitchen—cooking for an ever-growing list of locals and luminaries who stopped by for dinner and ballroom dancing, including Olivia de Havilland, Rosemary Clooney, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio and Esther Williams.
Los Gatos service clubs met there weekly and it was a popular wedding venue. Many locals, including former Mayor Tom Ferrito, worked there as teenagers.
“When I was in high school I worked in the kitchen cleaning pots that were bigger than I was,” Ferrito recalled. “It was a good job but it was hard work.”
Ed’s wife, Mary, said she misses the restaurant because now she has to cook.
“Villa Felice is from an era gone by,” Mary Bersano said. “It featured the largest dance floor in the valley and people enjoyed wearing their fanciest outfits and dancing to Big Band music.”
Ed and Mary met at the restaurant’s bar in 1985 and were married five years later.
“I went to the Villa Felice with a girlfriend to find out about a jazz festival in town and Ed came over,” she said. “He took me to the festival the next day and the rest, as they say, is history.”
The Bersanos made Los Gatos history on several occasions.
In 1978, the Los Gatos Times Observer reported that the town council approved a proposal to expand the Villa Felice dining room and build 15 condominiums and 31 motel rooms.
Resident Dewey Beaudette opposed the motel provision, so he collected signatures for a town-wide referendum that, if approved, would have overturned the council’s approval.
In response, the Bersanos took out newspaper ads that said, “We are not promoters, developers or land speculators. Our family has owned this 8 1/2 acres on Winchester Boulevard for 28 years. We all live in our homes on this property.”
The referendum failed and the expansion proceeded, with the Lodge at Villa Felice opening in 1986.
The Brazilian Soccer team stayed at the lodge in 1994, when Stanford University was one of nine venues hosting the FIFA World Cup.
“The team was looking at Chaminade in Santa Cruz and a place in Berkeley,” former Mayor Randy Attaway said. “They stopped at a restaurant in town and their World Cup host suggested Villa Felice. One reason they chose the Villa Felice is because the back had a steep hill facing Vasona Lake and that, added with a town-provided security team, made them feel comfortable.”
Townsfolk welcomed the Brazilians with open arms, flying the bright green, yellow and blue national colors and gathering downtown with the team for an impromptu—and raucous—July Fourth celebration.
Brazil went on to win the World Cup a few weeks later.
“I thought it was very generous of the Bersanos to allow the team to stay there,” Attaway said. “They were good hosts.”
Sadly, a family history says that by 1997 “the popularity of the Villa Felice was waning and the Bersano brothers decided it was time to retire.”
The lodge remained open until 2004 and the property was sold to Robson Homes for a new housing development. In 2005, Robson petitioned the town to name a street in the development “Bersano Lane” in honor of the family “that helped put Los Gatos on the map.”