I have lived in Los Gatos for well over a year now and am past due to blog about it. Like many of the communities in the Bay Area, it has a rich history that is still visible in its buildings and landscape. It also has a kind of branding, namely its name, which is Spanish for cats.
These stylized regal cats are found in many public and private places and seem to be a cross between Egyptian cat-gods and guardian lions rather than the mountain lions which the place was named for. I am tempted to insert a joke about cougars relating to our downtown venues of Mountain Charlie’s and Number One Broadway but I shan’t.
But safe to say you find these cats everywhere….
The town is way down in the South Bay next to San Jose, and is the gateway to Santa Cruz on the coast. Indeed, we live in the Santa Cruz mountains just over the county line but we are still scholastically and politically within Los Gatos, although its downtown is about 10 miles away. The town began, if I can believe the historic plaques along the onetime railroad in the town square, in the middle of the 19th century, which again is common for this part of the country (see my summer blog on Watsonville.)
Impossible to read that, but it basically says Los Gatos was a stagecoach and later rail stop on the way to Santa Cruz. I would say it would be fun to see the days when the Peninsula was served by stagecoaches, which would stop at various points to get fresh horses, but I won’t wait long to see it again: that is basically Elon Musk’s plan for his ever-expanding Tesla electric car empire: You pull into a Tesla station, swap your battery, and continue on your way. Just like the Pony Express. Another great Silicon Valley innovation only eight generations old.
So this is the town’s historic site, Forbes Mill, which was built in the 1850s drawing power from Los Gatos Creek and kept Forbes’ name despite his complete lack of success running a flour mill. This is actually an 1880 addition saved from demolition in 1982 to become the local historic museum which every town has.
Downtown Los Gatos sort of consists of three roughly parallel streets, Santa Cruz Boulevard, which is Main Street, University Avenue next to it, and Los Gatos Boulevard on the other side of Highway 17, which gives way to strip development once you get past the downtown. Here is a classic view of the section of Los Gatos Boulevard that is historic:
Just past is the modernist City Hall and even more contemporary Public Library, followed by the 1923 High School, which is picture perfect, a Classical composition set back on a vast lawn:
Another mile of Los Gatos Boulevard features a lot of Victorian houses, in fact I would argue that the Queen Anne defines Los Gatos the way the Italianate defines San Francisco (and they both command seven figures on a bad day)
The last one there is the 1905 Alma House, which was on the market for $5 million last year. There are also lovely runs of Queen Anne cottages on University Avenue and on the other side of Santa Cruz Boulevard throughout the town:
This one right at the intersection of Highway 9 and Los Gatos Boulevard sort of reminds me of early Frank Lloyd Wright Shingle Style with its Palladian window:
One of the most elaborate Victorians is on Santa Cruz Boulevard and is now the popular Palacio restaurant, but of course was once a funeral home.
The Western side of town has its hills well populated with Victorians.
Now, there are of course bungalows and even a few mission style houses, although fewer than you might expect given the location. And of course plenty of postwar moderns in the “Likeler” tradition.
This last is the Episcopal Church next to “Old Town” which is really a shopping center but is the site of the historic city center and has a faux Mission to “prove” it.
Downtown you have everything from the original Opera House and Romanesque business blocks to corner-turreted shops and even an Art Deco movie theater now under restoration.
I love this one which features polychrome terra cotta images of the Missions which defined the Camino Real and the whole bottom two-thirds of California.
Speaking of architectural detail, check out these panels right on the main downtown corner, stoic as innumerable Teslas and Priuses roll by….
I’ve always been enchanted by this little Romanesque gem, now an office, on University Avenue:
Now, we live up in the mountains in an area called Villa del Monte, very close to the epicenter of the Loma Prieta earthquake on 1989. The Villa itself is a 1918 house which still exists and has a fabulous Roman atrium design.
It is cool to see how historic houses, like this 19th century schoolhouse converted into a winery, survived earthquakes – this is less than half a mile from the epicenter.
Most of the houses are post-1960, but there are some fine ones and some fine wines, since we have a lot of wineries here. (and will continue to do so after temperatures rise, unlike Napa)
You can even see the tunnel that cut through the Santa Cruz mountains and made Los Gatos an important place.
The stunning Lexington Reservoir I pass every day traveling to and from town:
But can you see Los Gatos? Some of my mountain neighbors have, but my own sightings are nil. Unless you count live music nights at Mountain Charlie’s…