Perhaps you’ve driven over Highway 17 from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz and wondered about the large white building off to the left, perched on a knoll overlooking the valley and that same highway. That’s the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, now a retirement home for Jesuit priests and brothers (members of the Society of Jesus) for the provinces of California, Oregon, and Washington (now collectively known as “Jesuits West”). Many decades ago, it was the novitiate for the California province, meaning it’s where young men entered the order. Two of my uncles did just that. I am a fairly frequent visitor to this lovely place now, as one of my uncles has gone full circle and has retired where he first entered. Some of my old professors from Gonzaga University in Spokane are there, too, as well as Jesuits that I knew growing up in the area.
So today I wanted to share some photos with you, as many people living in Los Gatos would have no occasion to visit what my family still calls The Novitiate. However, Testarossa Winery is next door (at what used to be the Jesuit Winery), so many of my readers will have been close. Please enjoy the photos, which I took last Saturday while there to see my uncle.
Los Gatos Fire Department History
Fire was a major danger in Los Gatos in the 1800s. Buildings were made of wood, including sidewalks (think boardwalk), and most appliances – light, heat, cooking – still used an open flame. Fire was a greater, more present danger than local wildlife (cougars and grizzlies). In its early years, the town relied on bucket brigades, finally graduating to two volunteer Hose Companies and a Hook and Ladder Company in around 1886. The Cold Spring Water Company of Los Gatos filed to incorporate in December 1890 with the stated purpose to “introduce water for domestic and fire purposes into the town of Los Gatos.”. In 1888 the town passed an ordinance to provide for the organization of a dedicated Fire Department, and perhaps just in time. A major cartridge fire in July of 1891 leveled many of the town’s businesses, and saw the shift of the business district from the east bank to the west bank of the Los Gatos Creek – and it has remained so to this day.
While many major fires destroyed homes, stores, hotels, and even an opera house, the worst is often said to be the 1901 fire.
April 18, 2011
From 1910 to 1955, the hills over Los Gatos just off Bear Creek Road were home to a boys’ school, the Montezuma Mountain Ranch School for Boys. Although there was never an enormous population of students, at one point the campus did include a whopping 300 acres.
Known for discipline, hard work and ethics, the school appears to have been exceedingly well respected and influential for its work with students all the way from k – 12.
Notably, Julia Morgan, the renowned architect best remembered for her design at the Hearst Mansion, seems to have played a hand in the school’s buildings too, making the site doubly interesting from an historical perspective.
A Catholic religious order, The Sisters of the Presentation, bought the site in 1956. Initially it was Presentation College (from 1958 to 1971), connected with the University of San Francisco (a Jesuit college) and served as that order’s novitiate. Today it is the interfaith Presentation Conference and Retreat Center. (Check out their photo tour and map, which calls out Montezuma Hall too.)
The Montezuma Foundation continues to be active more than a half century after the school’s closing. Each summer the members offer a three day leadership program at the Presentation Center, the old campus location, and it boasts that “over 300,000 high school students have participated in this program since its inception in 1934”. Pretty impressive that the influence of the school’s founder lives on.
The sisters have an “open house” about once a year where visitors can come and take in the scenery, check out their “green building” program and have a look around.
In the near future, though, is their annual Mother’s Day Brunch, which is open to all. If you have never been up to this scenic spot, Mother’s Day might be the perfect time for the trip!
Newsletter article from the Preservation Action Council of San Jose, summer 1998
Online article History of Montezuma
Historical info from the Presentation sisters on their order, the prior school, their college and the work at the campus today.
Images of the Montezuma School in 1940, care of the Hooked on Los Gatos program
July 15, 2010
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?
Fabulous Historic Walking Tour of Downtown Los Gatos is Back! Mark Your Calendars for June 13th & Reserve Your Spot Today!
May 22, 2010
A fun, hands-on way to learn a bit about Los Gatos history is the downtown Los Gatos Historic Walking Tour. Offered about once a year, the guide through the downtown and through the past benefits the Museums of Los Gatos. There’s lots of participation from the community as local residents play the roles of famous Los Gatans of years gone by, bringing history to life.
The tour begins at the Art Museum of Los Gatos: 4 Tait Ave., Los Gatos, CA 95030. The date is Sunday, June 13th, 2010. Three tours are offered, beginning at 1pm. These tours DO sell out, so don’t wait!
