Though its population numbers only 30,000 there are almost as many ways to live in Los Gatos as there are residents. You can live in a rustic pre-war cabin, shaded by redwood trees, or a stately Victorian on a flat block near downtown. The city has multiple historic districts adjacent to downtown, with homes ranging in size from “rustic weekend cabin” to “early land grant estate.” Away from downtown you can live in a condominium or a sprawling estate; you can enjoy easy freeway access or live so far removed from civilization that the only noise at night is made by crickets.
Homes here can fetch impressive prices — a Coldwell Banker survey found Los Gatos to be the fifth-most expensive city in the U.S. to purchase a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home — and the local market is traditionally quite strong. The presence of Netflix, which employs some 1,500 workers in a complex located near Vasona Park and La Rinconada Country Club, only adds to the pool of well-compensated workers looking for a place to put down roots.
Borne of humble, at times rowdy roots as a late19th-century logging and mill town, Los Gatos has evolved into the epitome of upscale Americana, a place where locals enjoy a friendly, small town atmosphere without sacrificing any of the amenities they’d find in a large city. With highly-rated schools, a year-long slate of community events and activities, excellent local dining, shopping, nightlife, parks and access to hiking and biking trails, Los Gatos offers a package that not even its biggest rivals atop the Silicon Valley housing market can match.
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Los Gatos History
Once part of a 6,600-acre Mexican government land grant called “La Rinconada de Los Gatos” (Cat’s Corner), Los Gatos gets its name from the nighttime howls of the mountain lions that prowled its uninhabited hills. Initial settlement was sporadic and random, with colonists like “Mountain Charley” McKiernan, the first European-American to settle in the area, putting down roots in the hills surrounding the town site, which wasn’t formally laid out until 1868.
In 1854, Los Gatos’ first commercial building, a flourmill built by Scottish immigrant James Alexander Forbes, was completed and began operations. Part of this complex still stands, serving as the home of the History Museum of Los Gatos for a number of years. It took the 1877 completion of the narrow-gauge South Pacific Coast Railroad’s San Francisco-to-Santa Cruz line to put this foothill town “on the map.”
The railroad made Los Gatos a primary station on its route, giving travelers a previously unseen look at the fledgling town. Many fell instantly in love with its beautiful setting and mild climate, resulting in property values skyrocketing almost overnight. By 1887, Los Gatos had incorporated. Three years later it had a population of almost 2,000 and a diverse economic base with resources in timber, manufacturing and agriculture.
Farmers had been growing prunes and other fruit in Los Gatos since well before incorporation. The first local cannery opened in 1882. By 1914, Los Gatos growers produced 7,500,000 pounds of produce. This was a significant sum even in the “Valley of the Heart’s Delight,” the Santa Clara Valley’s nickname long before it traded its orchards for silicon chips. 1914 also saw the first paved roads arrive in Los Gatos; San Jose Avenue, Main Street and Saratoga Avenue. By then the population had grown to 3,500 and the town, having grown up in relative seclusion because of its foothill setting, was a fully functioning city.
Since its inception, Los Gatos has been many things to many people. It’s been a rowdy mill town with plentiful saloons attracting loggers from camps in the mountains. It was a resort destination known as “The Gem of the Foothills.” Los Gatos also enticed regional and national writers, artists and musicians like John Steinbeck, Ansel Adams and Robinson Jeffers, who found the peace and quiet necessary for their creative endeavors. Los Gatos is a cultured, diverse town that has managed to retain its original vibe while simultaneously attracting a lion’s share of successful Silicon Valley residents. It remains a tight-knit community whose high school, Los Gatos High, has operated continuously since 1908 and boasts numerous famous alumni.
Los Gatos has certainly changed since the days of Mountain Charley McKiernan, but that doesn’t mean it’s forgotten its roots. All you have to do is stroll past one of Los Gatos’ most popular and longest-running downtown nightspots to be reminded. It’s name: Mountain Charley’s.