by Linda Kubitz
(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.