Category Archives: Blog

Sunnyvale’s Ice Palace and an olympic champion

By Linda Kubitz

Sunnyvale’s former Ice Palace is now Vito’s Pizza Parlor

For many years Sunnyvale had its own ice skating rink.  With the requisite fireplace, snack bar, and rental skates, the Ice Palace was popular with skaters of all levels – from novices clinging to the safety rail to skilled skaters gliding confidently around the rink.  For the residents of Sunnyvale, where snow and ice rarely appeared, the Ice Palace was a unique place where one could retreat from the outside world for awhile and skate to music broadcast from overhead speakers.

Sidewalk roller skating was a much-loved children’s activity in the mid-1970s.  One afternoon, as a special treat, my neighbor and I took our young children to the roller skating rink on Reed Avenue, right here in Sunnyvale. Upon our arrival, however, we found the roller rink closed for the day!  With four disappointed children in tow, and eyeing the Ice Palace right next door, my neighbor and I settled on Plan B – we’d try ice skating instead!  Wobbly ankles and all, the children had a great time on the ice that day, especially my five-year old daughter who came away “hooked” on ice skating.  After talking about little else for days afterward, my husband and I enrolled her in a series of ice skating lessons at the “Palace”.

After one of those lessons, while Amy and the other girls in her class were enjoying a “free skate” period, her teacher and I chatted with each other for a while.  As we talked, our attention was drawn to a young boy, about twelve years old, skating in the center of the rink.  We watched as he leapt and twirled, clearly head and shoulders above everyone else on the ice. That’s when Amy’s teacher told me something I’ve never forgotten.  “That young boy is going to be famous some day”, she said.  “Remember his name: Brian Boitano”.

Brian Boitano grew up to become a world champion ice skater and win the gold medal in the men’s singles figure skating competition at the 1988 Calgary Olympics.  Newer residents to our area may not know that Brian was raised in Sunnyvale, attended Ponderosa Elementary School and Peterson High School, and began his championship ice skating career at Sunnyvale’s Ice Palace.  Like other local residents, my family and I were thrilled to watch Brian skate in the Olympics. Every time the announcers mentioned his hometown of Sunnyvale, we cheered!

The Ice Palace, located on a corner of Reed Avenue near Lawrence Expressway, closed down many years ago.  The building still stands, but now houses a pizza parlor and an auto shop.  When I spoke to the pizza store owner recently, he indicated that people occasionally come into his restaurant to ask about the old Ice Palace.  He mentioned his desire for photos of the rink to hang on the wall.

My daughter took ice skating lessons for only a year or so; other, more practical activities took their place.  But she had fun while the lessons lasted, learned enough to “hold her own” in the sport –  and, like others who skated at the Ice Palace during those years, can forever say she “shared the ice” with Olympian Brian Boitano!

100 Years ago – Jan 1918

Snippets from the Jan editions

One hundred years ago in January 1918, the United States had been at war for nine months. The citizens of Sunnyvale were considering two bond issues that were to be decided in a special election at the end of the month. Proposition A was to decide if the town should take on debt to buy property for a municipal park and public buildings while constructing roads, sidewalks, and planting trees. Proposition B was to decide if the town should buy a parcel of land for a fire engine house and construct it.

The war effort and what could be done at home was the topic of the day. A few months prior in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson had created the U.S. Food Administration (USFA) to manage the food reserves for the U.S. Army and allies. Although the mission was to keep troops fed, this required a massive intervention in the food habits of Americans. A popular campaign was in full force for citizens to find substitutes for foods that were high in demand, all done on a voluntary basis. Beef, pork, wheat, dairy products, and sugars were rationed and sent to soldiers abroad. The citizens of Sunnyvale were asked to do their part, and it was a matter of civic duty and a sense of pride to comply.

Above are a few snippets taken from the Sunnyvale Standard in January 1918. Unfortunately, there are no known copies of the weekly editions for February 1918 to check voter turnout and the results of the special election, but it’s likely those measures were approved.

The house that started the Historical Society

By Katharina Woodman

Looking forward to the ten-year anniversary of the museum’s opening this year, we thought we’d go back to how it all started…. Way back in 1956!

