In 1940 construction began to widen, straighten, and modernize Highway 9. This was eagerly welcomed by locals who hoped to ease beach traffic and to eliminate the infamous ‘Death Curve’ at Austin Corners. The project was a success and the once bustling, popular, and even notorious, Austin Corners has since become a nearly forgotten by way.
The Austin Corners Namesake
The name Austin comes from Captain Daniel “Dan” Buckley Austin, who purchased 60 acres of land 1.25 mi from Los Gatos around 1882. By 1888 he sold all but the 2.25 acres of his parcel surrounding his home, though the area would keep his name for centuries to come.
Mr. Austin was one of the original stockholders and directors of the Los Gatos and Saratoga Wine and Fruit Company, and his property became the location for the Plant from 1885-1919. The Wine and Fruit Plant was a community effort, “built by local growers… to facilitate the processing of grapes” (LG History Research Collection) and its managers were respected members of the community, such as orchard owner Alfred Malpas and Antone Anderson. Mr. Austin did not live to see the Plant’s destruction due to prohibition in 1919.
Mr. Austin was heavily influential in the creation of a school house and a school district in this part of the county. The original Austin School District’s single room schoolhouse was built on his property in 1884, and was used until a new schoolhouse was built on the same location in 1913 at what is today 19010 Austin Way. This school district was incorporated into the Saratoga School District in the 1920s, and when the highway was straightened the old schoolhouse was raised and replaced with an Arts and Crafts style building that would be used as a nursery school for years (Saratoga History Newsletter March 2009).
Today we think of Los Gatos as being a town with plenty of medical services and we’re very proud of the healing and life saving work that is done there, especially now. But at the start of the 1900s this was just a pretty, agricultural town.
Only after a 1905 British medical publication professed that Los Gatos, CA had one of the most healthful climates in the world did thing start to change, and eventually a hospital for tuberculosis, the Oaks Sanitarium, was built and advertised to meet growing needs.
There were very few doctors in town, so locals who fought severe cases of influenza during the pandemic likely went to the clinics in more populated areas like nearby San Jose. State documents show that additional nursing and medical services were supplied to San Jose and other Bay Area cities.
There were many brave individuals who generously gave their time and efforts to help those in need both during the war and the influenza pandemic which immediately followed. We have details on some of them because their stories had tragic endings and made the news.
The Santa Cruz Evening News on November 2, 1918 remembers Miss Helen C Houghton: “one of the best known and accomplished trained nurses around San Francisco bay, passed away in Berkeley yesterday, having given her life in the performance of her humanitarian duties at the bedside of an influenza sufferer. She contracted the disease and quickly died.” She was survived by multiple siblings including a brother in Los Gatos. Other stories have happier endings. San Jose State Normal School (now San Jose State University) closed twice during the pandemic but students and teachers didn’t get a moment’s rest as many went to work for the cause, whichever one it was at the moment.
“The demands of the past few years for money and time and effort have been so heavy that [in place of social activities] has been unusual activity along the line of war work,—Red Cross, Belgian and Armenian and Serbian relief, and other social service work of any description that beckoned. During the epidemic of influenza last fall, the women of the faculty took entire charge of the diet kitchen in connection with the emergency hospital, and practically the entire personnel of the club was engaged either in this part of the work or in the actual nursing. Later, individual members of the club worked to the verge of exhaustion in the hospital operated by the Normal faculty.” (1919 La Torre, 83).
The Normal Hospital
The Normal Hospital, as they christened it, was a furnished house on 12th Street in San Jose rented for the care and isolation of boarding house residents who contracted flu. It was used from December 10th to February 28th and “During this time twenty-one influenza patients were cared for, all making a rapid and complete recovery.” (1919 La Torre, 86). The author remarks that the emergency hospital stopped the spread of the disease through the school and helped to prevent more school closures. She insists there is a need for “a permanent instead of an emergency hospital.” (87). In March of 2015, San Jose State completed the construction of a new 3 story on-campus health center to serve the health and wellness needs of students, staff, and faculty.
Influenza Pandemic Revisited
The 1918-1920 influenza hasn’t been completely locked in the annals of history. Scientists have studied the virus and others over the last century to better understand and better prepare us for the current (and future) viral dangers. One intrepid pathologist, a Dr. Johan V Hultin, had a lifelong interest in tracking the 1918 virus, but it was late in his career and only after retiring from his practice at Los Gatos Community Hospital (now El Camino Hospital of Los Gatos) that he made strides against that virus. In 1997 at the age of 72, Dr. Hultin repeated an expedition he had made early in his career to Brevig Mission, Alaska. There he successfully excavated samples so well preserved in the cold tundra that they still contained 1918 virus genes. This groundbreaking discovery helped scientists piece together the full sequence of the hemagglutinin “HA” gene for the 1918 virus, and provided more insight as to how the virus originated and evolved.
