Estate sales are more than just a treasure trove of vintage silver and crystal. They unwittingly embrace a rich trail of historical breadcrumbs characteristic to a specific locale. Here in Silicon Valley, California, many of the mid-century ranch homes are turning over to a new generation of valley inhabitants. The valley hipsters of our post-WWII South Bay were a batch of freshly minted engineers working for NASA, Lockheed and Fairchild. They are now reaching well into their late eighties and leave behind objects and ephemera unique to their time and locale.
At one such unassuming ranch home ‘estate’ sale this summer, I found this 1947 aerial photo poster of Stanford University taken by Hatfield Aerial Photography. Adrian Hatfield was one of many veterans returning to Palo Alto after World War II. A flying ace and Stanford student (class of 1938), Hatfield spent the next 33 years photographing every inch of Palo Alto and surrounding areas. His firm is still in business with son, Ben Hatfield, now in the cockpit.
A cardboard box filled with photo albums and letters turned up some old blueprints for the development of Foster City, a 1960s engineering feat of a 20 square mile land-filled area in the marshes of the San Francisco Bay.
Earlier this year, I discovered a neighbor was once the former director of NASA Ames Research. His home office had newspaper clippings of awards he had received tacked on the bulletin board. In his retirement, he took to woodworking and I couldn’t resist this 1968 “California in 3-D” map he framed himself in oak.
Take an historical journey in your own town! Google search the local estate sales groups and sign up for their e-mail alerts. Enjoy those old vinyl records, Polaroid Land cameras and other vintage finds, but please don’t pass up a search through a cobwebbed box of photo albums, papers and documents. The real historical gems might be found in there!