History - Los Gatos

History

Mexican Territory
Rancho Rinconada de Los Gatos

When California was still a Mexican territory, best friends Jose Maria Hernandez and Sebastian Fabian Peralta became brothers-in-law, marrying twin sisters of the prosperous Sibrian family. Bowing to their family connections, governor Juan Alvarado gave the men a 6,631-acre land grant in the Santa Clara Valley.

Hernandez and Peralta called their territory El Rancho Rinconada de Los Gatos, both for the local mountain lions and bobcats, and its position in the corner where the El Sereno and El Sombroso mountains meet.

For ten years, the rancho prospered, but tensions between the US and Mexico led to tensions at home over the fate of their property if the two nations went to war. Though the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo would honor all Mexican land grants, the two friends ended up in a drunken brawl that only ended when Hernandez stabbed to death Peralta’s wife, Gregoria Sibrian. Her sister murdered and her husband the killer, Gertrudis Sibrian hung herself from the rancho’s gate.

Peralta eventually remarried, haphazardly managing the territory while Hernandez built himself an adobe house where he would live out the rest of his bitter, lonely days in what is now Vasona Park. With the best friends split, the rancho would continue to bleed money, forcing the founders’ sons to sell 2,000 acres to James Forbes in 1953.


American Prosperity
Forbes Mill through Silicon Valley

In the 1860s, noted scoundrel James Alexander Forbes built Forbes Flour Mill along Los Gatos Creek. The resulting settlement was named after the mill, but was renamed after Rancho Rinconada de Los Gatos (Cat’s Corner Ranch), the land-grant that made the surrounding area US soil.

Shortly after founding the town, Forbes was forced to step down as the mill’s president and all-around town bigwig, and Los Gatos began to quietly flower. It has only recently seen signs of a slowdown.

Many of the original settlers came from ‘49er gold-rush money, seeking to stay in the wooded hills of California, but far from played-out gold country. When the gold funds tapered off, Los Gatos became a prosperous agricultural town, growing apricots, grapes, and prunes, as well as an important hub for the local logging industry. In the 1920s, its prosperous farm-town vibe attracted creative spirits from around the world, including beat hero Neal Cassady, who created a prosperous artist’s colony. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake destroyed many of the brick buildings the artists loved, and though these were later rebuilt and retrofitted, the dreamers and creators moved on.

Then the tech boom began, and Los Gatos became one of the signature towns of Silicon Valley. While it didn’t have the prestige of San Francisco, the brainpower of Palo Alto, or the industrial muscle of San Jose, Los Gatos called to the more laid-back, creative minds in technology, happy to settle in its gentle hills and sprawling woods. During the housing boom, plenty of realtors made their fortune in the pretty little town. The money kept on flowing.

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Modern times
Investment and disappointment

From the days of Forbes Mill, local citizens have invested in their community, and Los Gatos was one of the first California towns of its size to have a fully-stocked public library, top-rated schools, and a narrow-gauge railway connecting all the way to Alameda, and more recently, the first hospital helipad in California. This led to an air of friendly, civic-minded smugness that persists to this day. Los Gatos citizens often joke that they’re the suburb San Francisco deserves.

The locals have always been eager to found businesses in their hometown. Before the Second Depression, successful companies like ImageShack, Netflix, and Smashwords were all headquartered in Los Gatos. Now all three and many like them are defunct, their office parks abandoned or hosting squatters.

At long last, the town’s surplus has run out. Maintaining all local services during a Depression is no easy feat, and with no new jobs coming to such a small town, these benefits are ending. Valley Transit Authority buses make fewer stops in Los Gatos, while diminishing water and power subsidies make utilities pricier. Where before young people would happily move back to town to pursue tech jobs, parents now see their children move across the country in search of sparse opportunities, making Los Gatos feel less like a lively burg and more like a stagnant suburb with every passing day.

History - Los Gatos

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