Cupertino: A Trip Down Memory Lane

April 9th, 2009 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized

Since I’ve never really talked to anyone about this type of experience, I’m not sure if thing only certain rare people have or common by another name.  Throughout my life there are certain dreams or experiences that are so deep they leave an indelible mark, or psychic signpost whose timelessness continues to influence in distinctly conscious ways how I see the world. One of these is from 1989 when I was living in Cupertino, California. At that time I lived just a few blocks from DeAnza College and right across from Memorial Park.  The headquarters of Apple Computer was just around the corner. I worked there as did most of my neighbors. I spent many summers as a youth growing up in this area (Los Altos) and to this day the memory of this part of the Bay Area has a fond place in my heart.  It saddens me to think how much things have changed since then, with most of the orchards now replaced with housing tracts and strip malls.

I could spend hours reciting the delights this area held, but one of my favorites was a truly unique bookstore called A Clean Well Lighted Place For Books, nestled within the intricately complex and simple but eloquently designed Oaks Shopping Center, right of Stevens Creek Blvd. Describing this little treasure of a bookstore could never do it justice. It’s the kind of place that only exists in pleasant dreams, but then when you’re there it takes on a magic all it’s own. Firstly the entire layout consisted of dozens of nooks and cranny’s of shelves, chairs and couches.  There was almost no open area except by the purchasing desk where you could look up to the second floor. Looking up you would see small outlying balconies, book shelves, and numerous skylights where sunlight  warmly embraced you wherever you happened to cocoon yourself with a good book.  I would spend hours here absorbing the ambiance, the beautiful music, and novel delights coming off the pages of the myriad books and magazines.  It was here at the tender age of eleven I first discovered fully my affection for science, science fiction, and trippy new ago books on consciousness exploration. The store had only been open a couple of years then.

After getting caught up in my imagination I would then ride my bicycle across to Memorial Park and sit on the wide open grass with my new book or magazine and trip fantastic about human potential and our journey into the future.  I have continued to have the occasional dream which takes place in the dream equivalent of this area.

For reference this was just a few blocks from the Apple Headquarters – which was a lot smaller then. I remember one summer, my dad and I were driving by Apple and a pirate flag was flying. I remember him saying, “damn hippies”. I thought it was cool, and it was a few more years before I knew what that was all about.

When I found myself living back in this area as a working adult in Silicon Valley, I made a point of going to A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books whenever I could.  The last time I was there was in early 1997. When I worked at Apple I went their frequently. It was with sadness that this bookstore closed a few months later.

Pool at the apartment complex I lived at in 1989

Pool at the apartment complex I lived at in 1989

Like a persistent memory, I decided to google it today, and found two stories about it. The first is a writeup at the decision to close the store in 1997, and the below a story of recollecting the feeling of loss at the changes Oaks Center had gone through just three years later in 2000:

As a child, I remember the thrill of riding my bicycle to the Oaks Shopping Center for the first time. Many great weekend afternoons were spent riding to the Center, catching a movie, buying ice cream, taking a pass through the bookstore and perhaps riding around Memorial Park.

Many of us in Cupertino share similar fond memories of time spent at The Oaks Shopping Center with family, friends and loved ones. Imagine how many first dates, anniversaries or birthdays were spent at the movies or in one of the restaurants at the Oaks Center. Sometimes going to the Oaks Shopping Center feels like coming home again.

Like many long-time Cupertino residents, I was saddened when the Oaks Shopping Center and the community said good-bye to the bookstore A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books in 1997. The recent City discussions surrounding the possible closure of the Oaks Center movie theater to make way for a grocery store has brought back many of these feelings. It has also raised a larger issue of concern about Cupertino losing some of it’s unique history and the character that makes this such a great place to call home.

The Oaks Shopping Center is one of the core symbols or locations that demonstrate Cupertino’s unique character. Though a place of commerce, its style and architecture does not match the all too prevalent strip malls along Stevens Creek Boulevard. The Oaks Shopping Center is one of Cupertino’s few “town squares.”

Observing the debate surrounding the proposed grocery store at this location and the potential forced closing of the movie theater, many Cupertino residents stood up at recent government meetings to express their concerns, fears and anger over the proposed transition.

It is not surprising that the landlord of the Oaks Center keeps an eye peeled for ways to generate revenue. Though many have embraced the center over the years, it has not been a financial success as evidenced by the closing of such center favorites as the bookstore, Cafe Quinn, Blue Chip Cookies and other small businesses.

Oak Creek Shopping Center

Oak Creek Shopping Center

I realize that the Oaks Shopping Center lacks the one anchor tenant needed to support the financial investment in this prime business location. However, isn’t the heritage and history of Cupertino equally valuable, deserving of protection?

Why couldn’t both the proposed grocery store and movie theater coexist? Unfortunately, there are plenty of empty store fronts in the center. Shifting the plans to accommodate the theater and the grocery store could be beneficial to both the landlord, store owners and the community. This will give the Oaks Center the anchor tenant it requires to draw patrons, which will trickle in to businesses coming back to the center with the theater remaining open, as well.

As a result, local government will also benefit from the increased sales tax dollars generated from an economically booming Oaks Shopping Center.

Cupertino is the gateway to Silicon Valley. It was Cupertino residents who helped build the Information Superhighway and this community continues to be one of the most sought after areas to live in in the United States. We have the best schools, a top-notch community college and a character that make this place unique. Thinking about the Cupertino we want for our children ought to be at the forefront of this debate.

Bringing a grocery store to the Oaks Center is an idea with merit, but let’s not sacrifice the movie theater in the process. We should protect the things that are unique and fun about Cupertino, and our heritage at the Oaks is part of that. We deserve better than reducing our community to a cookie-cutter town like many suburbs in Southern California with one main street, no bookstores, no movie theaters, fast-food joints and a few gas stations. We deserve much better, and we should protect the things that make this community a great place to call home. One step in this process is to find a compromise at the Oaks Center by bringing the grocery store in while protecting the movie theater at the same time.

So I’m not alone after all in having this defining experience.

Below are some pictures I found:

Ray Bradbury at A Clean Well Light Place for Books (in Cupertino)

Ray Bradbury at A Clean Well Light Place for Books (in Cupertino)

Funny how the very first picture I find on the net is of Ray Bradbury. Three years earlier in 1986, when I was still a student at University of Arizona, Ray Bradbury came to talk there. I managed to “get” a media pass which gave me special access to Ray before his talk. I, along with about a dozen other people, got to spend a couple of hours with Ray in a private conference room and ask as many questions as we wanted of Ray. It was fun to be able to talk with him personally – a couple of things I remember from that encounter – he lived in Tucson when he was in elementary school in the late 1920s, and he wrote R is for Rocket in 9 days!


New Oaks Creek Canyon design.

New Oaks Creek Canyon design.


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