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This website is a constant work-in-progress, with articles updated regularly throughout the site. Much of the information comes from local railroad fans such as yourselves. If you have information regarding local railroads, photographs or railroad documents, or you feel a mistake has been made or information omitted from an article, leave a comment on the appropriate page or email me at author@santacruztrains.com. This site would not be possible without your help and support. Thank you! – Derek R. Whaley

Friday, January 3, 2014

Los Gatos Fruit Packing Company Spur

South Pacific Coast boxcars sitting on the spur awaiting pickup at the Los
Gatos Fruit Packaging Company, c. 1890s. (Bill Wulf)
For most of its existence, the Silicon Valley was known better for its crops than its computer technology. Fruit-growing was an established pastime, and in Los Gatos, it was one of the chief commodities of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Therefore, when the South Pacific Coast Railroad passed through town in 1878, it only made sense to utilize this newfound access to bulk freight to export the region's favorite good. It took three years before the town's patrons decided to build a cannery in town, and another before the cannery organization was formally founded as the Los Gatos Fruit Company. The usual suspects—J.W. Lyndon and other prominent Los Gatos settlers—provided the joint stock backing the company, but the company was short-lived. The cannery was built between Santa Cruz Avenue and Lyndon Avenue, presently across from Elm Street. Unfortunately, it was forced to close shop in 1886 due to a recession.

The company was purchased soon afterwards by D. L. Beck & Son and reformed as the Los Gatos Fruit Packing Company, retaining George Hooke as the property manager. The two existing Sanborn Insurance Company survey maps of the site (below) are of this period of ownership. They show a railroad spur jutting northwest from the mainline into the primary facility. It passes close between the packaging plant and a warehouse, where boxcars were loaded. The image at the top of this page shows such a common scene. Beyond the end of the spur was the primary drying facility, where fruits were received for processing and then dried before being sent to the packaging room for canning. Other out buildings were scattered around the property for various purposes.

Sanborn Insurance Survey Map of the Los Gatos Fruit Packaging Company, 1888. (UC Santa Cruz Map Collections)
Sanborn Insurance Survey Map of the Los Gatos Fruit Packing Company, 1891. (UC Santa Cruz Map Collections)
In 1894, George Hooke purchased the company from Beck & Son, opening up the facility along Lyndon Avenue and lengthening the spur almost to Lyndon, while also adding a split to the spur to provide further holding space for waiting boxcars. It was also renamed the Los Gatos Canning Company. During this peak period, Hooke managed to package 50,000 cases of fruit a year and employed up to 300 people during packing season. The facility packaged a range of fruits including peaches, apricots, apples, cherries, pears, and plums, much of which was shipped abroad. Because of the seasonal nature of the facility, women and teenagers were often employed at the facility.

Los Gatos Canning Company storefront along Lyndon Avenue during the late 1890s. Spur with siding visible behind wall.
(Los Gatos Public Library)
When the Southern Pacific Railroad standard-gauged the tracks through Los Gatos in September 1902, the cannery likewise replaced its spur and enjoyed increased shipments directly to the ports of San Francisco and Alameda via the standard-gauge line. But this success was only temporary as Hooke sold the cannery to the Joseph and William Hunt, original founders of modern-day Hunt's, in 1906. Within a year, the facility was moved from Lyndon Avenue to Saratoga Avenue (modern-day Highway 9). The old facility was sold off to property developers and the spur removed. At the new site, another standard-gauged railroad spur was installed—though the mainline also passed immediately through or adjacent to the facility—and the Hunt Brothers produced fruit just as their predecessor had, but the golden days of fruit packing in Los Gatos were over. Hunt Brothers Fruit Packing Company was purchased by Val Vita Food Products in 1943, which was reincorporated as Hunt Foods. Their increased focus on tomato products caused the company to decrease interest in the other fruits available in the Santa Clara Valley. With decreased demand, the plant finally closed in 1955 and was replaced by the Little Village shopping and business community (modern-day Village Lane).

The site of the original cannery became a commercial area, with the Los Gatos Cinema opening up on part of the property and newer buildings added later. Gardino's and Gilley's now sit where the spur once passed into the cannery property. Much of the rest of the property is open space for parking, with an annex—Howley Hall—of the St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church sitting atop the site of the original fruit drying plant.

Citations:
  • George G. Bruntz, History of Los Gatos: Gem of the Foothills (Fresno, CA: Valley Publishers, 1971).

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Derek - I don't think the Hunts cannery in Los Gatos survived into the 1950's; my guess is that the last season for Hunts would have been in 1930 or maybe 33/34 if they were lucky The San Jose Evening News in 1932 declared that the plant was certainly not in operation in 1931 or 1932 (http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Xg0iAAAAIBAJ&sjid=66MFAAAAIBAJ&pg=6011,3877670&dq=hunts+cannery+los-gatos&hl=en). The buildings were sold to W.J. Gould in 1942 with the note that the buildings had been used for warehousing, then sold in 1943 to Seagrams / Paul Masson for use as warehouse space, again with the note that the cannery had not been in operation for ten years. (http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=EAJgAAAAIBAJ&sjid=QyANAAAAIBAJ&pg=2964,1879700&dq=hunts+cannery+los-gatos&hl=en)

    Hunts was also on the opposite side of Highway 9 from Village Lane. See page 7 of the Los Gatos Sanborn map from 1928/1944 for evidence of the location.

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