Mountain View Voice

Opinion - July 5, 2013

Lush property offers city a rare opportunity

There was a good vibe flowing around the Stieper property last week as firefighters and other city volunteers, including City Council member Margaret Abe-Koga, pitched in to clean up years of debris accumulated during the long life of Frances Stieper and her late husband.

The good feelings came in part after Frances, 92, sold the property at 771 North Rengstorff to the city with the hope that its 125 trees and substantial gardens could be preserved for future generations of Mountain View residents who may not know what the city looked like before Google and other high-tech companies took over. Stieper continues to live on the property temporarily.

And then there is Mountain View firefighter John Miguel, who befriended Stieper when he first met her on a medical call for her late husband and realized she could use a lot of help to keep up with her large property. The two became good friends, with Miguel and many of his buddies at the firehouse volunteering their time to spruce up the property. Miguel says, "I feel like she's my grandmother." He has taken her to visit his family in Modesto and says that he has "...gotten way more out of (the relationship) that she ever has."

Last week Miguel and a good number of his firefighter friends continued to work on the cleanup, pushing overloaded wheel barrows filled with debris toward dumpsters around the property during the clean-up effort. From all appearances, the fruit trees are healthy and Stieper had the foresight to bring in a number of beehives to pollinate the fruit trees.

The hope is that the property can be turned into a park where residents can visit and see, and perhaps pick, fruit from trees bearing apricots, figs, avocados, peaches, apples, oranges and plums. In this way the 1-acre public space will provide a link to the time when fruit orchards lined the valley floor, taking advantage of the mild climate and long, warm summer days.

If all goes well, there will be another link to the city's past on the property — the tiny circa-1880 "Immigrant House" that will be moved to a spot among the fruit trees. Marina Marinovich, who lived on a producing orchard in Mountain View, is spearheading restoration of the home. The diminutive struction was rescued from the site of the historic but dilapidated Pearson house on Villa Street, which recently was demolished to make way for an office building.

Marinovich has plans to bring students to the property so she can explain the history of Immigrant House and how food can be grown, a concept that's become foreign to many people but is starting to take hold among many Bay Area residents.

Like many of those present at the cleanup last week, we hope the city can find a way to preserve the orchard of fruit trees and gardens, ideally opening them up to field trips, so local students will be able to see food-bearing trees and plants in the place once know as the Valley of Heart's Delight. It is an amazing opportunity to preserve a slice of Mountain View that many thought had vanished completely.

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