Poppy Jasper has sat in the hills of Morgan Hill (and nowhere else) for millions of years, and it has been the City’s official rock for more than a decade. An international film festival headquartered in Morgan Hill is named after the mineral, as is an award-winning beer, and now a downtown shop specializing in Poppy Jasper rock and jewelry is set to open.
Geno Acevedo, 72, and his wife of 53 years Sharon, 71, plan to open Acevedo’s House of Poppy Jasper full-time April 15. The couple, who have lived in Morgan Hill since the 1970s, were busy stocking the shop at 17450 Monterey Road and placing items on the shelves Monday.
“There’s a lot of old history in rocks,” Geno Acevedo said.
The unprecedented, large quantities for sale of the orbicular chalcedony found only in Morgan Hill are easily what make the shop unique. A couple shops in areas surrounding Morgan Hill - including A-1 Saw & Lawn Mower in San Martin - offer limited selections of processed and unprocessed Poppy Jasper, but the new shop downtown is the closest thing to an “official” vendor of the mineral that Morgan Hill has ever had.
In fact, about half of the Acevedo’s store is devoted to Poppy Jasper . The mineral’s trademark is its presence of psychedelic patterns of red and yellow circles that often resemble an iris, splattered blood, splotchy lichens, sea anemones, a miniature version of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot or, most notably, the orange, yellow and red flower from which its name is inspired.
Baskets and boxes full of polished and semi-polished Poppy Jasper pieces in varying sizes line tables on one side of the store. A 75-pound, sanded hunk of Poppy Jasper (not for sale) sits next to one of the tables. Glass display cases protecting dozens of necklaces, broaches and charms made by the Acevedos themselves over the last couple decades are lined up against one wall.
Two of these pieces, known as “squash blossom” necklaces, sit atop the highest display case, and are objets d’arts by themselves. Made by Navajo tribe members in Arizona, the necklaces are patterned on an ancient design that typically incorporate turquoise stones. Each of these necklaces consist of four or five half-dollar-sized polished Poppy Jasper charms embedded separately in sterling silver, attached in the native pattern to an intricate chain also made of sterling silver.
Geno Acevedo traveled to Arizona to ask Navajo tribe members to help him make the squash blossoms, likely the first ever made of Poppy Jasper.
Acevedo said the natives were at first reluctant to help him, as the Navajo make the necklaces for spiritual reasons, and only use stones such as turquoise that have deep meaning for them.
“They said their spirit goes into their work, and they only use local rock,” recalled Acevedo.
Acevedo told his Navajo friends that “Poppy Jasper is spiritual to us,” and the natives agreed to make the necklaces for him.
The other half of the Acevedos’ shop hocks a variety of gifts and antiques or “old things,” as Acevedo called them. These wares include old sewing machines, decorative dishes, prune boxes from the old Acton farm north of town, an old school desk, decorative angels made locally by Angel Star, washboards and other items. Decorative mushrooms - and ode to Morgan Hill’s one-time trademark industry - and acorns - in honor of Live Oak High School’s mascot - are also for sale at the House of Poppy Jasper.
The City declared Poppy Jasper its official City rock in 2002, when Dennis Kennedy was mayor. A meteor-like hunk of the stuff sits on display inside a special case inside the Morgan Hill Community and Cultural Center.
Kennedy, now the Vice President of the Morgan Hill Downtown Association, said downtown shoppers and visitors to Morgan Hill often seek merchandise or cuisine that is unique to Morgan Hill, and even longtime residents sometimes wonder where they can acquire Poppy Jasper. The Acevedos’ new shop meets that need.
“To have a place in the heart of downtown Morgan Hill, that’s something that’s been needed for a long time,” Kennedy said.
In fact, the shop is the culmination of years of collecting by the Acevedos. The couple owned a jewelry store - Acevedo’s Morgan Hill Jewelers - downtown in the early 1970s, and a handful of local residents would regularly stop by the shop to drop off raw, unprocessed Poppy Jasper rocks they dug out of their backyards or the hillsides.
“I wasn’t a rock hound. I was a jeweler,” Acevedo said.
So he held onto the rocks, but never thought of doing anything commercially or artistically with them until years later. When his son, also named Geno, embarked on his plans to open El Toro Brewery and name his signature amber ale recipe after Morgan Hill’s signature rock, “a light bulb went off” in the elder Geno’s head and he started selling the mineral from his backyard.
From there, he became increasingly involved in the processing and jewelry-making aspects of Poppy Jasper. For the last four years or so, Geno and Sharon have sold their rocks and crafts at traveling boutiques and shows. They eventually ended up with enough inventory to open a permanent Poppy Jasper shop downtown.
“I’m a rock hound now,” Geno Acevedo said.
All of the Poppy Jasper in Acevedo’s shop was harvested locally, because that’s the only place where it can be found. He can tell you what part of town each piece came from based on its color. The bright yellow - and arguably the prettiest - pieces came from El Toro Mountain - “the heart of Poppy Jasper,” Acevedo said.
Acevedo estimates Poppy Jasper was created in the ground of what is now Morgan Hill about 100 million years ago. Several volcanoes in the area - one of which was El Toro - were surrounded by water. When the volcanoes erupted, the lava flowed downward and into the water, creating “these small circles” in what is now called Poppy Jasper, Acevedo said.
“To describe Poppy Jasper, you have to pull out a piece” and show it to someone, Acevedo’s son said just down the street at El Toro Brew Pub, behind his handmade bar that contains probably one of the largest and most vibrant displays of processed Poppy Jasper not for sale in the world.
That display is embedded in the restaurant’s 40-foot-long wraparound bar, which Acevedo, 51, and his family laid out by hand when they opened the brew pub in 2006.
It took the Acevedos and others about five years to collect all the rocks they needed for the bar, the concept for which Acevedo thought of more than 20 years ago.
“This represents about 10 different (Poppy Jasper) sites in Morgan Hill - El Toro, the Hayes mine, the Silveira mine - and other secret, hidden places,” Acevedo chuckled.
House of Poppy Jasper, at 17450 Monterey Road, will open for business starting April 15, Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.