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“Too Big for Your Own Britches”

June 26, 2012

I have been nagging people to get me any pictures they might have of Los Gatos from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I haven’t had a lot of success but last week an old friend sent me dozens of great photos from the 1970s. She lives in Idaho now but she’s kept these photographs in perfect condition and they were a delight to work with. She was hired as a hostess at Mountain Charley’s when it first opened, a hostess as she was too young to pour liquor. Through the years, she remained working there as a cook, waitress and cocktail waitress. People didn’t give up those jobs at first generation Mountain Charley’s very easily. Her name is Maureen and we still compare notes on what has happened to who from that first generation. Most of the pictures she provided to me were of these first generation people and would probably only interest they, themselves. However, one picture stirred up some dusty old leaves in my brain:



The simple but prominent building in the lower right is a 50s/60s style motel called the “Village Inn.” When I worked at the old Los Gatos Times-Observer newspaper, I had to prepare and print all the advertisements for businesses of all sorts, from all over town. When I saw the sign on the side of the motel, I had a flurry of memories of many businesses and organizations who called themselves some version of “Little Village” or simply, “Village,” and I would actually work with these names in the advertisements and editorial articles that we put together and printed in the paper.

This picture was taken in 1973 from the roof of the Canada Building (which housed the Mountain Charley’s restaurant) and the motel stood about where the Farwell Building is presently located.

I’m thinking there is no readily available electronic databases which I could access and see how many Los Gatos business have had “Little Village,” “Village,” or “Villager” in their names but it would be an interesting number to have, as there were so many. Historically, this town is a result of the industries that flourished in the mountains above it; logging, mining, and cattle. It was the village at the foot of these mountains to service these industries which the mountains spawned. Even when this village got official and business like, it didn’t incorporate itself as a city but specifically and intentionally a “town,” just something more than a village. And, apparently, many of the original residents clung to the “Village” nomenclature.



Effie Walton (see the sign above the door on the building to the left) was a prominent and prodigious realtor in Los Gatos and the neighboring towns during the first half of the last century. She envisioned and built the “Little Village” development on the corner of Saratoga and Santa Cruz Avenues. If you haven’t placed it yet, the pointed roof building on the right once held the “Broken Egg” omelet house and now is the home of the “Los Gatos Cafe.” There once was another motel called the “Little Village Inn,” dry cleaners, repair shops and plumbers all used the “Village” in their business names. And, everyone in town was proud of their village.

But, whether as a town or a village, even in its beginning, Los Gatos has always been bigger than itself as it served as the outpost for so many of the mountain dwellers, even those past the summit and the quick-silver mines sprinkled through the mountain foothills from Almaden right over to the Blossom Hill area. It was home to the Lyndon Hotel, a hostelry much larger than most towns of this size could sustain. It was the last stop before the coastal tourist resorts along Monterey Bay. Even today, it hosts the biggest Christmas Parade west of the Mississippi. Los Gatos has always been too big for it’s britches.




I remember when the Lexington Fire was being fought right above town in 1985, hearing many of the non-local fire fighters telling us over and over that they had never before seen a community give them so much outspoken and ardent support as we did, here in Los Gatos. I was quite proud to hear such a report. I guess it’s alright to have big britches when you can fill them out when the time comes.

But, it makes me wonder, we mountain people who still labor in our mountain industries, and we still have this “little village” to service us, why are we so roundly denigrated when we resist urbanization and sub-urbanization fostered by people who have moved here from, and were raised in urban and sub-urban communities. When you look at the first picture presented here, what is the really prominent thing in that photo? A big mountain filling the sky behind the sign saying Village. It is so obvious, you don’t even see it. It always seemed to me, we, the people in Los Gatos, are part of the mountains and the mountains are part of us. We are not of the Valley, never. People are trying to turn us around toward the valley and we resist. Why not? People say “Ah, let’s go to the mountains!” or “Ah, lets go to the beach!” and I’ve never heard anyone say “Ah, let’s go to the flat lands!” especially the suburban flatlands. Are we ‘appreciators of the mountain‘ unreasonable or irrational? I think not.

Here is one more picture Maureen sent me:



Once again, the old crusty leaves in my head were blustered about and refreshed. For the newcomers, behind the entire second floor brick facade was Mountain Charley’s Restaurant in the foreground, and the saloon was where it remains today, under the false front of the old Odd Fellows Temple, the white and brick facade. But what is more interesting to me is the signage at the street level. First, in the foreground is Mode-O-day womans clothes, then McCool’s TV and Appliance’s store, Peter’s Jewelery. Behind the landscape trees was Ida-Meena’s women’s clothes then the Sprouse/Ritz “five and dime” store. All of these I made advertisements for. Downtown Los Gatos was not a Sanata Row wanna-be. It really was a much more service-based downtown than it is now. You really could buy more than hair-do’s, women’s clothes and shoes, and sunglasses, right here on main street, Los Gatos. And you could even get an inexpensive lunch here, as well.


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