Lost: The Edge of Everything
Locations - Los Gatos
Art Museum of Los Gatos
Standing alone in a field of tall grass and taller white lillies is a one-and-a-half story pueblo-style building not much bigger than a house. But through its four rooms have passed some of the best-regarded and most successful artists in California history. The museum does not collect and certainly does not sell art, and yet its reclusive curators always seem to be on the pulse of what is and will be popular in the world of the visual arts.
The Museum keeps weekly daylight hours, and is open on Saturday nights for reservation viewings which feature wine and cheese from through California, and attract some of the more tasteful Silicon Valley intelligentsia. The pieces on display are never less than exquisite or cutting-edge.
Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad
William Jones was the sort of man about whom folks would say “they don’t make ’em like that anymore.” A lifelong railway-man, he married a schoolmarm from a town named for its train station and settled on a picturesque prune orchard in lovely Los Gatos. They had four children, not counting the run-down small-gauge steam locomotive named 2-Spot that Billy bought for $100 on the San Francisco docks.
Together with his railroad buddies, Billy got 2-Spot running again on a miniature railroad circling his orchard. He called it the Wildcat Railroad, after those same old gatos that gave the town its name, who would watch sometimes from the trees or fields as 2-Spot chugged on by.
Billy’s sons Robert and Neal loved the Wildcat Railroad, and rode it the eve before they shipped out for Normandy. When the war claimed his boys, Billy opened the railroad to the public in their honor. His daughters Betty and Geraldine sold lemonade and day passes for a nickel. Kids rode free. Among the riders was Walt Disney, who let Billy Jones drive the narrow-gauge train through Disneyland on its opening day.
Billy died of Leukemia at 83 in 1968. Rather than let the railroad die with him, Los Gatos locals created a nonprofit to purchase the railroad, relocating it to Oak Meadow Park. Over time, they bought a diesel engine, and a second steam engine to switch-hit when 2-Spot needs repairs. In 1998, the nonprofit expanded the railroad to encircle Vasona Park and loop around the reservoir.
The Wildcat Railroad still does good business on busy park days, but lack of funds has the organization forgoing aesthetics for safety, so the pain is chipping on the engines and cars, and has all but been stripped from the roundhouse where the trains sleep, which is carefully padlocked at night to ward off undesirable nighttime park-goers. Still, it’s nice to see the little trains chug on by, filled to bursting on a good day with smiling parents and waving kids.
They don’t make ’em like that anymore.
The Camera Cinema
Since the dawn of motion pictures in 1915, a movie theater stood on North Santa Cruz Avenue between Main Street and Bean. Originally called the Strand Theater, it was remodeled in 1929 with an Art Deco look, including a lit marquee and murals, and renamed the Camera Cinema. Business declined in the 80’s after the single large screen was split into double, and the corporate owners were forced to sell. The theater bounced from franchise to franchise, before ending up with a local couple, the Genaros, in 2010.
Having made their fortune in tech, the Generos lavished the old theater with expensive retrofits, always keeping up with state-of-the-art media innovations. After a rush of work in 2014, the theater boasted the best of cutting-edge technology and its beloved retro design. Selling artisinal popcorn and locally sourced soda, it became a big hit with the local techie crowd, and not even the Second Depression could keep people from the theater — which slashed prices to fill seats.
This same popularity made the Camera Cinema a perfect hunting-ground for the malicious Other called Older Brother, who fused with the building, enchanting showings of a popular film series to spread Dream Poison through the teen girls of Los Gatos. Three young ladies were dead by the time the Motley of Changelings Older Brother had come to catch set the building on fire.
Battling among the flames through Older Brother’s army of movie-poster Fetches, they destroyed his physical form along with the theater and sent him back to Faerie. And when the fire died down, all that was left of the Camera Cinema was the flight of stairs and the door to the projection room. Now someone passing by might think the space looks like one tooth missing from a row, the stairwell a single twisted nerve, exposed to the elements.
It goes without saying that the door to what was once an Other’s worldly anchor is now a very resilient way into the Hedge. Which is why the door stands padlocked in heavy iron, and why the powers-that-be in the Quatrine Kingdom don’t want the stairway torn down.
Concrete Disciples Skatepark
Located at 41 Miles Ave, Concrete Disciples was completed in 2014. It is your typical full-service skatepark, and actually one of the bigger ones in the San Jose area. Though fairly new, it has quickly grown a second skin of graffiti that the ownership would rather keep than clean.
