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!

Read moreLos Gatos and the 1918-1920 Influenza Pandemic: Part 1

Hooker Gulch in the Los Gatos Mountains

Hooker Gulch, Los Gatos - satellite viewMaps can be so intriguing, and they can be a dangerous rabbit hole into which my time somehow disappears if I’m not careful. Today I was viewing a topographical map of Los Gatos when I stumbled upon a place in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Los Gatos (aka the Los Gatos Mountains) with the curious name of Hooker Gulch.  That same site is an interactive map with many place names that I never heard of in the coastal range, all of them begging for research. (Click at your own risk.)

Here are a few of odd and fascinating place names in the hills:

  • Hooker Gulch (also Hooker Gulch Creek, which feeds into the Los Gatos Creek)
  • Nibbs Knob
  • Rattlesnake Gulch
  • Buzzard Lagoon
  • Beehive
  • Priest Rock
  • Bull Run
  • Badger Spring
  • And many other “gulch” names: Moody Gulch, Austrian Gulch, Jacques Gulch, etc.

Where is Hooker Gulch?

The steep valley is located near the end of Aldercroft Heights Road (public section of the road), close to Aldercroft Heights, Lexington Hills, and Holy City in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It is just south of Old Gold Mine Road.

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Los Gatos real estate: unreal prices!

Here’s a fun bit of Los Gatos real estate history – pricing from yesteryear!  The newspaper ad for Los Gatos homes for sale is enticing.  One of them reads:

Fillmer Ave.

Rustic type of 5 rms.,
2 Brs., tub and shower bath,
fireplace, H.W. floors, 2 car
garage, lot 60 x 140.
Immediate poss.
Asking $15,000

Or check out the house on Englewood:

Englewood Ave.

1 story, rambling type, 6
rms., 3 brs., H.W. floors,
fireplace, tiled baths, 2-car
attached garage, choice
location.  Terms.
Price  $13,500

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:

Los Gatos real estate ad date not shown
Los Gatos real estate ad date not shown

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.

Keep reading to see the year…

Read moreLos Gatos real estate: unreal prices!

Los Gatos historical walking tour app: LOST GATOS

Michael Kane as Mountain Charlie 2007 Historic Walking Tour in Los Gatos
Michael Kane as Mountain Charlie in the 2007 Historic Walking Tour in Los Gatos

Locals may remember that a few years back, there was a wonderful “Los Gatos History Walk” put on every year or so.  Town residents would don garments from a bygone era and take on the persona of legendary Los Gatos figures for a few hours. Both fun and educational, it provided a sense of the town’s past – both the buildings and the people’s.  It was absolutely wonderful while we had it.

Today, there’s an app for that!  It’s called Discover LOST Gatos and as of this writing, there are 3 different tours:

  1. The Heart of Los Gatos (approximately a 35 minute walking tour with 12 stops)
  2. Los Gatos: The Gem City (a 45 minute walk with 12 stops
  3. The Cradle of Los Gatos (50 minute stroll with 13 stops)

The Mercury News did a nice article on this and will fill in the details on who’s behind this wonderful idea.

http://www.mercurynews.com/los-gatos/ci_30098778/los-gatos-discover-lost-gatos

As for me, I just downloaded it to my phone and look forward to getting to know our beautiful town a little more.  You can find it online wherever you get your phone’s apps – just search for LOST Gatos.

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.

Read moreLos Gatos Fires and the Los Gatos Fire Department