Santa Clara’s Harris-Lass House, an Italianate Victorian farmhouse built in 1865 and now a city museum, got all spruced up for a 150th birthday party May 16 that included root beer floats and ice cream sundaes, house tours and the movie “The Last Harvest,” detailing the home’s history.
A highlight was the dedication of the museum’s restored heritage orchard–a reminder of the days when the Santa Clara Valley, once the largest fruit production and packing region in the world with 39 canneries, was called “The Valley of Heart’s Delight,” and spring “Blossom Tours” were a major tourist attraction.
The birthday spruce up also included a restored rose garden intermixed with dahlias, new herb garden, and new paint job and roof for the barn.
“It’s been an exciting year for us,” says Bob Byrd, President of the Historical Preservation Society of Santa Clara (HPSSC), holding up the first-picked early peach of the year from the heritage orchard.
“It’s wonderful to be able to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the farmhouse and at the same time enter the new era of having our orchard and gardens restored,” says Byrd.
Joan Cabral and Sue Kozdon, committee co-chairs, initiated the two-year heritage orchard restoration project, funded by the city, which pays for the upkeep of the museum and 1.5-acre property at 1889 Market Street.
“We saw the deteriorating condition of the 25-year-old orchard,” says Cabral, who brought her personal experience–as a girl growing up on a Santa Clara prune and walnut orchard–to the task of taking out the old trees, including their diseased roots, and replacing them with 12 new fruit trees that are historically correct for the area–peaches, nectarines, apricots, pears, apples and the French prunes (a kind of plum) that once blossomed throughout the Santa Clara Valley.
“It was good to see trees coming back to the orchard that represent what the Valley was known for,” says Matt Novakovich from Novakovich Orchards in Saratoga (www.novakovichorchards.com), whose counsel Cabral and Kozdon sought.
In a morning ceremony, Cabral and Kozdon acknowledged Chuck Quanz, landscape foreman with the city’s Public Works Department, and his team for carrying out all the work of restoration. They thanked retired Stanford surgeon Leo Keoshian for restoring and donating farm equipment, including an orchard wagon his wife, Marlys, had given him for their first wedding anniversary in 1975.
“I’m so appreciative of the work the volunteers and the [HPSSC] board do. They know more about my family history than I do,” says Delayne Streeter, the great-great granddaughter of Captain Christian Lass, who bought the house in 1906 from its original owners, the Harris family.
“This was a really special place as a child. To me it was grandma’s house. We had Christmas and everything here until just before the house was sold [in 1985],” continues Streeter, who travelled from Modesto for the birthday celebration. Her 93-year-old mother, Julia Betty Stevens, was unable to attend.
Docent house tours throughout the day highlighted a new exhibition showcasing the Lass family’s Victorian era musical instruments, including a pump organ, piano, zither and accordion.
“This is a little slice of history. [HPSSC] membership supports our past, giving a place where children can come and say, ‘Oh, this is what it was like, Grandma!'” says Lee Broughman, membership chair.
“I remember when the city took possession of this property from the Lass family descendants,” says Carol McCarthy, retired Santa Clara deputy city manager. “I remember all the volunteers that came forward at that time. The property has surpassed anyone’s expectations. It has become a jewel for Santa Clara.”
Visit www.harrislass.org for information and to support Santa Clara’s heritage by becoming an HPSSC member.