Thu05282015

News

LASD opens registration for online strategy sessions

As the Los Altos School District plans how to spend its $150 million in Measure N bond funds, its initial goal is to broaden community input.

Following an April 22 meeting, the district is casting a wider net in the hopes of soliciting feedback from...

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Schools

Students discuss academic, social pressure in CHAC forum

Students discuss academic, social pressure in CHAC forum


Traci Newell/Town Crier
Community Health Awareness Council hosted a forum earlier this month where local students discussed the varied pressures they face.

Local students face enormous pressures in their lives, ranging from academic to social, but s...

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Community

Alan Alda discusses career, family and science at the Celebrity Forum

Alan Alda discusses career, family and science at the Celebrity Forum


Alda

Those who laughed along with Hawkeye Pierce on the long-running TV program “M*A*S*H*” would have enjoyed the recent Foothill College Celebrity Forum Speakers Series featuring actor Alan Alda.

Alda appeared May 13-15 at the Flint Center for...

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Sports

Eagles, Spartans advance

Eagles, Spartans advance


Town Crier file photo
Los Altos High’s Lizzy Beutter registered three hits in last week’s playoff win over Watsonville. She was also the winning pitcher.

Led by Lizzy Beutter, host Los Altos High whipped Watsonville 9-0 in the opening ro...

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Comment

Giving the thumb to what's done: Editorial

In the wake of recent Los Altos-area news events, we’re all thumbs.

Thumbs-down: To the Los Altos City Council’s decision to put the Walter Singer bust in storage. This is wrong on so many levels – even worse than the initial council decision to tra...

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Special Sections

Planting is possible despite drought

Planting is possible despite drought


Tanya Kucak/Special to the Town Crier
Wash the soilless mix off the root ball into the same container in which you have placed the clay soil from the planting hole. Remove at least an inch from the top and sides of the plant.

In this continuing dro...

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Business

Los Altos-based startup eyes digital makeup color-matching

Los Altos-based startup eyes digital makeup color-matching


Alicia Castro/Town Crier
Kokko Inc. Makeup Director Meli Pennington, standing, tests different shades of foundation on Los Altos resident Karen Melchior.

Meli Pennington knows cosmetics.

She has painted faces for the pages of Vogue and Glamour,...

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Books

Horan's 'Loving Frank' offers fictionalized account of famed architect's illicit affair

Horan's 'Loving Frank' offers fictionalized account of famed architect's illicit affair


In the 1920s, two married people fall in love, leave their spouses and children and set about living and traveling together. Affairs of this sort were considered shocking at the time. But the scandal was heightened given that the man was Frank Lloy...

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People

GUY WILSON SHOUP

Guy Wilson Shoup, 80, died on April 28, 2015, at his Palo Alto apartment, after a long period of ill health. Born on November 22, 1934, to Margaret Owen Shoup and to Jack Wilson Shoup (the second son of Paul Shoup, widely considered the founder of Lo...

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Travel

Flying south for the winter: Antarctica trips are not just for the birds

Flying south for the winter: Antarctica trips are not just for the birds


Photos Courtesy of Dave Hadden
Los Altos residents Dave and Joan Hadden watched the scenery from the large boat and a smaller Zodiac.

Standing on the beach with hundreds of thousands of penguins is “the experience of a lifetime,” according to Ga...

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Stepping Out

LA Stage Co. goes to 'town'

LA Stage Co. goes to 'town'


courtesy of Los Altos Stage Company
The Los Altos Stage Company production of “Urinetown: The Musical” opens this weekend.

The Los Altos Stage Company caps its 19th season with the musical comedy “Urinetown: The Musical,” scheduled to preview Th...

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Spiritual Life

Mercifully in His grip: Exploring our true position in Christ

I recently read a wonderful analogy about our true position in Christ. It was shockingly contrary to the messages impressed upon me in church, but deeply rooted in the Bible. The analogy is that of child and a parent. If you have ever taken a small ...

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Magazine

Practice prudent pruning: Maintaining manzanita, ceanothus and toyon

Practice prudent pruning: Maintaining manzanita, ceanothus and toyon


tanya kucak/Special to the Town Crier
Shrub manzanitas are known for their sinuous mahogany trunks and branches. If the foliage hides the bark, prune selectively to open the center so that the bark is visible year-round. This Montara manzanita is ...

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Inside Mountain View

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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