Although I’m a San Diego native who has only lived in the Bay Area for the past two years, interning for Los Altos History Museum has given me the opportunity to get to know the city of Los Altos almost as well as I know the city I grew up in. The Museum’s Oral History Committee works tirelessly to preserve the history of Los Altos through the eyes of those who witnessed it firsthand; their collection of early residents’ interviews help protect the memories of people and places often lost to time. In reading and listening to dozens of interviews to create abstracts and audio excerpts for the project, I feel fortunate to have been able to hear stories about childhoods spent in apricot orchards, discover the true scope of the Shoup family’s influence, and become acquainted with the residents vital in Los Altos’s development. One of these residents is Frank Berry, who served the community as the first ophthalmologist and was a major force in the establishment of the El Camino Hospital.
After growing up in Massachusetts, Frank graduated Tufts Medical School in 1944. Prior to the end of World War II, he entered the army, being stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky. When Frank came to Los Altos in the early 1950s with his wife, Jean, and two of their children, Los Altos was a very small, close-knit community. He lovingly describes the wonderful community that welcomed his family with open arms, the supportive medical community, and the opening of the Stanford Medical School in Palo Alto that drew him to Los Altos.
Frank and a group of medical specialists quickly realized the overpopulation that plagued Palo Alto Hospital and, with the input of Dr. Walter Freeman, the idea of a “district hospital” for Los Altos was planted. As the Chief of the Medical Advisory Committee, Frank oversaw the planning for the hospital and in 1956, successfully presented the final idea for the hospital to many of the prominent businessmen, doctors, and city officials of Los Altos. He expresses a great amount of pride in the final product, going out of his way to credit many of those involved with the hospital.
While being able to retrace major developments in Los Altos has been fascinating, hearing the laughter of these residents as they reminisce on memories of family and the fondness with which they speak of the Los Altos community has been some of the most rewarding parts of interning with the Museum. In Frank’s interview, he mentions his interactions with distinctive patients such as Lucille Packard, Bob Noyce, and J. Gilbert Smith. He chuckles as he recalls an interaction between JFK, Jean, and himself, where Jean was flattered by the future president after she and Frank spoke with the young Senator in Washington, D.C.
Throughout the interview, Frank speaks highly of the time he’s spent in Los Altos, reflecting a common sentiment throughout the interviews I’ve listened to. It’s been a privilege to help preserve the stories of those who helped build Los Altos and the love they’ve had for the community.
Contributed by Brenna Sitta, Museum Intern
To access Frank’s oral history click here.