Before the Second Depression, the skatepark was mostly empty during school hours. Now the rise of truancy and delinquency means a ceaseless cacophony of murmuring wheels and clattering trucks. Like a prison cafeteria, this cement playground is segregated along ethnic lines, with white, Latino, and black skaters sticking to their own sections. Skating through another group’s area is acceptable, but not stopping or setting up new tricks. Though the kids themselves don’t think the tensions are racial so much as coincidental, the skatepark itself can’t really do much to create any great athletes while no one can access all its resources.
And of course where there’s indolent teenagers, there’s drugs. At least one out of every ten kids pushes pot for some distributor or other, and you can get harder stuff from certain “spectators” who come by to scope out the action, on wheels and off.
Where the kids who have probably never heard the name ‘Bart Simpson’ try and display their ‘skills.’ Though outwardly disdainful of the kids “trying too hard”, as he sees it, he has secret respect for the skill on display by the more experienced skaters coupled with a faint emotional ache over the fact that Dil no longer has human feet that would allow him to join in the fun.
In 1850, the California Gold Rush was in full swing, but California had no flour mills to make bread for all those hungry prospectors. With flour selling at $50 (about $1,500) a barrel, Scottish adventurer James Alexander Forbes used his influence as British vice-consul to Mexican California to buy a plot of land cheap from the Rinconada de Los Gatos rancheros.
Over four years and with some very steep loans, Santa Rosa Flour Mill opened in 1954, a symbol of the western settlers’ triumph over Mexican dons. But in its founder’s hands it proved a shaky symbol, as Forbes did not know enough about milling flour to build a high damn to power the mill-wheel, while his speculating on wheat and flour had the mill deep in the red by 1857. Forbes sold the mill to one of his investors, and stayed on to run it (poorly) until he being forcibly evicted.
Eventually, the investor sold out to William H. Rogers, an experienced Detroit miller who brought in a profit by 1860, and by 1881, Forbes Mill was renowned for the highest grade flour in the western US. After Rogers’s death, the mill changed hands several times, serving as a manufacturing plant, a power station, and finally a storage facility for PG&E, who abandoned it after World War II. Only in 1971 did it become a popular Los Gatos youth center, with live weekend rock shows featuring some up-and-coming groups now synonymous with California music.
One of its owners tore the original Santa Rosa building down in 1916, and the only structure that stands today was a two-story storage facility added in 1880. This building has been declared a California Historical Landmark, and now plays host to rotating exhibits on local history. Few people visit the museum, however, and it spends most days a mottled gray slab peeking bet—ween the overgrown trees, its stones sagging with the weight of a dozen failed ventures.
Great Bear Coffee & Cafe
SFSU students with cars and money for gas would often skip the school-side “student-bait” coffee-shops and drive to Los Gatos’s Great Bear Coffee & Cafe at 19 North Santa Cruz Avenue. It’s the picture of a cozy, family-owned coffee house, famous for its chocolate coffee cream and butcher-quality sandwiches. The walls are bare brick, the seats comfy, the light just dim enough to putter on that novel that never quite gets finished. The Van Epps family owns and runs the cafe together — all except rebellious only daughter Corine, who’s taking business classes in hopes of starting a franchise.
“We’ve got nothing. No clothes. No Money. No… Well, Johnny has a van, and we have a jeep, but that’s about it. We could sell the Jeep but I have a feeling the Spring Court would be insulted by us selling the gift they just gave us. Also, I’m pretty sure Johnny won’t sell his van. I think he might be living in it?
“So I turned to the want ads. For some reason the little ad on the bottom corner of the page of the news paper stuck out to me. Great Bear Cafe was looking for part time help. I gave them a quick call, turns out they’re looking for some help while their daughter is taking classes for one reason or another. Essentially it means I’ll be busing taking orders and busing tables. But hell some spending money is better than none.”
- Tony DeLeon
Fran Killian knows that Killian’s Red is the name of a beer. She named the place after the building-grade redwood timber she bought at her employee discount after years answering phones for a logging concern. She bought it so her contractor partner Diane would have a final project before the uterine cancer got really bad. Diane finished their dream bar and passed away before opening night. The next day, Fran finally admitted to her roughneck friends at the mill that she was gay. They all came to opening night, and have been drinking at Killian’s ever since.
Sometime later, Fran hired on Ashleigh Wisejohn to tend bar, and the two became good friends. When Fran moved to Florida with her new girlfriend, she signed half the bar over to Ashleigh, who’s been running it well ever since.