The effort to save the house at Bay View in 1961 was the catalyst to create the Sunnyvale Historical Society. On the right, Phyllis Sapp holds a spindle from the balcony railing of the demolished house.

Ironically, the founding of the Sunnyvale Historical Society was prompted by the fear of destruction: the imminent demolition of the historic Bay View house.

The last member of the Murphy family to live in the house was Elizabeth Whittier, Martin Murphy Jr.’s granddaughter, daughter of Mary Ann “Polly” Carroll. Elizabeth took over the home in 1917 and lived there until she sold it to the City of Sunnyvale in 1951, just three years before her death in 1954. It was supposed to have become a monument for the early history of the settlement, but many voices clamored for the demolition of the structure. Hence, a group of people came together in 1956 to try and save the house from destruction, and founded the Sunnyvale Historical Society.

Members of the first hour were Mary West (president), Doris Carlson (VP), Lillian Wilson (treasurer), Phyllis Sapp, the Ort sisters, Manuel Vargas, Marjorie Clark, Joseph Duckgeischel, and Ernest Stout. They had to fight the city and county who intended to build Central Expressway right across the Murphy estate – with the railroad bordering the property, there was not much wriggle room for a different route. The group seemed on a path to victory when the structure was declared California Registered Historical Landmark No. 644, and continued pushing for the whole site to be declared an Historical Park. However, the state announced they did not have the funds for the upkeep and left it to the city who also maintained there was no money for the preservation of the property. Whilst the SHS and other citizens worked hard to raise money in order to save the house, the City Council decided on demolition in a 4:3 vote. An auction was held to sell items from the house in 1961, and in the early morning hours one day in September, bulldozers arrived to destroy the old Bay View home, a day ahead of the original schedule. As Ben Koning and Anneke Metz put it in their volume Sunnyvale (Images of America): “Tempers flared as conservation activists accused the ‘City of Destiny’ of being the ‘City of Double-Cross’ for not giving the historical society time to raise restoration funds.”

The fight lost, members of the society concentrated on salvaging whatever was left. Items from the house were scattered all over the city. The famous piano was sitting in the basement of the City Hall, paintings resided in various places in the county. Later the society was given some room in the building at Murphy Park to establish an archive and to open a modest museum. Kay Peterson (who sponsored the period kitchen in the new building) started a trunk show for the local schools in the early 1980s to teach students about the history of the city and the Murphy family – the beginnings of our popular school program!

In 1984, Laura Babcock got involved with the society, and after her retirement in the early 1990s, she started work on OHPIE (Orchard Heritage Park Interpretive Exhibit). She became the construction manager for the project, which was dedicated in 2001. Once that step had been accomplished, the society set its sights on creating a Sunnyvale museum and building a replica of the old Murphy home to house it. Laura was charged with conducting a feasibility study, and she set herself to fundraising, creating a “museum team” of business people to help the SHS realize this dream. The society sent out an appeal to the community for photos and artifacts from the original home, and many people contributed items. However, no blueprints or drawings of the home were ever uncovered, not even in the state capitol. Once the society had raised enough money for the project, they had to appeal to the city and prove that they indeed had sufficient funds to start building. After the wooden frame was constructed, more funds were pouring in. Finally, in late September of 2008, the museum we know and love today, was opened.

Donations – El Camino Real bell

by Margarete Minar

Sunnyvale’s El Camino Real bell, cast in 1906

Recently, the Heritage Park Museum received quite a weighty donation: An original El Camino Real bell. About 450 of these bells, were once placed along the historic El Camino Real, from San Diego to Sonoma. They were cast in 1906 with the first bell being placed on Olvera Street in Los Angeles.

The El Camino Real was a trail blazed by early Spanish soldiers and missionaries in the 1700s, connecting the 21 California missions. By the 1850s, much of the El Camino Real had become overgrown and the missions were falling into decay. Around 1900, two women’s groups, the Native Daughters of the Golden West and the California Federation of Women’s Clubs joined forces to preserve the California missions and mark the historic El Camino Real. Mrs. Armitage Suton Carion Forbes (she preferred using her husband’s name) helped design the bells. The 11-ft high shepherd’s crook that holds the bell is a reminder of the walking stick used by Father Junipero Serra, founder of the California missions. Mrs. Forbes and her husband bought a foundry to cast them and formed the California Bell Company. (Source: Gloria Lenhart, SF City Guides)

This bell was very likely placed in Sunnyvale but no one knows for sure. For the past 50 years it has been in the patio at Pezzella’s Villa Napoli restaurant in Sunnyvale, on El Camino Real near S Mary Avenue. The bell had been given to Vince Pezzella by a friend of one of his sons because it was known Vince collected bells. It’s a mystery how someone could have come into possession of an 85-pound bell, but by the mid 1900s, many of the bells had fallen into disrepair and some were even stolen as pranks.

