When Martin Murphy Jr. first came to California 1844, he purchased some land on what would become, six years later, the West Coast of the United States. That land was in a valley with nice weather – always sunny. Sound familiar? He originally used it to establish a wheat farm named Bay View, thus beginning Sunnyvale’s long history of agriculture. A couple of decades later, in the 1870’s, fruit orchards widely replaced the original wheat farms. Many more decades later, Sunnyvale is left with one 800 tree apricot orchard and an ex-fruit stand on the historic El Camino Real which has now been removed and replaced by a Starbucks. These facts beg the question of what is next.
The Sunnyvale Apricot Orchard stands adjacent to the Sunnyvale Heritage History Museum, only separated by a ten foot wide driveway created for the purpose of allowing emergency vehicles through. The Heritage Museum has been seeking to expand to include a new exhibit on the Blue Cube, a US Air Force Installation during the Cold War, as well as increased storage space and a study area. In addition the monetary costs, the project would require cutting down 3-10 apricot trees from the orchard to make room for the expansion. Concerned about disrupting the sanctity of the orchard, long time orchardist Charlie Olson has opposed the plan to expand into orchard land.
The issue was brought to the Sunnyvale City Council and at their meeting on July 16, the council voted 5 to 2 in favor of the expansion project.
This summer, I have had the wonderful opportunity to intern with Councilmember Smith, and at our meeting three days before the vote took place, we had the chance to tour both the orchard and museum. On a tour with Mr. Olson, who maintains the orchard, we saw the beautiful fruit stand, the apricot trees, and petitions signed by numerous members of the community, passionate about “saving the orchard.” On the flip side, we saw the recreated Murphy House which houses the museum with its portraits of the Murphy family and artifacts showcasing Sunnyvale’s origins and history, including displays about the technological advancements the city played a key role in.
One major concern of the community has been that, if we allow this encroachment onto Orchard land, if we allow 3-10 trees to be cut down, then what’s next? In another ten years will there be a request to cut 3-10 more trees down? What about in twenty? Will the orchard still exist 100 years from now? We can’t speculate or predict what will happen in the future. However, we can be sure that these 3-10 trees will make room for an invaluable addition about Sunnyvale’s contribution to the technology and defense industries to museum, one without which a telling of the city’s history would be incomplete. It will open up opportunities for people to research their homes’ histories, their city’s history, and even their own families’ histories. This one step being taken to expand the museum at the cost of the orchard does not dictate the future, nor does it set a precedent for the destruction of the orchard
I remember visiting the Heritage Museum as a third grader and sitting in the upstairs room to taste dried apricots. Eight years later, the museum continues to provide these field trips for 3,000 third graders annually, and each child is given an apricot to try. It is sad to these apricot trees go, but I am glad their removal is helping make space for a great cause which the Orchard also shares – displaying Sunnyvale’s history, the entirety of it.