Silicon Valley is probably a good, in many ways. The Valley of Heart’s Delight was a glory. We should have found ways of keeping the one from destroying the other. We did not. . .
-Wallace Stegner, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist
The children’s book of poetry, Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein was a popular birthday gift at many birthday parties when I was a child growing up in the 1970s. But in the Santa Clara Valley where the sidewalk literally ended, the apricot and cherry orchards began.
Sunnyvale in the 70s was in a state of transition. It was the struggle between the Valley of Heart’s Delight and Silicon Valley. When I was a kid, it seemed that the Valley of Heart’s Delight had the upper hand, but the lone apricot tree in our back yard, told that the ascendancy of Silicon Valley was clearly underway. The apricot orchard had made way to the track homes that housed the families that fueled the early industries of Silicon Valley, and this lone tree, which my brother and I posed in for family Christmas cards, was the last reminder. My family, on Cormorant Court, was one of those early Silicon Valley families.
After work, during the final warm days of summer and fall, my father would put me on the back of his bicycle and we would retrace his route to work along Fair Oaks Ave. We ascended the pedestrian walkway over the Southern Pacific train tracks. Here we would look down into the Schuckl Cannery on the side of the tracks. To this day I can recall the din of the conveyor belts, the frenetic energy of the forklifts bringing in the valley’s harvest, and the smell of the burning train brakes as a commuter train eased into Sunnyvale Station down below.
Blenheim Apricots at the Sunnyvale Heritage Orchard. This preserved orchard is on ten acres and contains about 800 trees. At it’s height Sunnyvale’s orchards included eight to nine million trees.
Then there was the oft-told story of the day my dad drove to work along Fair Oaks Ave and he saw a cherry orchard being uprooted, with fruit still on the trees. “What a waste” was the phrase that usually concluded the story. Those orchards are now rows and rows of condos with names like Cherry Orchard and Orchard Gardens Apartments.
Gone are the millions of apricot and cherry trees, the canneries, and the migrant workers that picked fruit each summer and fall. What is left are like islands of preserved orchards in Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, and Los Altos, a mere shadow of the agricultural area that once attracted motorists each spring to view the millions of blossoming trees.
In 2001 the Sunnyvale Orchard Heritage Park Interpretive Exhibit was opened. It was built along side the Heritage Orchard with interpretive signs that told of the rise and fall of the Valley of Heart’s Delight. My father’s name is immortalized on one of the signs in the Hertitage Park. He helped to create the park so future generations would remember the valley’s past.
On a recent returned to Sunnyvale on a May morning, that was already starting to feel like summer, I sketched a few apricot trees at the Orchard Heritage Park. On my way I drove down De Anza Boulevard, past the ghosts of my childhood, past unrecognizable buildings and storefronts, past the Apple Campus. So much was physically gone. An orchard, a favorite restaurant, a father. What does it mean when your past no longer physically exists?
Over the next few blogs I will explore the changing face of The Valley.