The third generation of the Pezzella family still runs the restaurant and they decided that now was the right time to donate the bell to the Sunnyvale Heritage Park Museum.  As its final location, it will be  reinstalled at the new entrance of the museum next summer.

Veteran volunteers Monte Stamper and Don Adams (above), along with museum director, Laura Babcock, have been instrumental in the bell’s journey to the museum.

Sunnyvale’s Co-op market

by Linda Kubitz

Source: Palo Alto Times archives

November and December . . . a time for celebrations and food!  As residents of Sunnyvale, we have long enjoyed an abundance of well-stocked grocery stores in which to shop for our holiday foods.  Some of those markets have disappeared through the years, almost forgotten, falling prey to shifts in population and changing food needs.  One such “long ago” grocery store was Sunnyvale’s Co-op Market.

In 2002, my husband and I made the decision to join the 24 Hour Fitness Gym on Fremont Avenue near Saratoga Sunnyvale Road.  When we applied for membership, the buff, tank-top attired young man who took our application asked if we had been to the gym before.  “Not to the gym”, I answered, “but I did buy our lettuce and milk right here!”  I went on to explain that the large building which housed the gym was once the home of the Co-op Market.

Sunnyvale’s Co-op was one of six Co-op (Consumers’ Co-operative Society) markets located in several mid-peninsula locations, including Palo Alto and Mountain View.   Although Sunnyvale’s Co-op did not open its doors until 1959, the Co-op concept began in Palo Alto in 1935, during the Depression years, with the objective of creating a customer owned co-operative food-buying club.  At the peak of their popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, the Co-op stores, known for “thinking outside the box”, were among the first markets to carry organic produce and bulk food items.  When we moved to our present Sunnyvale home in 1972, the nearby Co-op, where regular customers were greeted by name, became a routine stop on my weekly grocery trek.

Providing service to its shoppers and to the community was an important mission of the Co-op markets.  One such service was the Kiddie Korral.  While moms and dads shopped for groceries, their little ones were cared for and entertained in a large-windowed room at the front of the store.  The Kiddie Korral was filled with a variety of books, puzzles and toys, including my children’s particular favorite, a sand table on legs, where they could run little toys through the sand and dig to their hearts’ content.

Another useful Co-op service was a community bulletin board, located at the store’s entrance.  Covered with flyers and notices of items for sale, properties lost, babysitters needed, and notification of everything from garage sales to school carnivals, the store was a type of community center, giving the neighborhood a pleasant, small town feel.       

The Sunnyvale Co-op closed its doors in 1982.  The stores in Mountain View and Palo Alto’s Middlefield Road location continued in business until 1986 and 2001, respectively, when competition and changing consumer habits deemed the stores impractical.   Although the building which housed the old Sunnyvale Co-op is now a gym, Sunnyvale “old-timers” still remember the friendly employees, displays of “unique-to-the-times” food items, a well-posted and informative  community bulletin board, and the Kiddie Korral where happy children played while grateful parents shopped for their holiday tables.

In memory of Jeanine Stanek

It is with great sorrow that we announce the August 19, 2017 passing of Jeanine Stanek, the Sunnyvale Historical Society’s Chief Archivist. Her dedication to history, her positive attitude, and her endless energy was an inspiration to us all. She will be greatly missed.

The following is written by Laura Babcock, Museum Director, about her memories of Jeanine.

Laura Babcock on the left, with Jeanine Stanek

I do not recall the exact year I met Jeanine – perhaps 25 – 30 years ago: our lives crossed paths many times over those years, through our children’s school years, Leadership Sunnyvale, Tomorrow’s Leaders Today, and then we were both former members of the Heritage Preservation Commission, so we had a lot in common. Our deep friendship began about eleven years ago when she innocently offered to “help” with our archive database and historical library a year before this museum building was constructed.