Today, Los Gatos is a bustling town of approximately 30,000 people with booming industry including high tech and an ever-expanding medical industry. We face a crisis locally and nationally, and do our part to help halt the progress of the COVID-19 pandemic by sheltering in place, working (or studying) from home, and supporting our essential workers.
The current pandemic has often been compared to the influenza of 1918 – 1920, but a lot has changed over the last 100 years. In 1920, Los Gatos’ total population was 2,317 (less than 10% of the current population) and it had only grown in size by about 85 people over the decade since the prior census! However small, this town has its own tales to tell, so I’ve dug up some history to present to you a retrospective on Los Gatos and the 1918-1920 Influenza pandemic.
Rolling back the clock, historic documents point to issues with masks and non compliance during the Spanish flu pandemic. Looking through 100+ year old Bay Area newspapers, you can review official city and county documents with numerous paragraphs lamenting the lack of progress on the “Joint Highway District”. In particular, there are gripes regarding the completion of a state highway between Santa Cruz and Los Gatos which some locals were banking their hopes on during the “disappointing experiences which this country passed through at the time” (Santa Cruz Evening News V 24 #113 Sept 13, 1919). Apparently, getting to the beach was a mood lifter then, too!
The very first subdivision or planned neighborhood in Los Gatos was along Broadway and nearby (Clifton Avenue, Broadway Extension and Wood Road), now the Historic Broadway Area (or Neighborhood or District). There had already been quite a few houses built at that time in Los Gatos, but none were planned areas per se. The Town of Los Gatos has called this the first residential street of Los Gatos! John Lyndon was the developer and he bought the land and created 48 parcels which were sold in September 1881 – a good six years before the far larger Almond Grove district was created and 6 years before the town was incorporated, too. A few homes in this area may already have been present, though, and seem to predate the 1881 date.
No doubt, Mr. Lyndon’s real estate buying decision was at least partially influenced by the location of his Lyndon Hotel, a whose bar was a popular hangout for the likes of John Steinbeck and Charlie Chaplain, which was located at the corner of Santa Cruz Avenue and Broadway, and now is the Lyndon Plaza (since sadly the hotel was torn down in the 1960s).
What was once a fairly quiet end of town is today mostly in the heart of it. The area closest to the post office enjoys a wide road (if desperately in need of repair), a good variety of Victorian and mostly older, historic homes, and is very uniformly well kept. Because it is either “in town” or “close to town”, the road is lined with cars most days – perhaps also because these houses of course pre-dated garages.
Historic Broadway Area Photos
Where is the Broadway Historic District in Los Gatos?
The Town of Los Gatos has a Historic Districts Map – have a look:
Broadway neighborhood of Los Gatos real estate information
NUMU in Los Gatos is sponsoring the Los Gatos High School Roadshow this Saturday, May 19th, from 12 noon to 4pm at the museum, 106 E Main Street, Los Gatos CA 95030. This is an opportunity for LGHS grads, family, and friends to pull out their old swag to possibly be included in an exhibit later this year.
The NUMU site explains: “We want to see your special, personal, and precious LGHS memorabilia for possible inclusion in NUMU’s September 2018 exhibition: Sis Boom Bah: The Life and Times of Los Gatos High School.”
They are seeking all kinds of goodies from your archives: yearbooks, costumes, text books, photos, and more. See a more detailed list of what they are hoping to borrow at the link below:
The annual Los Gatos historic home tour returns to town for one day only on April 21st, 2018, and tickets will be available to purchase online as soon as February 26th. Sponsored by the New Museum of Los Gatos (NUMU), the annual event showcases beautiful Los Gatos properties from different eras and frequently their gardens, too.
The focus of this 23rd annual Los Gatos historic home tour will be the lovely Johnson Avenue neighborhood!
Seven houses will be on display for tour-goers. The medley of event features also includes some live music and vintage cars for show on the street.
The NUMU site offers this teaser about the Los Gatos historic home tour: “The program guide provided to all tour goers includes historical and architectural information on the featured homes as well as back stories and trivia on the history of the Johnson Avenue neighborhood, including the locations of the former sites of a private zoo of exotic animals, and the baseball field where Los Gatan Hal Chase practiced. (He was later implicated in the Black Sox scandal of 1919.)”
Sunday evening, in lieu of the usual second tour day is a new event, entitled A Bigger Bash.
Please visit the link below or click on the image at the right to get all of the details and to purchase your advance tickets (more costly if you wait to the day of the event).
Another one features a house on Almendra for $12 ,750 with “floor furn”, which appears to be “floor furnace” (from the “Must Sell” ad, which spelled it out). Makes me wonder what the alternative to floor furnace would be! Or a house on Massol, also a rustic type for $15,000. I love the description of the “Must Sell” home as “sturdily built” and, surprisingly, “complete, with all new furniture” – $12,700 and just $4,000 down.
Can you guess the year of this Los Gatos real estate advertisement?
Have a look at this and try to guess the year:
What year do you think this ad for Los Gatos homes for sale ran? The newspaper was called the Mail News and Star, by the way.