Since it was built in 1904, the Del Monte Building has been saved from demolition on more than one occasion.
Groups honor Del Monte Building
History buffs note importance of former seed-testing plant.
The Sunnyvale Historical Society and the Native Daughters of the Golden West acknowledged the building's good fortune and endurance this past weekend with a plaque marking the structure as a historic site.
The Del Monte building's beginnings are as patchy as they come. Assembled in 1904 using a hayloft as a base, the building was pieced together on redwood slabs next to the railroad on Evelyn Avenue. Those humble beginnings foreshadowed its future more than anyone could have realized.
A fruit company called Madison and Bonner built the large wooden structure for drying and packing its products. For 22 years the building weathered the strong Santa Clara Valley sun and wind, as dried apricots, peaches and prunes passed between its walls on their way to railroad cars headed to San Francisco, and, eventually, the East Coast. In 1926, Madison and Bonner, which became California Packing Corporation, abandoned the building for a larger, more modern facility in San Jose.
After standing empty for the next couple years, the structure faced its first rescue by an unlikely savior: a 22-year-old named Hermann Horn.
The California Packing Corporation sent Horn down from its Marin headquarters to scout out potential locations for the company's seed-testing division. The corporation, which changed its name to Del Monte in 1967, was pretty fussy about its seeds--it only sold produce that originated from its own pods.
So Horn came to Sunnyvale and peered in the windows and sized up the empty building and partially sealed its lucky fate by recommending it as the new seed-operations site.
"Probably the only reason [Horn] ever said OK was because of hard times," said Jan Camp, president of the Sunnyvale Historical Society. "It was pretty bad times, right after the stock market crash. No one was building new things. It probably would have been demolished if it wasn't for the hard times."
But instead it became the international headquarters for Del Monte's seed processing operations under Horn's supervision, and became known as the Sunnyvale Seed Germinating Laboratory. And the building continued in that capacity until Del Monte moved its operations to Gilroy in 1986.
So again the building stood vacant, facing likely demolition to make way for a city parking lot. But it was once again rescued in 1993, when Dubrovnik Associates, Inc. purchased the building, moved it to its present site facing Murphy Avenue, and renovated the interior to house retail shops and banquet rooms.
"I guess it's a pretty lucky building," Camp says. "A lot of people didn't want to bother with saving it, but it worked out. It was built to last."