To reserve your spot, and to buy the tickets, call 408 395-7386. Cost is $25. (Great price – lower than in the past.)
I’ve been on this tour twice and really enjoyed it, so give it a strong endorsement.
June 01, 2007
Forbes Mill. Truthfully, it just sounds boring. Doesn’t it?
But actually the place has got an interesting bit of history to it. A little intrigue. A little scandal. And our town was once (briefly) named after it, first Forbes Mill, then Forbestown, then finally, Los Gatos.
Thank goodness that changed!
Built along the Los Gatos Creek, Forbes Mill was started early in the town’s history (1854) and basically the town sprung up around it. Alexander Forbes thought that having a flour mill would be a great idea since the 49’ers gold rush was on.
So it was off to a rocky start and was never profiltable with the original owner, Forbes. Under other ownership, things fared better, By creating and using a reservoir up near the current Holy Names Convent (on Reservoir Road), later owners enabled the water to flow year-round, and not just in winter. So the mill did better – though by then there was no monopoly on flour mills for feeding the forty-niners.
The mill was last used to produce flour in 1887 and it was demolished in 1916 (it was damaged in the 1906 earthquake).
What remains now is an annex that had been added on. Today it is a museum, one of two in Los Gatos..
Oh, and I almost forgot to add: it appears that this is yet another one of the town’s many haunted spots. I know, you won’t read that anywhere but here, but I had a conversation with a gal who works at Forbes Mill and she told me of a couple of stories that indicate the ongoing presence of an unseen resident.
Maybe Mr. Forbes is still trying to make his old mill profitable?
Location: 75 Church Street, which is off Main Street and close to Los Gatos High. Or if you are visiting Old Town Los Gatos, there’s a footbridge that traverses the creek and the freeway and you can walk across it to reach the mill.
Hours: The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 12 noon to 4pm. Parking is free. 408 395-7375.
Final note: Forbes Mill is located very close to Los Gatos High. It can be a little difficult to get in and out of the area due to school traffic at 2 or 2:30pm, so I would suggest avoiding this one window of time for arriving to or leaving from Forbes Mill.
April 27, 2007
The researcher has become the researched. Recently The Los Gatos Observer, a site I use for catching up on the town’s news and events, did a nice review of my writings about Los Gatos on my websites and in this blog. You can read Alastair Dallas’s glowing piece here: Los Gatos Realtor Never Sleeps. Friends and colleagues lauded his post, and suggestions came in about how I might get more rest. Perhaps he just knew, the day it was being released, what kind of a week I was about to have? (Several very long days, and, well, not much sleep. Talk about good reporting!)
So, Los Gatos, where do you get your news and information? How do you stay current on the town’s doings? Here are some of my best online sources for Los Gatos News, Events, and History:
Los Gatos Observer: http://www.LosGatosObserver.com
Los Gatos Daily News: http://www.losgatosdailynews.com
Los Gatos Weekly Times: http://www.community-newspapers.com/los_gatos/
San Jose Mercury News: http://www.MercuryNews.com
Am I missing one? Let me know and I’ll add it!
April 25, 2007
One of my favorite Los Gatos stories, or series of stories, was of mountain vintners who fought fire with wine.
That’s right. The as the fires raged, water ran out, so they used the wine to fight the fires.
That might seem shocking initially – after all, it’s the loss of a year’s work. But if the vines were consumed by fire, it could take 20 years to get them back to their previous level of productivity.
And can you imagine how the townsfolk felt when the Los Gatos Creek ran red from Cabernet or Merlot or Claret? They probably thought it was the end of the world!
I think it is in line with the entrepenurial spirit of our valley that even in fighting fires, these folks were truly thinking outside the box. They were willing to try something offbeat to protect the future.
Last Sunday was Earth Day. And it got me to thinking about what we can do. . . .
I know that we in Los Gatos can help create innovative solutions to ecological problems. Sometimes the answer is right in front of us and we only have to be thinking differently to recognize it. The townsfolk care about solar energy and other conservation approaches. “Fighting fire with wine” was a great concept that worked – twice. I think it’s time for the creativity of Los Gatos to emerge to help solve the problems of the land in a new era. What are the solutions to today’s environmental crises that are at our fingertips but we’re just not recognizing yet?
November 17, 2006
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