If you took Driver’s Ed in Saratoga or Los Gatos, you were probably made to park on the steepest hill around – Nicholson Avenue with its 23 degree grade. Positively frightening! But local bicycle enthusiasts take on Nicholson not with motor vehicles, but on their bikes in a race that has become a Los Gatos classic – the Cat’s Hill Classic, which runs through the Almond Grove, Glenridge and Bachman Park neighborhoods of Los Gatos Saturday, April 27th, 2019. There’s even a kid set too.
Please get the full scoop here on the organization’s website.
If you drive through the Edelen, Almond Grove, Fairview Plaza, Glenridge and other older and historic Los Gatos nieghborhoods, you may have wondered how far back in time these architecturally interesting properties go. What are the oldest residences in town, or close by?
In the Santa Clara Valley, there are a few old adobe homes here and there, such as the Peralta Adobe in downtown San Jose (built in 1797), and the Santa Clara Women’s Club Adobe (built in 1790), and many more. In Los Gatos we don’t have any pre-1800 adobe homes to my knowledge.
Property records for LG indicate that there are a couple of homes dating from about 1840 or 1850, but a close look reveals that they have been extensively remodeled and look more like homes from 2005. Want something authentically historic and still looking the part? There are plenty, but they don’t date from quite so early. They are instead from the late 1870 or so at the earliest, generally.
Today I did a search of county real estate records for homes in Los Gatos (in town, 95030 & 95032 plus the mountains, 95033) and found hundreds of properties identified as pre-1900 construction. There were about about 400 in 95030, 120 in 95032, and also about 120 in 95033.
The majority of the older homes were said to be built in 1900. That figure is so high as to make me ponder whether that’s just an easy way of saying “really old” rather than the precise year of construction completion.
For all Los Gatos areas combined, there were about 65-67 homes that pre-date 1900. That’s a pretty good handful for the lover of historic properties to admire! If you enjoy seeing lovely older homes, especially Victorians, be sure to visit Los Gatos and drive through the historic districts and streets near downtown! Here are a few photos to urge you to have a look in person 🙂
The Town of Los Gatos is home to many lovely neighborhoods with historic homes (Broadway Area Historic District, Fairview Plaza and others), but perhaps none is so quaint or popular as the Almond Grove. (See video drive through this neighborhood near the bottom of this article.)
Location, location, location: the Almond Grove’s got it
The location itself could be very compelling alone as the Almond Grove neighborhood is as much “in town” as “walk to town” with so many activities and opportunities happening along North Santa Cruz Avenue, Main Street and University Avenue – all a stone’s throw away. Quite vibrant, downtown Los Gatos enjoys an inordinate amount of restaurants, shops, coffee houses, bars, places to dine , taste wine, stroll or take in a film. It’s also home to free musical concerts in the summer, a parade in December, a gorgeous new public library, a Farmer’s Market every weekend and many other events year round. Finally, the Almond Grove is set near two parks, Bachman Park and the Los Gatos Town Plaza, so there’s a good amount of open space nearby too. There’s something for everyone!
Traditionally designed neighborhood with good community results
The allure of the Almond Grove is more than convenience, though. There’s an old time friendliness that seems to come with the big, welcoming front porches on so many of the older houses. Dwellings are also set closer together than one might find in suburbia, too. Rather than live so much in the privacy of the backyard, there’s an invitation implicit with this combination of close neighbors and a front porch that seems to underscore that residents are part of the neighborhood community and a bit less secluded.
The Almond Grove displays that sense of community from October to January especially, when it steps out as the best decorated corner of Los Gatos with a huge percentage of participation in the effort. Halloween is a great example. People’s enthusiasm is evident in by the beginning of October as props come out for the spookiest day of the year. Sometimes even in September, “Land of the Giant” sized spiders begin to appear, life-sized ghosts start to swing from porches and trees, the normally tidy and trim picket fences become smudged with spider webs, and every manner of Halloween decor drapes the district. On Halloween night, the Almond Grove district becomes positively overrun with enthusiastic kids from all over Los Gatos. I’ve been told that some homes get as many as 1,000 trick or treaters on Halloween night there.
The historic Almond Grove District of downtown Los Gatos is home to a great number of historic homes, many of them Victorian in age and styling.
