Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Nut Tree One Step Closer to Completion

Nut Tree One Step Closer to Completion
By Nathan Halverson

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO - Ohhs and awws, even a few tears, erupted from the suit-and-dress-clad dignitaries assembled to witness a monumental step in the redevelopment of the historic Nut Tree in Vacaville.

Creating all the excitement was a custom-crafted carrousel with 32 hand-painted animals sure to be among the highlights at the new Nut Tree Family Park.

The assembled crowd, ranging from Vacaville mayor Len Augustine to master developer Roger Snell, ogled the carrousel as it kicked to life and began spinning around for the first time in front of a crowd.

Developers unveiled the recently completed carrousel to about 30 onlookers Tuesday morning in South San Francisco, where the ride was custom built.

The unveiling is the one of several likely media events to be held in the build up for the 80-acre retail and family park scheduled to open shortly after Labor Day.

But unlike many events where canned speeches are delivered for sound bites fit for newspaper and broadcast, dignitaries such as Mayor Augustine seemed genuinely taken aback.

"I am so excited. I totally lost everything I was thinking of saying," Augustine said. "I'm overwhelmed."

Patricia Gideon said the carrousel reminded her of childhood.

"It's fantastic," she said.

Carol Yount, a Vacaville city employee and former worker at the Nut Tree in the 1960s, couldn't hold back her tears.

"I'm just so emotional," she said. "This is bringing back the memories of a wonderful place."

The Nut Tree began in 1921 when a farmer's wife began selling produce along what was then Highway 40. Her fledgling stand took root, grew and evolved into a destination point that even included a miniature train. The Queen of England even paid it a visit.

Westtrust, the new Nut Tree's developer, also unveiled the master site plane for the project, which includes 325,000 square feet of retail, the Nut Tree Family Park amusement park, 180 town homes, 150,000 square feet of office space, a limited-service hotel and a 200-room business hotel and conference center.

Jeff Watts, artistic director for Barrango - the company that designed the carrousel - spent about eight hours painting each animal, he said.

Watts was overwhelmed by the show of emotion from those in attendance.

"It's great. It makes me happy," he said. "It really does."

The family park's general manager, Kirk Smith, said the new park would be an escape from the everyday world.

"Now I have the opportunity to create memories that will last a lifetime," he said.

Nathan Halverson can be reached at 425-4646 X267 or

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