I still remember that first day meeting in the old Murphy Park building to show her what we had to work with to exhibit at the museum when it was built.  In those days, we had a 380 sq. ft. museum room, a 1200 sq. ft. workroom, and another 1200 sq. ft. lean-to storage room.  In this room with no heat, no A/C, no windows,  our files had been kept in an assorted manner over the past 57 years. File boxes written in pencil with the graphite worn off in places, file cabinets holding various photos and history clippings, boxes and boxes of artifacts in the lean-to with a leaky roof, and water coming up through the floor when it rained were some of the issues facing Jeanine. She quietly listened as we explained it all and only uttered two words repeatedly. OH MY!

But bravely she dived right in! The next 18 months of her life were spent there, wearing many layers of clothing as she searched through boxes in those cold rooms, a flashlight in one hand and her notebook in the other. By the time we needed to transport artifacts to install exhibits here in the new museum building, she had a good grip on the contents of most of them. We’d call her at the end of the day while installing exhibits saying “Help, we have an empty shelf in the Libby’s display, what can you find in the boxes for us”? She recruited friends to help out and they became what we affectionately call our “Wednesday Nighters”.

Besides keeping our archive collections in order and on the database, she mentored numerous volunteers here, from teenagers who needed community service hours, to adults doing research, to people who just wanted to help.  Doing individual research for consultants, the City, authors, or anyone who wanted to know when their home was built, she helped them all!

As we got a bit older and couldn’t always remember every detail, I could come up with part of the answer and she did the other part. We always joked “between us we have a whole functioning brain with good memory”!  Certainly not by plan, but by “life happens”, we even shared the experience of cancer treatments. We could talk about chemo infusion centers and the pains of blood transfusions just as easily as the history of canneries or the Murphy Family.

As one of our volunteers mentioned this week, it is such a shame we could not bring in the historical Butcher Family house last year. If we did, we would have dedicated the new Jeanine Stanek Research Library in it last week.  We will keep on trying, Jeanine, and when we do get it, the Research Library Room will have your name on it!

We shall always miss you and most importantly we shall always appreciate you and what you accomplished here!  God Speed, Jeanine.

Your friend,

Laura Babcock

Where is this Hendy lamp post?

Very few lamp posts are still standing that were produced by Hendy Iron Works of Sunnyvale. Fewer than a dozen remain in places like Chinatown in San Francisco, Oak Court in Sunnyvale, Franklin Street in Santa Clara, and at History San José Village.

The Heritage Museum in Sunnyvale has two of them outside the entrance gate, which is where the one in this picture is located.

Looking for information on the Blue Cube

We are gearing up to install another part of Sunnyvale’s important history: the world-known but still secret Blue Cube. Now that many of the programs coming from the Blue Cube are declassified, we would like to gather as much information about them as we can and install a permanent exhibit in the museum exhibit hall dedicated to it. If you or someone you know ever worked there, and can now talk about your work, please email the museum and join a committee to help design the exhibit. We need your help in deciding what is important. We are also interested in obtaining any related artifacts you may have from those projects.  Please email or leave a comment on this post.

Rediscovering the BD Murphy Plaque

“Who is that handsome fellow  in that relief?”, visitors ask when they enter the hallway across from the bedroom display. Our docents, meanwhile, have been wondering, “Why is this plaque displayed only now?”, since until recently, on that same spot on the wall, we showed a drawing of the museum building, in order to juxtapose it with the one of the original Murphy home hanging in the bedroom. – Well, our master sleuth, museum researcher Allen Rountree, has all the answers! Here they are:

The large bas-relief bronze plaque shows no other than Bernard D. (B.D.) Murphy, one of Mary Bolger Murphy and Martin Murphy Jr.’s sons.

B.D. was a child of three when the Murphy family crossed the Sierra Nevada into California. Later, he was a California State Senator and a popular mayor of San José for three two-year terms in 1873-1877 and 1880-1882.

In 1888, U.S. Senator James Phelan, the Hon. B.D. Murphy and other distinguished men of the valley organized the still-venerable Sainte Claire Club. Their 1893 clubhouse still stands in downtown San José.

