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Early Olives and a Living Landmark

A brief account of the early olive industry in the Santa Clara Valley

Most folks traveling down Quito Road drive right past a rich living landmark and don’t even know it. This blog briefly tells the story of the Arguello olive ranch.

In 1859, while the land claim for Rancho Quito was being contested, José Ramón Arguello, the son of Luis Arguello, the first Mexican governor of Alta California; his mother, Maria Soledad Ortega de Arguello; and a business partner named S. M. Mezes obtained control of a large part of the rancho. Unlike the previous owners of the rancho, Noriega, Fernandez, and Alviso, Arguello did settle on the land. 

As with all of the Californio’s ranchos in the Santa Clara Valley, most of the Rancho Quito land was lost due to the cost of defending the claims against it. But after the U.S. court’s ruling on the Rancho Quito land claims, Ramón Arguello, now in possession of only about 600 acres of the rancho, apparently began to receive payment from many people who had settled on what had finally been determined to be his land.

Having available cash, in 1865, he began to plant an olive orchard near the present intersection of Quito Road and Saratoga Avenue. Over several years, Arguello planted eighty acres of olives trees, put in a modern olive press, and built a packing facility.

Arguello’s olive trees did very well, produced award winning oil, and received great publicity.  His trees became the standard for the Mission Olive industry in California, and cuttings from them were sold to nurserymen and farmers all over the state and beyond.

But as Arguello’s olive trees matured, it became apparent that the trees were planted too close together. Olive trees can live hundreds of years and still bear, but they need adequate space in order to bear well. So Arguello pulled out every other tree. The expense of pulling the trees, the now inefficient yield per acre, and new competition from other olive growers nearly broke the piggy bank. Supply had caught up with demand, and eventually almost all of the olive trees were torn out and replaced with walnut and apricot trees.

One last hurrah for the famous Arguello olive ranch was that many of its trees were dug up and transplanted on the newly formed flat land of Treasure Island for the 1939 World’s Fair. The island is at the middle of the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland.

If trees could talk, the few remaining olive trees on Quito Road near Saratoga Avenue would have quite a tale to tell.

This blog was adapted from my new local history book, The Last of the Prune Pickers: A Pre-Silicon Valley Story. It is available on line at www.2timothypublishing.com

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Michelle McIntyre December 05, 2012 at 06:41 PM
I had to comment right away because my husband loves gourmet olives. One of our favorite places to stop on road trips up to Mt. Shasta and points North is The Olive Pit. Thanks for sharing this interesting historical perspective.

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