Moving Forward, Moving On?

March 25, 2017

When Los Altos’ picturesque apricot orchards were replaced by the Silicon Valley’s millionaire mansions, more than just trees died; a once strong sense of community faded away with them. As the pace of life increased, the days of sleepy, small-town Los Altos were left behind. Focus on life after Los Altos is now our present reality, and it doesn’t seem like our generation has noticed what we’ve lost.

The four of us went to the Los Altos History Museum without any real objective in mind. Nestled in the more historic North Los Altos, the museum is small but tidy, with neatly arranged glass cases displaying old farming tools and newspaper clippings.

We talked to Kristen Fuller, a longtime resident of Los Altos who, like us, spent her teenage years here. She was eager to reminisce, regaling us with stories from her childhood in the sixties and seventies.
“We’d go to each other’s houses to help [harvest fruit],” Fuller said. “We all sat around kibitzing and laughing, and there was a lot of camaraderie doing that. It’s a way of life that doesn’t really exist anymore, at all.”

Through talking to various Los Altans who grew up here, we were surprised to learn about the strong sense of community that existed only a few decades ago. The Los Altos Library was the “social scene” of the day, a place where you would run into all of your friends, decorating bikes for Pet Parade was a large event, and it was practically unheard of to not know your neighbors. Greg and Kate Evard, both of whom grew up in and now reside in Los Altos, fondly recall the times when this was a town where children would bike around the neighborhood gathering their friends for a game of soccer.

“[Kids would] just play with the other neighborhood kids, there wasn’t as much emphasis on getting the kids organized…” Greg Evard said. “It was [also] just more feeling of community in a way that everybody could circulate and use the land more. You could get on your bike and just ride through orchards.”

Over the years, as Los Altos changed from “Blossom Valley” to “Silicon Valley,” it has also morphed into a far more closed-off atmosphere, both literally and in people’s mindsets. The reality shifted from people really being a part of their community to just living in it.

“People didn’t used to have gates and fences and all that,” Kate Evard said. “There wasn’t that sense of ‘this is my house’. Kids could go between and around houses. Now, I can’t even walk to my father’s house the way I used to… That is kind of sad, it just makes it more exclusive feeling.”

Fuller’s summers spent making apricot preserves seem like stories from another era. And they are. We aren’t so connected to this town anymore. Many of us have cars now, and when we spend time with friends, we drive to Palo Alto or Santa Cruz or any of the multitude of cities around us. We don’t choose to hang out in Los Altos because we don’t have to anymore. Because we spend less time in Los Altos compared to previous generations, we haven’t established the same level of connection with this town.
“I just think of how much it’s changed, and it’s sort of sad,” Fuller said. “It’s sad to me that none of that open space and all the beautiful trees and all the orchards are gone. There’s not a single apricot tree.”

After visiting the museum, we walked downtown, past the upscale stores, products of the Valley rent increases that have transformed this town. Before our eyes, things were changing, just as the apricot trees were razed and the houses became bigger and the idyllic vision of small-town America vanished in the minds of its older people. It didn’t matter. None of us thought about coming back in five or ten or twenty years. We’re headed to college, becoming adults. We have cars, jobs and the internet. We don’t need Los Altos anymore.

 

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