Saturday, February 27, 2021

John Burrell Leonard, West Side Fruit Growers' Association and the Glendenning Barn at Apple Park

One of the most iconic historic structures on the West side of Santa Clara Valley barely remains visible about 50 yards Southeast from the corner of Homestead and Wolfe Roads in Cupertino, although it is no longer in its original location. That site is the Glendenning Barn, built and later owned by the Leonard family, founders of Vallco Park.

Robert Glendinning was a Scotsman who sailed to the United States in 1850, via Australia, where he met and married Margaret Howie. The Glendenning's sailed for San Francisco with a hope to make their fortune in the Gold Rush. They settled in a tent on the West side of the Valley, planted crops and built a home on property they would later learn was still owned by the heirs of  Rancho Quito. The Glendenning's owed $30 per acre to the owners of that land grant for their 200 acre parcel. 

The Glendenning's have a very complete family history etched on the Robert Glendenning (1824-1868) grave marker at Mission City Memorial Park in Santa Clara. Find-A-Grave unravels some of the mysteries of the Glendenning-Leonard Family history in their genealogy references online.

Mary Lou Lyon, in her Arcadia book on the history of Cupertino, mentions that John Leonard, the son-in-law of Margaret Glendenning Burrell, built a barn on the original Robert Glendenning property around 1916. At that time, Homestead Road was called Younger Road. 

John Leonard's son was named John Burrell Leonard, however, he was known as Burrell Leonard to most farmers in the Valley. 

The parents of John Burrell Leonard were John Leonard (1883-1975) and Grace Willett Burrell Leonard (1883-1961)

The Glendenning Barn as it appeared around 1916.

Those who farmed in the area knew John Burrell Leonard (1911-2000), or, "Burrell Leonard" through the West Side Fruit Growers' Association and the large dry yard for prunes and apricots which existed along the East side of Wolfe Road between Stevens Creek and Homestead roads. Leonard was instrumental in organizing a collective of growers and investors to incorporate as the Varian Group, then another property investor's group known as Vallco. His father, John Leonard, started the John Leonard Fruit Plant and Dry Yard in Cupertino.

(John) Burrell Leonard inspecting a 1927 prune 
shipment headed for the East Coast.
(Arcadia Publication online)

Hartnell College, which received a bequest on John Burrell Leonard's death, posted this lovely tribute online, which captures Leonard's life and interests:
Leonard, who died in 2000 at the age of 89, was a descendant of a pioneering farming family that settled in Santa Clara County in the mid-1800s. He was a fruit grower whose orchard later became Cupertino’s Vallco Park development, and he was a major force in the incorporation of that city and its post-agricultural growth.

Because of his longtime interest in agriculture, Leonard had visited Salinas as well as Hartnell College over the years, according to Bill Hyland, longtime friend and business associate.

The Leonard estate has made contributions to 24 charitable organizations, including Hartnell, Hyland said. All of the organizations reflect his longtime interests-California history, land conservation, agriculture and the arts.

At the time of his death, Leonard was president of the Leonard Company, a property development and management firm at the Vallco Financial Center.

A bachelor all of his life, Leonard was a major landowner in Santa Clara County. His favorite property was his facility on Llagas Road in San Martin (between Gilroy and Morgan Hill), where he stored and maintained his collection of farm machinery, tools, photographs and other memorabilia from the Santa Clara Valley’s agricultural past.

Born in San Jose, Leonard grew up on his family’s 200-acre farm. John, his father, pioneered diversified irrigation farming and packed fruit under the John Leonard label. 

Links to historic images:

History San Jose, Burrell Leonard Collection

(This site seems to show Younger/Homestead Road.)
History San Jose, Burrell Leonard Collection

The history of the West Side Fruit Grower's Association is best told by Philo Hersey himself, one of the directors of the WGA organization, as recounted in a May 7, 1892 Pacific Rural Press article (found on the Web site), where Hersey's anecdotes on the history of the collective farmers' group may be read from the original newspaper.

Robert Bowdidge's Vasona Branch Blog, one of my favorite sites for local history, has an excellent collection of articles and images about the Westside Fruit Growers Association with some lines about fruit packing houses in the Valley. (If you are into model railroads and old rails in the area, you will definitely enjoy his railroad blog posts on those topics as well. Bowdidge is a very thorough and detailed history researcher.)

On July 14, 2017, The San Jose Mercury News featured the barn in a story about the region's farming history and the fate of the barn on the Apple Park property:

The Glendenning Barn and it's new location at Apple Park was visible in a July 2017 drone video produced by Mathew Roberts:

---Catherine Alexander Bright,