Fran and Diane kept the corner bar’s classic brown-brick facade. The only hint of redwood outside is the thick double door and the swinging bar sign. Inside, the place is all polished, hand-tooled California redwood, from the bar to the tables to the woodcarving of a forest along the ceiling to the legs of the stools. The smell is subtle but strong, always complimenting the smell of good drink. Diane hated gaudy posters and neon signs, so the only logos you’ll see at Killian’s are on the beer taps.
Killian’s Red stands on the very edge of downtown, facing a quiet, working-class neighborhood (or as close as you get in Los Gatos), so it sees a friendly mix of classes. A bar is one of the few places that does well in a Depression, but several local PNC concerns have expressed “friendly” interest in buying the place to set up a watering hole.
And yes, they do pour Killian’s Red at Killian’s Red. Try not to ask with a smirk.
Los Gatos Creek Trail
Los Gatos Creek Trail follows its eponymous waterway 9.7 miles from the Lexington Reservoir through downtown Los Gatos, Vasona Lake Park, and the town of Campbell, to end in the Willow Glen neighborhood of San Jose. Boasting several easy access points from light rail, and passing nearby a few busy shopping centers, the well-kept trail serves as a sort of thoroughfare for more active locals.
In recent years, the once neatly kept trail has become overgrown and claustrophobic. Thorny plants that would make Changelings uncomfortable edge too close to the road, and roots grow from the road to trip passersby. Due to budget shortfalls, the round-the-clock bicycle patrols have contracted to only eight daylight hours, and park rangers too busy elsewhere to devote much time to keeping the way clear of fauna. Anyone using the trails by daylight had best beware of cats trying to take back their corner. Anyone using the trail at night is either a criminal, a monster, or extremely foolhardy.
Los Gatos High School
If Los Gatos High looks familiar, that’s because it served as the exterior for Saved By the Bell’s Bayside High. Ranked 86th in the country, LGHS has churned out its share of Zach Morrises, A.C. Slaters, Jesse Spanos, and Screeches, boasting quite the list of successful alumni. Today, for the first time in over a century of well-funded excellence, this storied institution is feeling the hard press of harsh times.
Founded in 1908, the school relocated in 1925 to its current spacious buildings and grounds, designed and landscaped by renowned architect of schools W.H. Weeks in a Greek revival style. New buildings were added all the way until 1970, but 30 years passed before the aging structures got a much needed renovation.
But it’s been twenty years, and once more the buildings are beginning to show their age. Paint and plaster are peeling here and there. The sprawling central green is overgrown from lack of funds to pay the landscapers, and graffiti left by ever-more-disaffected students often goes uncleaned for weeks.
The school’s 94% college acceptance rate has fallen to 65% since the Second Depression began, and the formerly friendly and integrated student body is fracturing based on economic status. The school’s first serious student-on-student assault took place just six months ago, leaving one boy missing an eye.
Due to a funding shortfall, neighboring Saratoga High School will soon close its doors to all but its wealthiest students, sending its less well-to-do kids to LGHS, straining the Los Gatos school’s resources, taxing its teachers, and reminding the people of Los Gatos that Saratoga is even wealthier than their own town, and that even those near the hilltop aren’t safe when shit rolls downhill.
Los Gatos Mixed Martial Arts
Los Gatos Mixed Martial Arts (15445 Los Gatos Blvd) used to be called Left-Hook’s Gym before 2001. Its owner, Wheeler Goetz, had trained two welterweight champs, but was getting on and couldn’t keep up with the MMA craze. The new owner, Marlowe (not-an-actual) Gracie had it refitted as a top-of-the-line MMA gym, right before the recession hit. Luckily, he still does a decent business teaching self-defense classes. Public interest in combat sports has risen since the recession, but Marlowe can’t seem to get a serious clientèle going in the affluent little community.
Johnny has not been around to the gym since it changed hands and focus, but he did he would likely appreciate the new extreme bent. When he was only twelve, Johnny wandered in to “Left Hooks” direct from receiving his very first ass whupping from some bullies down at the part (who apparently didn’t appreciate having firecrackers taped to the seat of their pants?) Johnny stood in the doorway, face red, eyes puffy from crying, and a crimson trail of blood leaking from his nose. He waited until somebody finally walked over and asked him what was going on. “I need to get stronger.” was all he said. Goetz eventually let him take junior classes in exchange for mopping up the gym after it closed, every other day.
