Thursday, July 21, 2011

Random threads of research: the Woelffel Cannery

There's a surprising number of sources for historic research on the Internet, even in places you might not expect for railroad and railroad-industry facts. The Mercury News just reported that Apple, in its quest to occupy all commercial real estate in Cupertino, just leased the former Measurex campus along the Vasona Branch.

What's that got to do with canneries and railroads? Measurex is pretty modern history; it was a start-up that sold measuring tools for paper plants and other high-speed industries, starting in 1968 and going till they got bought by Honeywell in the 1990's. One reference to Measurex mentions that the land for their offices was formerly a cannery. Now that's odd, for the only cannery I know in Cupertino was the Woelffel Cannery, and that was a bit north of the Measurex campus.

Some more searching gave an answer, thanks to the University of California's Bancroft Library Oral History Project, which has been filling out its interviews of famous California businessmen and public figures with venture capitalists and founders of companies. One of those interviewed was David Bossen, one of the founders of Measurex, and he mentions:

"Anyway, she located the space, and it belonged to a nice little old lady, who I suppose has passed away now, by the name of Blanche B. Woelffel. She owned thirty-five acres in Cupertino, and she had a factory there that produced tomato paste. She had an evaporator and one big building, and she was growing tomatoes and plums on this property… Well, she had inherited it from her husband who had just died. She sold it to us, and we paid an exorbitant amount, I thought—$50,000 an acre for the first— I think we had thirteen acres originally."

Ah, so Measurex wasn't built on top of a cannery - they bought parts of the Richard Woelffel cannery. Stapleton-Spence bought the cannery itself for the machinery, or so I've read. That's how the canning industry faded from Cupertino. The cannery building lasted long enough to be photographed by the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1980, and seems to have lasted a bit longer. It's now the site of townhouses.

So there you have it - going from a news article to alumni site for a long-gone Silicon Valley startup, to historic interview from the Bancroft told me just a bit more about the life and times of the Woelffel Cannery. Key new fact for me: the Woelffel Cannery may have canned tomatoes, even if the surrounding area was all orchards!

And just to bring things back to railroads: I've always thought that would be a great building to model, and one of these days I might build it. After the NMRA convention earlier this month, I'm starting to think seriously about building a Freemo module. The Woelffel Cannery and other buildings around where Stevens Creek Boulevard crosses the railroad tracks could make a fun module!

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