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News

Spooktacular moved indoors


Due to rain, today's downtown Los Altos Halloween activities have been moved to the indoor courtyard of Play! at 170 State St. Enter from the back on the parking lot side to participate in crafts, games and fun. Activities continue until 4 p.m.

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Schools

Gardner Bullis School debuts new Grizzly Student Center

Gardner Bullis School debuts new Grizzly Student Center


Photo by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Students line up to check books out of the library in the new Grizzly Student Center at Gardner Bullis School.

Gardner Bullis School opened its new Grizzly Student Center earlier this month, introducing a lea...

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Community

Home improvement workshop scheduled Wednesday (Oct. 29)

The County of Santa Clara is hosting a free informational workshop on 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Los Altos Hills Town Hall, 26379 Fremont Road.

The workshop will offer ways single-family homeowners can increase their homes’ energy efficiency. Eligible i...

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Comment

Off the fence: TC recommends 'yes' on N

The Town Crier initially offered no position on the controversial $150 million Measure N bond on Tuesday’s ballot. But some of the reasons we gave in our Oct. 15 editorial were, on reflection, overly critical and based on inaccurate information.

We ...

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Special Sections

Long-term solutions emerge as water conservation goes mainstream

Long-term solutions emerge as water conservation goes mainstream


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Forrest Linebarger, right, installed greywater and rainwater harvesting systems at his Los Altos Hills home.

With more brown than green visible in her Los Altos backyard, Kacey Fitzpatrick admits that she’s a little e...

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Business

Local realtors scare up money for charity

Local realtors scare up money for charity


Photo courtesy of SILVAR
Realtors Gary Campi and Jordan Legge, from left, joined Nancy Domich, SILVAR President Dave Tonna and Joe Brown to raise funds for the Silicon Valley Realtors Charitable Foundation.

Los Altos and Mountain View realtors raise...

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Books

Helping kids catch a few Zs: Local dental hygienist pens meditative bedtime book

Helping kids catch a few Zs: Local dental hygienist pens meditative bedtime book


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Mimi Sommers, who works at a Los Altos dentist’s office, recently wrote a children’s book.

A local dental hygienist recently published a book that aims to ease parents and children during a sometimes anxious e...

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People

DAVID S. NIVISON

DAVID S. NIVISON

David S. Nivison, 91 years old, and a resident of Los Altos, California since 1952, died Oct. 16, 2014 at home.  His neighbors had recently honored him as the “Mayor of Russell Ave., in recognition of 62 years of distinguished living” on that ...

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Travel

Falling leaves: Four places in California to see autumn colors

Falling leaves: Four places in California to see autumn colors


Courtesy of Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga, above, boasts a beautiful setting for viewing fall’s colors – and sampling the vineyard’s wines.

Yes, Virginia, there is fall in California.

The colors pop out in...

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Stepping Out

ECYS opens season Sunday

ECYS opens season Sunday


Ramya Krishna/Special to the Town Crier
The El Camino Youth Symphony rehearses for Sunday’s concert, above.

The El Camino Youth Symphony – under new conductor Jindong Cai – is scheduled to perform its season-opening concert 4 p.m....

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Spiritual Life

Christian Science Reading Room hosts webinar on prayer and healing

Christian Science practitioner and teacher Evan Mehlenbacher is scheduled to present a live Internet webinar lecture, “Prayer That Heals,” 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14 in the Christian Science Reading Room, 60 Main St., Los Altos.

Those interested ...

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Magazine

Local events add color to autumn calendar

Local events add color to autumn calendar


Van Houtte/town crier Visitors make their way through the Children’s Alley.

As Los Altos’ signature Chinese Pistache trees exchange their summer green for vibrant hues of yellow, orange and red in the fall, an abundance of local events also ad...

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Forgotten fruit: Los Altos History Museum unearths the tale of tomatoes


What do you get when you cross Los Altos in 1917 with World War I and a great weather cycle?

According to the Los Altos History Museum, the answer is a lot of tomatoes – 4,800 tons to be exact.

Old photo sparks curiosity

It’s tomato season, and Karen Purtich, a volunteer at the Los Altos History Museum, noticed a photograph in the museum’s “Early Los Altos and Los Altos Hills” (Arcadia Publishing, 2010), co-authored by Don McDonald, that sparked her curiosity.

The picture was of a Los Altos fruit stand at the 1917 Santa Clara County Fair. The town plan had been filed a decade prior, in 1907, and Los Altos was still in the process of selling land and advertising itself as a flourishing community.

“The Santa Clara County Fair was an opportunity for people to show off,” said Laura Bajuk, the museum’s executive director. “You wanted to show how productive your community is.”

The photograph depicts a town abundant with fruit, including 1,500 tons of green and 200 tons of dried apricots that year – not a surprise to most local residents, given the ongoing association of Los Altos with apricots. However, the number of tomatoes produced, 4,800 tons, flabbergasted members of the museum.

“Just the amount of tomatoes was either an error in statement, an added zero or something else, because you just couldn’t see that many tomatoes growing here,” said McDonald, longtime museum volunteer and city historian.

According to McDonald, the number created much in-house debate. However, they reached a general consensus that the number implied a much larger Los Altos than the city we see today.

“Most of the land for tomatoes had to be flat,” he said. “The whole area between El Camino Real and the Bay was just perfect for tomatoes. I don’t know why, but that’s what it was.”

However, the perfect microclimate wasn’t the only reason Los Altos produced tomatoes so prolifically in the early 20th century. The forgotten tale of the tomatoes is in fact a complex story involving World War I, young Los Altos orchards and racial prejudice.

The forgotten fruit

In 1917, World War I was in full throttle. Although the U.S. had yet to enter the conflict, industry was heavily affected.

“A world at war means that fruit supplies were disrupted terribly,” Bajuk said. “The areas that aren’t at war can produce food and make money. So (Los Altos was) profiting from the war.”

Los Altos was fortunate enough to boast the agricultural resources needed to meet the increased demand for fruit. Coincidentally, farmers experienced an ideal weather cycle that year.

“We found that 1917 was a fabulous year to be a farmer,” Bajuk said. “You just couldn’t screw up. … You could practically throw your seeds on the ground and there’d be trees the next day.”

However, the orchards were still young. According to Bajuk, it took several years for an orchard to be profitable enough to make up for the cost of labor.

“Only when they’re abundant do they make sense,” she added.

When the orchard trees weren’t growing, Bajuk said, farmers planted “intercrops” that grew between other crops.

“While your trees are tiny, there’s lots of sun and so tomatoes make a good intercrop,” she noted.

Whether the abundance of tomatoes was a result of being grown as an intercrop, as part of a larger area than the Los Altos today or some combination of the two, tomatoes were indisputably an essential crop in the local agricultural economy.

“In the early ’20s, there were articles in the local paper and they talk about the impact of frost on crops.” Bajuk said. “The tomato crops are specifically mentioned.”

So why did the era of tomatoes vanish in the community’s memory while apricots are still a source of pride and fame?

“Those crops were farmed by Japanese farmers,” Bajuk said. “In earlier times, you tended to stay with your own folks. So it might be that this underrepresented population isn’t as remembered as they should be for the contribution they made by growing tomatoes.”

However, in the end, at least according to Bajuk, it’s all about appearance.

“When you get right down to it, tomatoes just aren’t as sexy as the fabulous lemon apricot,” she said. “And same with the prune. It’s harder to get excited about prunes. We remember the glamour and the drama, and that’s human nature. The hidden story of the tomato tends to go by the wayside.”

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