The other day, we drove past a property in which an attempt was being made to preserve a portion of the original structure – the front exterior wall and a back exterior wall. Aside from these, only the dirt appeared to be original. The foundation, roof, chimney, porch, interior walls, windows – all gone.
I’m certain that the historic preservation is the motive. But are we kidding ourselves to think that this kind of “remodel” preserves enough of the original structure to warrant calling it a remodel? Or is this just a farce? Perhaps some elements, like interior doors and old glass, are in storage somewhere and will make a reappearance down the road. Even so, if that happens, is it enough?
Here’s a view of the lot with the front remanent of the house showing. Please note: there’s no foundation (let alone any floors, windows or doors).
A closer, angled view reveals that there’s little behind this front wall and posts which at one time supported a roof over a front porch.
In addition to the front wall, a back wall is also left standing, supported by posts to stay erect. Other than these two walls, there’s little else to the lot but dirt.
And yet this is probably going to be considered a remodel for historic purposes. Is remodeling just a matter of interpretation, of hermeneutics? if so, I think we are stretching things too far. I hope I’m wrong about this. I don’t attend town council meetings, so perhaps this has been bantered around and there’s more to it than meets the eye – literally.
But even so, I have to ask:
Los Gatos, is this what we want to see happen to our historic homes?
The county’s smallest home on the smallest lot sits in the historic Almond Grove District of Los Gatos. It’s a darling cottage, totally rebuilt about a dozen years ago, in a fantastic location just steps to all that downtown Los Gatos has to offer. Because the home is unique and architecturally interesting, I blogged about it here on Live in Los Gatos a few months ago (see first link, above).
What are the specifics? The 541 square foot house sits on an 817 square foot lot. Originally built in 1922, the home was essentially rebuilt 11-12 years ago with design by Gary Schloh, a well known and highly esteemed local architecht. He did a tasteful job of blending historic charm and modern, upscale amenities in a compact package. With high ceilings, loads of windows, air conditioning, and inside laundry, it is an exceptionally comfortable little home. It is offered for sale at $799,000 and is located at 304 Nicholson Avenue. (Appointment only!)
This listing is presented by Helen Cockrum of Alain Pinel Realtors in Los Gatos, who graciously gave permission for me to blog about (or advertise) her listing here. More information and photos of this amazing downtown cottage can be seen on MLSListings.com.
Los Gatos prides itself on being a town rather than a city, with the intimacy and friendlines that being a town implies.
Don’t let the name “town” fool you, though. There’s a lot of “big” in this small town. We do the holidays in a big way in Los Gatos: the tree lighting, the holiday parade, the fantasy of lights, the carriage rides, and the decor throughtout the downtown and neighborhoods are all on a great and beautiful scale. Summer’s the same scale of big with outdoor events: we enjoy Shakespeare in the Park, Screen on the Green, and more musical venues than anywhere else in the county (Jazz on the Plazz, Music in the Park, Vasona Vibrations, and last year a newcomer joined the musical scene in Old Town with Saturday afternoon music on the deck next to Borders – all of these are free musical events).
Los Gatos real estate is varied; while it’s a well-to-do town, not everyone lives in large homes or view estates with vineyards and olympic sized pools. In fact there is a lot of variety in the size and character of our houses from the inauspicious 1100 sf to 1400 sf track homes built in the 1960s to charming, 100+ year old houses in the heart of downtown – in the Almond Grove, Edelen, Fairway Plaza or Broadway districts. Close by, there are woodsy mountain homes in the neighborhoods off of Highway 17 that are “part of the town” if not legally incorporated into it. And there are the homes in great view locations on enormous lots. Most of these lovely houses that sit atop our closest foothills are not monster homes, but tasteful, larger homes. It’s just that the collossal strutures are impossible to miss.
With so much variety, so much “big” and “small”, is it any wonder that the valley’s smallest home is also in Los Gatos?The former chicken coop is now a showplace of stye and design and blends in modestly among its larger peers in the Almond Grove District. After a fire destroyed the old structure, it was rebuilt in 1997. Designed by Gary Schloh, it is a perfect fit for the tiniest lot (956 SF) in the county too. How tiny is tiny, you are wondering. Would you believe 514 square feet? Needless to say, there’s no wasted space!
The smallest home is a private residence and is not for sale. Watch for the annual home tour events in town – the generous owners have offered it as part of charitable tours in the past, and if you are lucky, may do so again!