Los Gatos is one of the oldest settlements in Santa Clara County, established in the 1850s and first named “Forbes Mill” after the flour mill established by James Alexander Forbes along Los Gatos Creek in 1853. Forbes’ original mill was torn down in 1916, but an adjacent mill building still stands and today is the site of the History Museum of Los Gatos.
By 1887, when the city incorporated, James Forbes was long gone, having sold his mill several years earlier. “Forbes Mill” was also gone, dropped in favor of “Los Gatos,” which reflected the area’s origins as part of the “Rinconada de Los Gatos” land grant of 1839.
With its chic downtown shops, world-class restaurants and impressive high-end homes, the Los Gatos we see today seems at first a far cry from the community of millworkers, then later artists, writers, and musicians it once was, but maybe looks can be deceiving. Los Gatos is a multi-layered place whose 30,000 residents span the full range of the human spectrum. They live in mansions, but they also live in rustic cottages hidden on hillsides along narrow, winding roads, and in prim Victorian homes within walking distance of downtown. They shop at boutiques, yes, but they also have barbecues at Vasona Park, hike the Los Gatos Creek Trail and they’ve been graduating from Los Gatos High School since 1921.
But if it is true that the character of Los Gatos has changed, it’s also true that Los Gatos has been changing practically since the day James Forbes laid the cornerstone for his mill. Los Gatos has been a rowdy mill town whose plentiful saloons attracted loggers from camps in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s been a resort town known as “The Gem of the Foothills.” It was where John Steinbeck built a cabin and wrote “The Grapes of Wrath” in the 1930s (though Steinbeck’s place is now officially part of Monte Sereno), and where writers C.E.S. Wood and Bard Field built “The Cats Estate” in 1925, playing host to artists and writers like Steinbeck, Ansel Adams and Robinson Jeffers, as shown in a recent History Museum of Los Gatos exhibit.
Today, Los Gatos is where Silicon Valley executives, among others, come because they crave small town living, vibrant pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, great schools and an active, close-knit community whose evenings and weekends are always full with downtown farmers’ markets, outdoor concerts, hiking, biking and maybe an afternoon picnic in the shade of the Redwoods at the Town Plaza, followed by dinner at a world-class restaurant like Manresa or Nick’s Next Door. Or maybe they just want to stroll downtown and window shop on a sunny afternoon. They can do that, too; or they can check out the Testarossa Winery, located less than a mile from downtown, one of several wineries operating in the hills and mountains in and behind town.
There are many ways to live well in the San Francisco Bay Area. Many choose to live in all-residential towns like Hillsborough, Atherton or Monte Sereno. Others choose rural, equestrian-friendly locales like Portola Valley and Woodside. Those who choose Los Gatos, do so because they value community at least as much as they value seclusion. Los Gatos may keep changing but one thing will stay the same: it will always be full of life.
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