Thursday, August 9, 2018

When Families Worked Together and Life Was Very Different

Frank White was about eleven years old when his father took this photo of him in front of the family's old car and new home--which came with an apricot orchard--on Covington Road in Los Altos. World War II had just ended and the Whites were making a new start in the Santa Clara Valley.

People will think this story is about apricots. That's because I've written a book about the agricultural history of the Santa Clara Valley and its title is California Apricots: The Lost Orchards of Silicon Valley. The book is partly about apricots, and partly about a time worth remembering.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Other Winchester House: Landmark Legend and Luxury

The Winchester-Merriman House is the oldest house in Los Altos, California, and was once owned by Sarah Winchester of Winchester Mystery House fame. 

Mrs. Sarah Winchester was a native of New Haven, but left New England after the death of her husband, who was the heir to the Winchester Rifle fortune. She moved to the Santa Clara Valley in California, hoping the mild, sunny climate would be good for her arthritis and gained fame for her fantastic house, now a big tourist attraction in San Jose. It has, however inaccurately, become associated with gossip about Mrs. Winchester's involvement with the occult, something that has never been confirmed by even one bit of verifiable research.

Sarah Winchester is one of six profiles in my upcoming book, Historic Bay Area Visionaries, coming this October from the History Press.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Grower and a Tech Pioneer: A Santa Clara Valley Friendship


Modern Silicon Valley may not feel it has a lot in common with Santa Clara Valley's recent agricultural past. But many friendships blossomed in the orchards. Ask Charlie Olson of Sunnyvale's Orchard Heritage Park. He will tell you.

It wasn't very long ago that tech visionaries like Steve Jobs and David Packard were cultivating their own apricot orchards in the Santa Clara Valley. Before Jobs died, he finalized plans for the new Apple campus in Cupertino and decreed it be surrounded by fruit trees of all kinds. Packard, of Hewlett Packard fame, had his own orchard in Los Altos Hills--sixty acres of apricot trees, now cultivated by his foundation.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Finding Lost Treasures in a Family Home and Other Lessons


The home I grew up in is in Los Altos, California. My father built our first home across the street when he and my mother first moved to California. We moved into this house when I was nine. My parents lived here until their deaths, three months apart in 2009-2010.

There is a cliche that says "life is what happens to you while you are making other plans." The saying is hackneyed, but true enough, since so many of the things that play a significant role in our lives are the things we never planned for.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Story of A Silicon Valley Landmark and its Pioneer History

Halsey House at Redwood Grove Nature Preserve is owned by the City of Los Altos and has been shuttered and unused in the middle of a public park for a decade. The people in this 1920s photo are Theodore and Emma Halsey, among the earliest residents of Los Altos.

What happens when we don't take care of our history? In the case of a local public landmark in my hometown, Halsey House, it has meant a deteriorating building in the middle of a public park, never a good thing.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Apricots in Paradise: Tracing the Roots of a Garden Legacy

It is snowy and cold in many parts of America this time of year. But March, in the San Francisco Bay Area is the time of year our many fruit trees begin to bloom.

I had not intended to spend the rest of my career, after the publication of California Apricots: The Lost Orchards of Silicon Valley (History Press 2013), writing about apricots. It is just that people can't seem get enough information about them. I can certainly understand that.

In fact, I'm working on a new book about six exceptional people who made a difference in California history, from 1769 to 1931. I'm wrapping that manuscript up now and that book should be out this fall, again from History Press.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

California's Juana Briones and the Mystery of a Photograph

Descendants of Santa Clara Valley pioneer Juana Briones believe this photograph to be Juana.
Only available through the Point Reyes National Seashore Archive, it may not be used without their permission.

I am working on research for a new book about some exceptional people in California. There have been so many who have lived and worked in the region of the San Francisco Bay Area, long before Silicon Valley. While researching this group, I've uncovered lots of interesting stories.

One of them, Juana Briones, had family who came with the first Spanish-speaking civilians to settle in the San Francisco Bay Area. Juana's mother came to California as a four year old, with Juan Bautista de Anza, settling with her parents in the first pueblo of California, the pueblo of San Jose.