Old Town Center
Trendy in the early aughts were “lifestyle shopping centers,” outdoor malls disguised as naturally occurring commercial neighborhoods. Old Town Center in Los Gatos is one such business, its rancho design reminiscent of the nearby ruins of the original Rinconada de Los Gatos.
Once upon a time, folks walking along its curving street might see the quaint, rancho-style architecture and cobbled sidewalks and fall for the ruse. Especially if they never noticed that the cobbles were just a facade over rolled concrete, or that the shops were all one contiguous structure, or that the whole thing had the kind of very modern parking garage you don’t tend to build under heritage sites. Old Town Center was neither old, nor part of the town, nor central, and nowdays, it doesn’t even see much business.
Old Town looks something like a Mexican town from a western, its one boulevard bent into a horseshoe shape with a wrought-iron gate at each end. The shops stretch around the outer border, facing the large central building — just enough like a Mexican church to edge into poor taste — shared by Steamer’s Grillhouse and The Wine Cellar. These restaurants, though both chains, are the only independent businesses in Old Town Center not part of a corporate franchise. Every store along the boulevard has a familiar name like GAP or Sur-la-Table or Starbucks.
Despite its mass-market tackiness, Old Town was nonetheless a popular spot for well-heeled and unselfconscious townsfolk to grab a pumpkin spice latte or obscure kitchen gadget. But now its many of its shops are quietly shuttered, and the others do too little business to justify full hours. Old Town gets enough custom from local corporate drones to keep its gates open, but most days it’s as quiet as the little Mexican frontier town it tries to ape. When local gangs decide to hang out there for a day, and spend some hard-hustled drug money, it’s even as dangerous!
Tucked away along a wooded street near the border of Los Gatos and Campbell, Paramount Imports is the oldest smoke shop in Northern California, founded in 1967.
Inside, Paramount is much like any other head shop — close-set shelves stocked with paraphernalia of all sorts, including bongs, pipes, hookahs, rolling papers, incense, mystic crystals, tarot decks… If it reminds you of the sixties, or getting high, or getting high in the sixties, and you’re willing to hunt for it, you can find it on the overcrowded shelves or in the dusty display cases at Paramount.
Psychedelic posters line all the walls but the back one, which bears a full-length mural of a dreamy-eyed, pink-pigtailed girl over a swirling blue background. Though the rest of the store is cluttered, this mural is kept spotless and clear of merchandise all year ’round. To use the back room, staff always takes the long way to the rear exit, as the door in the painted wall is off limits to everyone but the owner, a gracefully aging flower-child named Lyla Orchid.
“On my tour of the town, to see how much has changed, I came across this shop. I chuckled as I read “Oldest Smoke Shop in Northern California” since this wasn’t even around when I was taken. I realized I had not had the opportunity to smoke a decent pipe (or even owned a pipe anymore) in ages, and the faint tobacco aroma was just too appealing. I walked in. Granted the decor was not much to my liking, and the local color was less then appealing, but there was something about this place. Perhaps the fact that to me, it felt like times gone past. Most likely that is why there wasn’t much patronage, but all in all, it felt welcoming, in an odd, sad and lonely kind of way. I made my purchase and chatted with the shop owner. I made a note to come back to this place again.”
- Joel DeWitt
Vasona Lake Park and Oak Meadow Park
Actually one contiguous parkland in central Los Gatos, the two names come more from a difference in landscaping than any geographic distinction.
Oak Meadow Park to the south is smaller, and looks more like a traditional park, all landscaped lawns and picturesque copses of trees and flowers. A playground starts at the vintage carousel in the southwest corner and stretches northeast all the way across Los Gatos Creek (with help from a whimsical castle bridge) to the Vasona Youth Science and Nature Center on the Vasona Park border.
Beyond that point, Vasona Park grows wild around Vasona Reservoir, its only man-made attractions a marina, a lively food-truck court nestled under the Highway 17 overpass, and the pueblo house where Jose Maria Hernandez lived out his last lonely days, lost somewhere in the overgrowth.
Romantic and brooding with its windblown lake and tall grasses, Vasona Park is a popular destination for young lovers to slip out of sight beneath the reeds or off the beaten path. On a clear day, sail- and row- and paddle-boats glide over the silvery water long into the early evening.
These days, people don’t stay in the parks after dusk, as local indigents like to sleep on the benches or by the water, while drug-dealers ply their corrosive trade on the marina, or in a late-night narcotics bazaar that replaces of the food-trucks under the overpass.