- Jeffrey Siegel
Why the Los Gatos Historical Society exists
The Los Gatos Historical Society was created in 2019 to bring focus and attention to the much-neglected topic of historic preservation, and the declining economic impact that its having on our community while the towns surrounding Los Gatos are prospering to new heights. Towns large and small throughout the state have assigned resources to varying degrees toward the preservation of their architecture and cultural heritage. Unlike most other historic towns with our population, Los Gatos has been ‘left behind’ in tapping into the rich resources the state of California has provided to help preserve and restore these important aspects of our cultural heritage. While the town has long had a historic preservation committee which reviews and makes determinations regarding the requested changes that owners of historic buildings want to make, what has been sorely missing is the economic resources that many property owners need to address deferred maintenance issues and proper restoration. If one looks closely at many of the homes in the historic neighborhoods, beyond what your eye might catch at first glance from walking past at the street level, it is quite common to find rotting porch flooring, peeling ceiling paint, rickety railings, non-working windows, water damage, roofs in disrepair, and many other high maintenance items that are typical of the materials used in building historic homes. These problems are not common in towns that have adopted the Mills Act since through this legislated enactment, property owners use the money they save from lowered property taxes to improve their properties. A great visual example of this is to view a video produced by the city of Anaheim that showcases the success of their Mills Act program. The URL for viewing that video is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jSgEUM1G-w. This is a must see!!!
But this is just the beginning. Los Gatos has an incredibly rich historical legacy and that is a valuable asset that distinguishes the town apart from the many towns that were largely built in the post war era. Today, there is massive inflows of investment going into neighboring towns such as Campbell with its now tony downtown and previously tired but now completed renovated Pruneyard shopping center that many top retailers and restaurants have in the past year been attracted to relocating to these shopping destinations. As a result, the town of Los Gatos has seen diminished economic downtown activity, which is not surprising since little has been done to renovate the historic downtown in many decades with the exception of the wonderful Los Gatos movie theater. Most of the historic buildings look tired, and long for the beauty that is hidden beneath its fading facade. Imagine what historic Los Gatos could look like after a $30 million dollar restoration? And how that would attract the best retail businesses to relocate here. Instead, we have CB Hannigans, a highly valued local restaurant/Pub and a cultural icon with its annual St Patrick's Day feast which attracted people from across the Santa Clara valley for nearly fifty years, which closed its doors nearly two years ago, due to building code violations that the building owner lacked the money to address. That building was built in 1900. Or the retailer Sierra Toy Soldier Company which had stood proudly for decades at its enviable position on Santa Cruz avenue near the theater and the Apple store, yet just this past week closed its doors in order to relocate to downtown Campbell, where the consumer shopping traffic has grown enormously over the past five years.
It’s time to stop neglecting the historic assets that we have in Los Gatos, and to get serious about taking the actions that will provide the economic fuel to restore our town back to its once gem-like condition, and reverse our diminishing competitive economic standing. Economic and cultural vitality are in easy reach for Los Gatos, and that all begins with adoption of the Mills Act.