Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"One of the Few Remaining Apricot Orchards of Santa Clara Valley"

Los Altos City Hall, looking across the apricot orchard to the Youth Center and the Police Station.

At late as the 1970s, the Santa Clara Valley was still economically dependent upon agriculture. According to the Santa Clara Valley Historical Society most of the County's orchards of apricot, prune, cherry and almond were small and family owned. Cooperatives helped the region's families sell and distribute their products.

California still produces 95% of America's apricots. Most, however, come from the San Joaquin Valley, inland from Los Altos, Mountain View, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale--little towns where the lovely climate and proximity to San Francisco and Stanford University transformed orchards into suburbs.
Looking from the Los Altos City Hall toward the Los Altos Library. With the advent of electronic books, libraries will need hardscape less and less.

The Los Altos Civic Center includes City Hall, the Police Station, the Library, a Youth Center, and, more recently the Los Altos History Museum. All are surrounded by an old apricot orchard that city fathers decided retain, when the Civic Center was built in the 1960s, as a reminder of the city's origins and as a means of softening the look of the civic buildings. In a 1988 remodel and update, the trees stayed.

Here's the opening paragraph on the web site of the Los Altos History Museum:

"Located in one of the few remaining apricot orchards of Santa Clara Valley, the Los Altos History Museum explores the rich history of local people and how the use of the land over time has transformed the agricultural paradise once known as the "Valley of Heart’s Delight" into the high technology hub of today’s Silicon Valley."   

When one thinks how valuable a treasure an old orchard can be--as a teaching tool for history, as an open space for all God's creatures--it is difficult to imagine that anyone in the government of a small town that has such an asset, could look at those trees and imagine large buildings, asphalt, and "streetscape" as an improvement.

But there are people like that. Maybe that didn't live here when kids made summer money "cutting cots" and apricot orchards bloomed in the spring over acreage covered by seas of yellow mustard and orange California poppies.

Perhaps the missing sensory memory explains it. Perhaps there is another reason for their goals to bulldoze the orchard. It is odd though: Los Altos hasn't grown in population since I was a child. Still, it is possible that ambitions have grown. 

Perhaps some of the people in government just need to get out of their cars and walk around a little more than they do.  They might be amazed at the treasure that is right before their eyes.

I wonder how many of our council members ride a bicycle? To meetings?

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Janet Grunst said...

In the thirty-six years since I left the Santa Clara Valley, I have never tasted an apricot as good as those that were grown in Los Altos. There's nothing as delicious. How sad to think that could be lost.

rchapsblog@gmail.com said...

People still have a few trees here and there in their yards. What is sad is that we have a City Council that would want to destroy this living symbol to our beautiful sunny history. They just don't seem to have a clue.

Jan said...

Are you familiar with the Marin Agricultural Land Trust? www.malt.org I only recently heard about while researching an artist but I think it sounds like a wonderful idea for Los Altos. Anything to preserve our historical landmarks and wide open spaces, apricot orchards included.
They also have a wonderful charitable art show in May where the artists are allowed access to these ranches to paint the landscapes. Another great idea about how to preserve our history.

I don't live in Los Altos but do love the community so I pass on this idea to you and possibly you could breath some life into it....

Robin Chapman said...

Since the Historic Landmark orchard is on city land that surrounds the Los Altos Civic Center, I think it will need some different form of protection than any of the Land Trusts can give us. But they are certainly worth talking to because they will probably know a great deal about the options we have: some people think we just need to plant a few apricot trees here and there around the city. They just don't "get" the importance of this actual spot and its history. But if you have to explain it to them .... well you know the rest.

Deucerman said...

Very nice post with a subtle yet strong message. Born in San Jose in 1959, I've never left the Santa Clara Valley, landing in Los Altos 5 years ago, and I think you've captured the feeling of the orchards and the sadness of their loss beautifully in just a few words. If nothing else, it's certainly time to write a few letters.