Honey Bee Heaven at 127

Last autumn we remodeled one of our properties and came across a sweet surprise, literally. What we uncovered was a long history of honey bees that had called 127 First Street their home.

Unusual Housemates

Sometime before 1980 a man named Walter Andrews built his second story home and first floor business The Los Altos Glass Company at 127 First Street in downtown Los Altos. Alan Pickett a few years later opened his own company, California Automotive Services, just two doors down.

On March 27th I met with Alan and asked him what he knew about Walter and a rumored honey-collection-contraption. Alan said that Walter did in fact have an unusual setup in his living room that allowed him to harvest honey from the walls. Apparently Walter had never fully finished constructing the building and plywood was the only material that covered the facade. On the back of Walter's second story apartment was a hole in the plywood where the bees made their home in his living room walls. Walter must have heard the constant humming and decided to take advantage of his freeloading housemates. Alan explained that Walter constructed metal troughs with glass jars at the bottom to collect the oozing honey from the living room walls.

Not long after Walter passed away in 1990s, his son Walter Andrews Junior sold the 127 First Street property along with the adjacent lot (now Stylers Floor Covering). Plans to completely renovate the building into a restaurant were unanimously approved by City Council on June 11, 1996. It was not long into the remodeling process when construction workers encountered the honey bees. Alan recalls that several workers were stung and a bee specialist was called in to relocate the queen and her hive. Remarkably this was not the last of the 127 First Street bees.

Delicious Reward

Last October we began remodeling our 127 First Street property. The construction crew had just started repairing the facade when they uncovered a fully developed, three year old bee hive. In the Bay Area it is not uncommon to come across hives during remodeling projects. An easy alternative to extermination is relocation. For this project we worked with Pete Moffat Construction and Dal Allan of San Jose Bee Removal to relocate the hive.

I spoke with Dal on April 12th and asked him about the details of the hive removal. Dal said that when he arrived at 127 First Street several of the workers were frustrated about uncovering the angry hive. Dal explained that during the fall bees are more likely to be feisty because they are intent on protecting their honey in order to survive the winter. Yellow Jackets and other bee colonies are known for ganging up on an exposed hive (like the 127 First Street hive) and stealing the honey.

Dal waited to remove the hive until mid-afternoon to make sure that most of the bees had made it back home. He used a "bee-vac" to safely suck up the colony and dropped them into a capture basket. He then cut out the brode comb (the home for baby bees) and placed them on frames to be easily transfered to their new hive. A cache of over 40 pounds of honey was later divided up between the construction crew--a sweet reward for their earlier troubles.

Dal's Home Sweet Home

Dal brought the hive back to his home in Saratoga where it took the bees only two days to adjust. All of the previously cut edges of the comb had been tidied and the bees were back to business as usual. I asked Dal if he ever sells his bees. He said that several families and orchard owners have purchased his hives and he visits them each year to make sure that the hives are healthy. Dal also sells his honey at the Butter Paddle in Los Gatos. All proceeds go to EMQ FamiliesFirst, a nonprofit that helps children and families in crisis. His honey can also be purchased online at the Local Harvest food cooperative.