Not my Nuts!

Nut Tree Dining Room, Vacaville, California

Nut Tree Dining Room, Vacaville, California

There are times in history when all elements come together at a specific place to create something remarkable. Fallingwater, the Lever House, the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, and, yes, the Nut Tree in Vacaville, California. For most people growing up in northern California or Nevada, the Nut Tree was a ritual. Every trip we took between our ranch in the Sierras to San Francisco required a Nut Tree stop. I believe I have the Nut Tree to blame for my vocation. I was mesmerized by the packaging, signage, typography, and artwork. And I was 4. Much of the design was the creation of Don Birrell. He introduced high California modernism to the farming fields of central California. The Nut Tree had Eames chairs in the Toy Shop, and Dansk flatware in the Dining Room. The mix of folk art, hand-crafts, and minimal modernism predated Alexander Girard’s Textile & Objects shop by 8 years. There was a clear sense of joy, clarity, and quality that pervaded the atmosphere. And this was, basically, just a roadside store and restaurant, with a small local airport. If one of the tenants of modernism is to bring good design to the masses, the Nut Tree is a prime example and is long overdue for the recognition it deserves.

Sean (4) admiring letterforms on Nut Tree train
Sean (4) admiring letterforms on Nut Tree train
Nut Tree Train, Vacaville, California

Nut Tree Train, Vacaville, California

Nut Tree Dining Room, Vacaville, California

Nut Tree Dining Room, Vacaville, California

The Nut Tree Shop

The Nut Tree Shop

The Nut Tree Plaza

The Nut Tree Plaza

"Dendriform" by Jean Ray Laury at the Nut Tree, Vacaville, California, 1978
“Dendriform” by Jean Ray Laury at the Nut Tree, Vacaville, California, 1978
Charlotte Patera poster, 1975, Nut Tree

Charlotte Patera poster, 1975, Nut Tree

Lowell Herrero poster, 1970 at Nut Tree

Lowell Herrero poster, 1970 at Nut Tree

Woodcarvings, Stan Dann, Nut Tree Poster 1977

Woodcarvings, Stan Dann, Nut Tree Poster 1977

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9 Responses to “Not my Nuts!”

  1. Peter Says:

    Simply a wonderful post! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    You note, “the mix of folk art, hand-crafts, and minimal modernism predated Alexander Girard’s Textile & Objects shop by 8 years.” But those dolls on the wall are, if I’m not mistaken, the work of Marilyn Neuhart (http://girard.houseind.com/dolls.html)—and the same dolls Girard commissioned for Textile & Objects.

  2. lorraine wild Says:

    John says that Charles Moore wrote about the Nut Tree…not sure where though (maybe in his essay “you have to pay for the public life”). Those interiors are pretty great. But…is it still there?

  3. Sean Says:

    Sadly, it was replaced by an Old Navy and big box shopping center. I have some of the packaging somewhere. I need to find it, it’s classic Bass 1972. I’ll do some digging for the Moore article. Let me know if you figure out where it is. xox S

  4. Sean Says:

    So obviously great minds think alike. Good sighting!

  5. Ryan Says:

    Unbelievable. I remember visiting the Nut Tree in the nineties and early this decade. It was a poor experience compared to these pictures. It was more of a nice place to stop on the drive, not a place I’d look forward to. It’s sad to hear it’s gone, but I am glad that the new developers will relocate the train and the remains of the park to the new location.

  6. Sean Says:

    That’s great news that the train will find a new home. thanks!

  7. marian bantjes Says:

    I can so clearly see the influence on your work! How fabulous … and at 4, you were the cutest little thing on earth.

  8. CJ Says:

    LOVED THE NUT TREE! IT WAS MAGICAL! Lollipops, rocking horses, aviary in the dining room, honey cookies, pineapples, polished rocks and geodes. Now that I see the pictures as an adult, I realize it actually was cool! Definitely kitschy – but cool, too. Perfect place to park the station wagon and take a break from the 8-track tunes on the way from the Bay to Sac or Tahoe.

    I have become increasingly obsessed with mid century design. It started out while struggling to make an apartment look cool on an crap budget. I realized IKEA fare blends better with retro modern than it does with shabby chic.

    That decorating process – corny as this may sound – has also made me nostalgic for the colors and designs of my early 1970s childhood in what is NOW called Silicon Valley; so I recently Googled “Nut Tree” on a whim. It dawned on me that the designs that make me happy today may have been subliminally planted in my head in Vacaville circa 1975. I can still see that festive, era-invoking, pink and green sign if I close my eyes…

    It breaks my heart that it’s gone now, but I’m glad it’s “hipness” wasn’t a figment of my imagination.

    By the way, the cookbook is pretty awesome if you’re a Nut Tree fan…
    http://www.vacavillemuseum.org/store

  9. Sean Says:

    A fellow Nut Tree fan. I’m overjoyed. It was totally cool. Now it’s a sad mall. Thanks for this.