Category Archives: Blog

What your membership means

The museum at sunrise

Sunnyvale’s Heritage Museum is a true gem. Throughout the South Bay, Sunnyvale is one of the few cities that has an actual building dedicated to preserving city history. This year we are gearing up to celebrate the museum’s 10th anniversary, and in the pages of the past few newsletters, we’ve been sharing the story of how the museum came to be. Establishing this place wasn’t easy, neither the planning nor the fundraising, all of it done privately without the financial support of the city government.

The Historical Society and Museum Association is a non-profit organization run entirely by volunteers. The museum is open three times a week, year-round, and admission is free. How do we manage free admission while “keeping the lights on” and organizing special events like our recent cannery reception and exhibit? As you can imagine, volunteers are the backbone of the support needed to keep the museum running smoothly. Additionally, funding sources are extremely important in helping us continue to collect and preserve city history and educate our current and next generation of residents.

What are our funding resources? Some of our donors are large contributors and some are small, but each one is vital for us to remain financially viable. Once a year our Capital Campaign helps raise money for major projects such as installing solar panels on our roof, new office computers and equipment, and this year we plan to upgrade our inefficient A/V equipment. Throughout the year we receive donations from people who have had a great experience visiting our museum or simply believe in our mission and want to support it. Twice a year we have garage sales for generating income. Our unique museum store contributes financially and serves the community as well.  Another important source of revenue is space rental when we permit the community to share the museum building, upstairs, for special occasions. Finally, our spring and holiday teas, staffed by a huge number of volunteers, provide a delightful experience for our guests as well as a substantial amount of income for the museum.

The most important source of museum income are the membership dues we solicit each year. Those funds provide one-quarter to one-third of our operating revenue. We depend on the dues collected from our members and appreciate their renewal. If you have not already done so, please mail your membership check. We count on your continued enthusiasm, support, and commitment as you help the Sunnyvale Historical Society and Museum Association preserve Sunnyvale’s unique history.

After “the fall of the house of Murphy”, what came next?

by Linda Kubitz

3 photos of the land and buildings on Murphy Park, Sunnyvale

Martin Murphy Jr. Historical Park was created on the site of the original Bay View Ranch and surrounding property. Today, the recreation center located at the site has a sloping roof as a nod to the old Murphy house. The picture on the right was taken at the beginning of the park construction, around 1969.

(Part 2 of a 4 part series)

The SHS Jan/Feb newsletter featured an article titled “The House that Started the Historical Society”, describing the events which led to the demolition of the Murphy house.  Despite the efforts of the Sunnyvale Historical Society, founded in 1956 by a group of determined people whose express goal was to save the historic Murphy house, the City ordered the demolition in 1961.  A less intrepid group than those early fighters for Sunnyvale’s history would have folded up in defeat after that devastating blow.  Not so the Sunnyvale Historical Society!  Despite being small in number, those early members were mighty in their preservation spirit!!

That spirit stood out loud and clear when I recently researched the history of the SHS for the months and years immediately following the demolition.  Because none of those early members are alive today, I went to the next best source: the SHS Newsletters, Volume I, 1957-1973.   

In the October, 1961 newsletter,  the first edition after the demolition, SHS president Ernie Stout wrote:

Historians, what is there left to say — Our beloved old Murphy home is gone.   We can’t quit.  While the home is gone, the history is not.  We now must find other goals to work to.   In any event I believe that the battle to save the old home has pulled the society membership closer together than ever before.

Just a few months later, in January, 1962, newsletter editor Mary West clearly stated what the SHS would be doing in the years ahead.

We have been asked what the Society will do, and, even if there will be a Society now that the Murphy Home is no more.  Although the preservation of the Murphy home was the primary and immediate reason for the founding of the Society, other aims were set forth on founding, including study and preservation of California and local history.  Then, although the home is gone, we still have the Murphy Estate (the land) and the final plans for this area will be watched by the Society.  We will continue to have monthly programs of historical interest and follow other historical pursuits.  Plans are now being formalized for a historical shelf in the local library.  Long range hopes call for some day having a room or museum (perhaps a relic of the original section of the home?) and we hope to increase our collection of Murphy and Sunnyvale historical artifacts.

The Society’s hard feelings toward the City and its decision to destroy the Murphy house continued to simmer in the months following the demolition.  An item written by editor Mary West for the February, 1962 newsletter, clearly stated the Society’s feelings toward the disregard the City was showing for some of the Murphy artifacts.

The picture of Martin Murphy, Jr. will hang in the Library, with a plaque furnished by the Historical Society, proclaiming him “Founder of Sunnyvale”.  At the same time the Society is taking steps to get the remaining pictures (portraits) of the Murphy family out of the irresponsible care of the City (we understand one of them has already been permanently damaged) and into a safer location against the day when the city wakes up to their value or the Society has their own place for display of items of a historical nature.

