Monday, August 29, 2005

Vacaville's The Nut Tree reborn

Article Last Updated: Saturday, Aug 27, 2005 - 11:13:18 pm PDT

The Nut Tree reborn

By Daily Republic staff

Talk to anyone older than 25 who has spent any of their life in Northern California and he or she probably will have a memory of the Nut Tree in Vacaville.

For some old-timers, it might have been a stop at the fruit stand along the old highway. It might have been a ride on the Nut Tree train or a stop between the Bay Area and Lake Tahoe for dinner at the end of a ski trip. It might have been a fly-in to the Nut Tree Airport with friends for a Sunday brunch at the popular restaurant.

The famous landmark along Interstate 80 closed in 1996 after decades of operation. Starting as a fruit stand in the 1920s, it grew in size and stature over the years, adding the restaurant, gift shop, a train ride and a host of other family activities that lured travelers off old U.S. Highway 40 and then Interstate 80.

When the Nut Tree closed nearly a decade ago and was bulldozed a few years later, it appeared a piece of Solano County history may be gone and soon forgotten. It became a bit of an eyesore along the highway and a nightmare for property managers who had to chase away vagrants and the homeless.

But a lot of hard work and dedication by citizens of Vacaville, their government and some passionate business people will make sure the Nut Tree has another life, a prosperous one at that.

A couple of hundred people gathered at the 80-acre site in high spirits this week as ground was broken on a new Nut Tree Village, a venture that will resurrect a bit of the flavor of the original Nut Tree, but add some embellishments developers believe will make it a showcase for retail development in Northern California.

The first phase of the new village will include an investment of $200 million, enough to provide a retail and office project and an entertainment venue - called the Nut Tree Family Park. Returning will be the original Nut Tree train ride, but also other amusement rides geared for the family.

Another phase is expected to include a hotel and conference center.

Vacaville and the descendants of Bunny and Helen Powers, founders of the original Nut Tree, have reason to celebrate. The Nut Tree lives.

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