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Old Pictures, Old Attitudes

July 8, 2012

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I have recently been hired by a specialty chip making company to provide them with a series of  historical Los Gatos pictures to dress up the foyer of their new Los Gatos digs.  I’ve been browsing the history pictures of our fair town and here are a few that strike me as particularly interesting:

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This is the Admission’s Day Parade on Main Street in 1896.  It is passing in front of Beckwith Building and a few of its neighbors on the same block.  It is amazing how well these buildings have withstood the last 116 years and two major earthquakes.  Indeed, the Flick Building, in the middle of the block, had to be rebuilt after the Loma Prieta Quake, but the others remain in remarkably good condition.  For those of you who just don’t get the historical perspective, the black store front in the lower left corner of the Beckwith Building is what we all know today as the “Southern Kitchen.”

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This is the venerable Lydon Hotel, or sometimes also known in its history, as “Hotel Lyndon,” in existence from 1899 to 1963, on the corner of Santa Cruz Avenue and Main Street, now the home of Lyndon Plaza.  By the time the hotel was demolished in 1963, the large palm trees in the front ended up towering over the roof of the two story hotel.  Notice the Ford Model T automobiles surrounding the hotel, vintage 1908 – 1927, the cars attest to hotel’s age, prominence and  respectability.   I graduated from high school in 1966 so, exploring the town I was growing up, not the orchards, but over here in town, I was running around the verandas of the place in my early teen years.  I remember the place, but, admittedly, only vaguely.  I really remember the big palm trees.

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What is interesting here is that the second floor of the Canada building doesn’t extend from the turret on the corner of Santa Cruz and Main, all the way to Odd Fellows Hall halfway down the block (This photo taken in 1905).  Within a few years, the entire block was two stories, looking like the contemporary Santa Cruz Avenue we all know today.  And, notice that all the vehicles are horse drawn, they are not even the early “Tin Lizzys,” as in the old Ford Model “Ts.”

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As I viewed the hundreds of pictures available to me,  I would see terrific pics not relevant to my project but so relevant to my memories.  If there was some old time local within earshot, I would sometimes gain their attention, “Hey, dig this . . . ” and the guys and girls would come over and be blindsided by the pics I had found.  They would tell me of their recollections and the scope of our memories just expanded further.  A entirely new dimension of memories would be brought into a long dormant consciousness, and here are a thousand new memories to look up.  It was a big time distraction but it became an over indulgence so, I put on the brakes.  I had enough material for the job. Slow down.  Let’s refine the search and actually pick a few of the photos for the wall.

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For all the people looking over my shoulder, I kept hearing one constant question,  “why do they tear down those great, old buildings and put up the ticky-tacky boxes?  Why don’t they at least rebuild the old ones if they are too worn out to keep?  We all moved here for the great setting and all the history and, piece by piece, it’s being torn down and eroded.”  I’ve been asking the same question for a long time and, sadly, I have come to believe that the answer is simple, money.  Those who own the land can’t, or won’t, put out the money to restore or rebuild the old buildings when the structures get worn out and are too weak to stand safely.  If you want to go deeper into this issue, it quickly becomes very complicated and usually, in this town, very emotional.

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It seems to me that on the one extreme you have a town faction that wants town to completely sell out and have its major streets look like Sunnyvale’s El Camino Real or Santa Clara’s Steven’s Creek Boulevard, while the other extreme wants the town to have no more life and activity than Downtown Los Altos. Neither is a very pretty picture, and of course there are all the shades of gray in between. However, regarding the issue of land usage in this town, there are definitely two distinct camps, neither of which I’m really privy to. I’m not a rich conservative, and I’m not a rich liberal. I’m a poor artist and we are usually considered pretty apathetic as we stubbornly won’t give up our freedom and independence to make the big bucks. It’s not that we don’t have opinions, but no one pays attention to them because we don’t have the bucks to be any sort of a threat to either camp and, thus, they pay little attention to us. So, we usually just keep quiet. Apathy isn’t the issue, having “influence” is.

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I have been approached by both camps to add my voice to their cause but in both cases, these advances have always been in the shadows, in whispers and innuendo and I’m not very good at such games. Anyone who knows me realizes I prefer the obvious, the out loud and the honest. Perhaps, this surreptitious and secretive underlayment of town politics is what has kept this “land usage” an unresolved issue since the days when Frank Laulainen developed Old Town.

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I was once told by an elected town official that the elected officials in town were the “custodians” of the town’s welfare and future. Never has that concept set well with me. I was always told that elected officials were the people’s representatives, they weren’t our care takers. I may not be an expert in governmental red tape or public relations, but I’m not an imbecile who needs custodial care either. Maybe what I need is some good, solid information upon which to form an opinion and make decisions. I can assure you, I don’t want anyone making my decisions for me. I’ve given up a lot of good opportunities to remain an artist and have the freedom to make up my own mind. Give me the information and educate me, don’t hide it, massage it and present it in ways to further your cause and call it truth and reality. Operating in the dark can only lead to hesitation, mistrust and suspicions. This makes for a very unproductive atmosphere in which to have people negotiate complex issues. Perhaps this is why the land use question has remained such an open wound. I have no intention to participate in the furthering of such an atmosphere. I’ll just be loud, dumb and honest.

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One time, more than a year ago, a bunch of us went to a town council meeting to support Gardino’s Restaurant’s efforts to expand. Everyone anticipated a very lively meeting that evening. Just before the meeting began, a prominent personage here in town circulated through the crowd telling various people, myself included, that a solution had been reached “behind closed doors” and for the sake of brevity, don’t fill out a card to get on the evening’s speaker’s list. While I fully understand that reality is never “by the book,” this unabashed breach of our little Democracy was really quite offensive to the naive, little me.

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