5/30/07

Nut Tree, Don Birrell


From 1921 until the early 50s, Nut Tree was a food service trendsetter with an $85,000 kitchen and destination restaurant importing more pineapples than just about anyone else — a super popular stop off the highway between Sacramento to San Francisco. In 1953, new design director Don Birrell began a new era of bright, beautiful California modernism.


He brought Eames chairs to the toy shop — for a time, Nut Tree was the sole retailer on the West Coast for Eames furniture. He commissioned dish patterns (which are now in the MoMA permanent collection) and brought Dansk flatware into the dining room. Dishes were plated exactly as Don Birrell designed it. In four years, he and the partners had expanded Nut Tree to include a toy shop, gift shop, toy train, airport, its own clothing line and its own design studio. All of this before Alexander Girard's Textiles & Objects shop opened its doors in 1961.



In 1958, he began a collaboration with architects Dreyfuss & Blackford to design a new dining room, glasshouse aviary and garden pavilion — all of which used prefab and modern techniques picked up on his own inspiration trips to Scandinavia. The pavilion was directly influenced by Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens. Sadly, but not a surprise, Nut Tree could not survive. It closed its doors in 1996. The new Nut Tree USA includes a Best Buy and Old Navy.

[photos from alamedainfo.com via Cathy]
[Nut Tree: A Look Back]

8 comments:

  1. i went there when i was a kid a couple times. amazing place.

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  2. we lived in alameda + frequently passed the nut tree on the way back + forth to my grandma's in sacramento. why didn't my mom ever take us there?
    i vaguely remember getting candy there in the 70's, but never saw the amusement park or restaurant. it's awesome!

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  3. we lived in the east bay and always stopped on the way to tahoe. my father bought some ties there (early 60s) that today my husband wears and still are so stylish. i remember my mother was outraged that fresh orange juice cost $.40 a glass! everything was expensive but the best...

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  4. YES! Oh my god thanks for the memories. I wish I'd had my current design appreciation back then, I might have taken more pictures and bought some stuff at the gift shop. Depressing that it's just like any old strip mall now.

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  5. I am a true Vacaville Local. My granparents settled here in the 1930's and generations of our family worked and charished the Nut Tree. The unique cuisine, the train, and of course the art mastery of Don Birrell. Just had two prints framed and am so happy to share these memories with you.
    Thank You!!!! Karen Garcia

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  6. We stopped going to a d from my grandmas in Davis while growing up and I took my kids there when they were little. I remember wonderful cocktail tamales and the bread made wonderful toast when we brought it home. Mostly the design was exceptional. Are there any caterers doing Nut tree remembered?

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  7. I own two original Don Birrells..they are of downtown Vacaville...one is the old courthouse and the other is the courthouse, jail and opera building..they are incredible...if you really love this mans work they are a must to own...the set is 2,000 dollars...I will email pictures of them to you...my phone number is 1 707 342 0741...my name is Maurice Taylor...my email is mmarctaylor@yahoo.com

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  8. I knew Don and Doris Birrell and they were dynamic and forward thinking people. Don had a great since or design and arrangement that has influenced me to this day. I own some of his artwork and it's priceless to me! Roseanne

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