New book sheds light on city's earliest buildings
'Then and Now' series shows old town in the 1800s
A new book by Mountain View historian Nick Perry gives a sense of place to the city's history, including an area that was once the center of town, but is now completely erased from the landscape.
The Mountain View edition of Arcadia Publishing's "Then and Now" series, which goes on sale Oct. 8, starts off with a chapter on "the lost old town," a stretch of El Camino Real between Calderon Avenue and Stevens Creek that was the town's main street in its early days.
"That chapter really inspired me to do the book," Perry said. "A lot of people don't even know there is a Mountain View older than downtown. Even I didn't quite really get where that was."
In the 1800s — before the railroad fueled development of Castro Street — the stretch of El Camino Real was home to a hotel, a saloon, a blacksmith shop, a general store, the first location of St. Joseph Church, and numerous homes. It was also the site of the "Highway School" which existed at the corner of Calderon Avenue and El Camino Real where the "Two Worlds" mixed-use development now stands. Each historic photo of a building is shown with a picture of what's there now, taken from the same location and angle.
"The ability to compare a historic photo from over a century ago of an old saloon or hotel with a modern day image of a fast-food restaurant or car dealership really made the original settlement seem more real," Perry said, adding that he hopes it will help readers picture what that area was like when Mountain View was a brand-new settlement.
Perry says the chapter on North Bayshore was similar in that nothing much exists anymore from its early days where there was little but farms, homes and a shipping port.
"It was kind of like solving a mystery to figure out where some of the old photos were taken," Perry said of North Bayshore. "Other than the Rengstorff House, not much is there from its pre-Silicon Valley days. But I was able to use old maps and aerial photos to figure out where places like the Whisman School, Crittenden House, Huff House, and other interesting old structures used to stand."
Perry had become familiar with many historical images of the city when writing another pictorial history of Mountain View for Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series.
"Then and Now" was more difficult than the other book, he said. "In addition to having to pick interesting historical photos, you also have to know what is there now and make sure there is an interesting story to tell," Perry said.
Among his favorite chapters is one on the city's post-war building boom, which includes pictures of Fairchild Semiconductor with 1950s cars in the parking lot, the Hunt Foods plant replaced by the city's police station and the Camino Bowl bowling alley, now housing on El Camino Real, to name a few. The former Mayfield Mall — set for a facelift soon for use as an office building — is shown with its 1960s JC Penney facade.
Downtown, there's the formerly pointy Der Wienerschnitzel building, the bottom of which still stands as a beer garden and burger joint, and Mervyn's fine foods, an American-style diner and namesake of the tiny bar behind what is now Chef Liu Mandarin Cuisine.
Perry was able to find the location of the city's 1923 shipping port -— and a short-lived saltwater pool recreation area next to it called the Kingsport Plunge. He says it can be found on a map by drawing a line as if Whisman Road continued north straight to the bay. Though the buildings are gone, the location can be seen from the Bay Trail after crossing into what is now Sunnyvale.
Several members of the Mountain View Historical Association contributed photos for the book, including former City Manger Kevin Duggan, who had postcards of the Highway School, the former El Camino Real bridge over Stevens Creek and a large Victorian home that Perry eventually found was still standing at the corner of Villa and Oak streets. Former Mayor Matt Pear contributed a then-and-now image of him and his brother as boys standing in his family's orchard, and the pair standing at the same spot today, now a condo building at 400 Ortega Avenue. It turned out there were many more photos contributed than there was space for in the book, Perry said.
The book hits local retailers on Monday, Oct. 8, or can be ordered from arcadiapublishing.com.