It was that club that commissioned the memorial plaque, after B.D.’s death at age 70, in December of 1911. The esteemed local sculptor Haig Patigian created the bronze plaque in his studio in San Francisco in 1912.

Mr. Patigian in 1928

How our museum acquired this work of art weighing 60 pounds is a detective story of lost artwork and missing history. In the summer of 2015, Anne King Nehmens, the great-great granddaughter of Bernard D. Murphy donated a box of Murphy-Wright-King family photographs to the museum. The portraits and wedding photographs were a valuable record of Murphy descendants, but no one at the museum recognized the photo of a wall sculpture engraved “B.D. Murphy”.

Enlarging the photo, I could see “Haig Patigian 1912” engraved in the lower right corner and discovered that he was an Armenian-American sculptor with a studio in San Francisco from 1900 to 1950. Patigian has sculptures on display at the Oakland Museum and created more of San Francisco’s statues and bas-reliefs than any other artist of his time. Among his works is a 1940 bas-relief bronze of pioneer financier William C. Ralston that stands on the Marina Green in San Francisco. This monument is an example of how the Murphy plaque would have looked on a building or in a grand public lobby. Ironically, William Ralston also has a six-degrees-of-separation connection to Mary and Martin Murphy Jr.

Mary and Martin helped finance the founding of Notre Dame Academy for women in San José in 1851. In 1923, the College of Notre Dame campus moved from San José to the 40-acre family estate, Ralston Hall in Belmont, built by this same William C. Ralston in 1867.

In the search for the B.D. Murphy plaque, I emailed photos of the plaque to numerous local museums and historical societies. No one had ever seen or heard of the plaque, until the director of History San José, Cate Mills, replied that they had the plaque in storage. They had recently acquired it from the de Young Museum of San Francisco. At some point, the Sainte Claire Club had given the plaque to the de Young where it had been in storage for 100 years! The plaque did not look like it had ever been mounted or installed on a wall. Fortunately, History San José was willing to place the plaque on long-term loan with the Sunnyvale Historical Society in January 2016.

Included in the Anne King Nehmens photo collection was this fine portrait of B.D. Murphy with his trademark wide-brim planter hat that shows that the artist indeed captured the essence of the mayor and state senator. At long last, the B.D. Murphy monument resides in a grand public building, where it belongs and will be appreciated.

The Cannery Worker

by Linda Kubitz

I have had many delightful experiences with museum visitors during my nine years as a docent, but one encounter stands out.

A few years ago I guided a lady in her early nineties on a tour of the museum.  Because she had grown up in Sunnyvale, she was particularly fascinated by the items on display, some of which she remembered firsthand.  When we arrived at the cannery exhibit in the museum’s central hallway, with its photograph of the old Schuckl Cannery surrounded by cannery labels and tools of the trade, my visitor’s face lit up.  In a voice filled with excitement, she told me she had worked at Schuckl when she was young!  With great enthusiasm she began to describe her experiences at Schuckl . . . until she suddenly paused!  Then, using a much softer tone, she continued:

“But I did something very bad when I started working there”.  

As I was imagining what “bad thing” this charming lady could possibly have done, she leaned toward me and whispered:

“I lied about my age.  I told them I was fifteen years old, but I was really only thirteen!”

According to my visitor, the minimum age for working at Schuckl Cannery was fifteen, but because her family was poor and would not be able to buy clothes or shoes for her for the upcoming school year, she pretended to be the minimum age for hiring.  And although that had happened nearly eighty years before, she still felt guilty about her “lie”!!

In the past century, when fruit ripened in the orchards every summer, Sunnyvale canneries offered employment to high school students, housewives and others who needed the extra work.  Throughout several decades of the 20th century, including the years of the Depression and World War II, many people eagerly snapped up those jobs.  During my years as a docent I have met other, older museum visitors who echoed the need to earn money for school clothes and other necessities when they were young.  The canneries in Sunnyvale and in the rest of the valley played an important role in helping people earn the extra money, so desperately needed during the tough economic times of decades past.  I’m certain my museum visitor was not the only young person to “change the facts” in order to be hired to work at the canneries.