Where once there were fresh tomatoes and a thriving gardening community, there now exists only a barren dirt lot behind the Baskin-Robbins in the Midtown Shopping Center. The decades-old Palo Alto community garden was razed following the sale of part of the shopping center to CWKT E&R Investment Properties for $15.26 million in December.
Local gardeners are feeling the loss.
"Our son, now 20 months, loved going to the garden," Shandor Dektor said of the Middlefield Road space. "His favorite part was getting to eat fresh tomatoes straight from the vine. ... Not many kids get that kind of opportunity. It's sad to think that we won't be able to continue this tradition."
The land, owned by the Haley family since 1956, has also been home to various local businesses, such as the Palo Alto Cafe and Baskin-Robbins. While the future of these businesses are unknown, the Haley family is hopeful the new owners will retain the stores, they told the Palo Alto Weekly in December.
Susan Stansbury, who had worked in the garden since 1994, said the garden was subsidized by Haleys.
"The relationship with the Haleys was a win-win situation as the owners had no plan to develop it, and we maintained it," she said. "Through all that time, the Haley family generously leased us the land at $60 per month, which was covered by gardener plot fees."
The new owners asked for thousands of dollars per month for the same plot of land, other former gardeners said.
Many of the gardeners had built lasting friendships due to their work together and considered the garden an important part of their lives.
"I've been a gardener at Midtown for at least 10 years," said Palo Alto resident Caryn Huberman, adding that it was a place she would spend time with her granddaughter. "I wanted to be part of the joy of having people around you and sharing food. ... It meant a lot to a lot of people."
"My granddaughter and I used to call it 'the secret garden.' ... For something that was so full of life, it now looks like it never even existed," Huberman said.
When asked if there were plans for a replacement garden, perhaps at a different location, Stansbury said, "No."
"It was a labor of love, and I don't know of anyone who has the motivation to start again from scratch," she said.
Jacqueline Raine, a former gardener, said she still can't walk by the empty lot.
"(It is) a terrible shock to see it now. ... What was once a beautiful garden is now mud, soon to be covered with concrete," she said.