Los Gatos and the 1918-1920 Influenza Pandemic: Part 2

The Oaks Sanitarium Los Gatos, CA
An ad for the Oaks Sanitarium near Los Gatos placed in the California State Journal of Medicine’s 1918 edition.

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 during the Pandemic
The Normal Hospital as it was operating during the winter of 1918-1919, published in La Torre 1919.

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.

 

Los Gatos and the 1918-1920 Influenza Pandemic: Part 1

Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases October 1918 regarding the flu pandemic
“Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases,” states the graphic used in an informational article published across various newspapers in October 1918

Los Gatos Pandemic Then and Now

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!

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Sacred Heart Jesuit Center – formerly the Jesuit Novitiate

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.

Pan of Santa Cruz Mountains toward Los Gatos
Pan of Santa Cruz Mountains toward Los Gatos – view from the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center (formerly the Jesuit Novitiate)

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.

I’ve learned that the Jesuits also have a wicked sense of humor. My uncles like to joke that “even the Sacred Heart has turned his back to the Jesuits!”

 

Please remember many people call this home, so please enjoy the winery and the public trails nearby and respect that the Jesuit Center grounds and it’s parking is for the workers, residents, and their guests.

Los Gatos Fires and the Los Gatos Fire Department

fire articleLos 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.

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Montezuma Mountain Ranch School for Boys

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!

More Resources:
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

Preserving Historic Homes in Los Gatos: How Much Is Enough?(and When is a Remodel a Rebuild?)

July 15, 2010

Construction sign "Danger" found at site of Almond Grove, Los Gatos, CA, remodel (rebuild)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?

Front of property, where front porch and door once stood. No foundation is left - the facade is being held up by temporary supports.

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).

Almond Grove district of Los Gatos, a "remodel" of an historic home - it's a "see through" house with little behind the facade.

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. 

To the right of the front wall, see one other wall being supported and awaiting reconnection to a house.

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

Los Gatos Historic Walking Tour - a benefit for the Museums of Los Gatos - June 13, 2010A 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.