Moving past the loss of the Murphy house, the Society pushed forward, through the 1960s and into the 1970s.  They held regular monthly meetings, first at the Girl Scout House on the Murphy estate, then in the homes of members, and even, for a while, in the Americana Room of  American Savings and Loan at 150 West McKinley Avenue.  By June of 1964 plans were being made to create a city park on the Murphy estate land, a park which would include a building, part of which would house the City’s Murphy relics.  Newsletter editor Mary West wrote, ”It’s a little ironic when you think that for the same sum, $150,000 and probably a lot less, they could have had the original home.”

The newsletter of October, 1968, revealed the acceptance of bids for the construction of a building at newly-created Murphy Park.  Construction continued through much of 1969, and the first meeting of the SHS at the new building was held on January 18, 1970.  Many of the Murphy artifacts gradually found their way to that building, and the Sunnyvale Historical Society finally had a home.

The newsletters of those early Murphy Park Museum days reveal a group of dedicated volunteers, intent on keeping history alive in Sunnyvale.  With the exception of summer, meetings were held monthly.  The highlight of each meeting was a program on such wide-ranging topics as Milpitas, 1850-1970, the life of Black Bart, the story of San Francisco’s fire horses, the early history of Moffett Field, and even a field trip to Stanford’s Manuscript Library for a special showing of the papers of Moses Schallenberger.  Each meeting also included theme-based refreshments, and every summer a barbecue was held at the former Murphy estate to honor the 50th anniversary party of Martin Murphy, Jr. and his wife Mary, which had been celebrated at the Murphy Ranch in 1881.

Today’s Sunnyvale residents owe much to the early Sunnyvale Historical Society members.  Even though they were not able to save the Murphy home, they were the caretakers of Sunnyvale’s history, not only keeping historical artifacts safe, but also keeping history alive through their meetings and programs.  Because of the dedication, enthusiasm, and persistence of those early SHS members, we are able to share Sunnyvale’s unique history in our present museum, a replica of the old Murphy home, while continuing to preserve the history given to us by those who came before.    

Captive of the Labyrinth

by Linda Kubitz

photo of the book "Captive of the Labyrinth" on display

Superstitious and crazy!  Haunted by ghosts!  Obsessed by numerology!  These are a few of the wide-spread rumors and mysteries which surrounded Sarah Winchester when she lived in the Bay Area a century ago and are still being fostered today.  The recent release of the movie “Winchester”, a sensationalized film-portrayal of the life of Sarah Winchester, prompted our museum store manager, Margaret Lawson, to order several copies of Captive of the Labyrinth.  Written by historian and De Anza College history instructor Mary Jo Ignoffo, Captive of the Labyrinth explains away the superstition and the myths long associated with Mrs. Winchester.  To discover the real Sarah Winchester, stop by the museum store and pick up a copy of the book.  In addition to the story of Sarah’s life, the book gives a fascinating history of the Winchester rifle and a nostalgic look back at the history of the Santa Clara Valley and the Peninsula in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The Winchester house, in all of its architectural splendor

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, taken 2018

Following are a few myths about Sarah’s life and some facts from Captive of the Labyrinth, which set the record straight.

Myth: The constant building of Sarah’s grand home would keep death away from her door.

Fact:  A local newspaper created that myth.  Sarah actually enjoyed the process of construction and design, and taking an active role in the creation of her palatial home was a type of tonic for her emotional and physical health.

Myth: Sarah was thought to be a crazy lady who would not mix with the local community.

Fact:  Sarah preferred a quiet, peaceful life without intrusion from the outside world.  She was close to her sisters and nieces, and kind to the servants, ranch workers and their families who worked for her, but wanted nothing to do with the community outside her gates.  In later years Sarah suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis which left her face disfigured and her body stooped, two more reasons she preferred to keep to herself.

Myth: Sarah’s mansion was constructed with stairs that led nowhere and doors which opened onto walls.

Fact: Much of the home was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, and rather than face the task of rebuilding its towers, turrets, and upper stories, Sarah simply had parts of the house boarded up. Stairs, for example, led to a wall because the room that had once been on the other side, had fallen away during the quake.

Fact:  Upon her death Sarah’s San José mansion was sold to an amusement company in Ohio with the express purpose of turning her so-called “mystery” home into a tourist attraction.

Fact:  The new owner perpetuated and embellished the myths that surrounded the mansion, adding even more “stories” in order to enhance his investment in his tourist site.

For the true story of Sarah Winchester’s life read Captive of the Labyrinth.  I found Ms. Ignoffo’s diligent research of Sarah’s actual life to be so compelling, I am saddened that the producers of the movie “Winchester” chose to depict Sarah’s life to be a convoluted horror story.  With a script like that, the myths surrounding Sarah and her home will, I fear,  prevail.

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! Part 1 of 4 articles on the history of the Sunnyvale Historical Society.

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.

To continue the story, read, After the fall of the house of Murphy, what came next?

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.