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News

LA Council race adds 3 new faces to city politics

LA Council race adds 3 new faces to city politics


The Town Crier chronicled the first election of Los Altos City Council incumbent Jarrett Fishpaw in 2010 and documented the Los Altos candidacy of Jean Mordo, who volunteered as a longtime public servant in Los Altos Hills before moving to the flat...

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Schools

St. Simon launches web-based learning management system

St. Simon launches web-based learning management system


Courtesy of St. Simon Parish School
St. Simon fifth-grader Matthew Cummins uses a laptop in class last week. The school’s cloud-based Schoology system boosts organization and collaboration.

Families at St. Simon Parish School in Los Altos laun...

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Community

Los Altos to celebrate 100 years of library use with 'Centennial Faire'

Los Altos to celebrate 100 years of library use with 'Centennial Faire'


Town Crier File Photo
The Los Altos main library is among the more popular branches in the county library district system, set to celebrate 100 years.

In 1914, Babe Ruth made his debut with the Boston Red Sox, wages hit $5 per day, the first ste...

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Sports

Eagles eye another stellar season

Eagles eye another stellar season


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Los Altos High outside hitter Carmen Annevelink, right, goes for the kill Thursday against Palo Alto, as teammates Sarah Tritschler, left, and Lulu Kishton prepare to play defense. The Eagles won the match in straight ga...

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Comment

Torok, Walter, Dave for MVLA board: Editorial

There’s really nothing major you can criticize about the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District. It offers a diverse array of effective programs for all types of students. Its instructors, with few exceptions, are outstanding.

Howe...

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Special Sections

'Funabout' Fiat

'Funabout' Fiat


Photos courtesy of Fiat
The 2014 Fiat 500e uses 29 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles, which the engineers claim is the equivalent of 116 mpg of gas use. It has a sticker price of $33,095.

If you believe in climate change, would love to see alternat...

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Business

App developer eyes First Friday as testing ground

App developer eyes First Friday as testing ground


Ted Fagenson

An East Bay app developer is testing his newest creation in downtown Los Altos.

Ted Fagenson, co-founder of Skrownge (pronounced “scrounge”), told the Town Crier that he’s beta testing his mobile gaming app this week ...

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Books

From story to bookstore: Local journey highlights Halloween

From story to bookstore: Local journey highlights Halloween


Courtesy of Dee Ellmann
Jenny Hurwick self-published her picture book last month after decades of storytelling.

During her years working as a teacher and a Los Altos mom, Jenny Hurwick loved to tell stories. One tale she crafted for her son just se...

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People

VINCENT (TIM) MURPHY JR.

VINCENT (TIM) MURPHY JR.

July 27, 1953 – August 12, 2014

Native Los Altan died Medford, OR. Graduated Bellarmine Prep. Married Josephine Domino, 1950. Licensed Auto Mechanic, Private Pilot, skilled Computer Scientist. Tim “could fix anything”. Afflicted with cancer 2001. ...

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Travel

Taking a Turkey trek: Winging it during the World Cup

Taking a Turkey trek: Winging it during the World Cup


Rich Robertson/Special to the Town Crier
The sun sets over the Aegean Sea in Bodrum, Turkey, left.

Tours that whisk you from Istanbul to Bodrum in 11 days are as plentiful as souvenir hawkers in Turkey, but traveling from the Blue Mosque to Topkapi ...

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Stepping Out

'Gypsy' on its way out

'Gypsy' on its way out


Chris Berger/Special to the Town Crier
Alison Koch of Los Altos plays Dainty June in “Gypsy.”

This is the final weekend to catch the Sunnyvale Community Players production of “Gypsy” at the Sunnyvale Theatre. The musical is slated to close Sund...

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Spiritual Life

Ugandan pastor visits U.S. to raise support for children's ministry

Ugandan pastor visits U.S. to raise support for children's ministry


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Herman Lukwago educates children in Uganda.

Imagine life if your father had 25 children and you were raised in poverty in rural Uganda.

Now imagine that you and your siblings were orphaned at an early age and you ass...

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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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