PORTRAIT - Mary Barry Coggeshall and Ben Coggeshall on their wedding day in 1871. White wedding gowns would not become the norm for several more decades. (Discover LOST Gatos)

As we bid farewell to The Palms restaurant, let’s take a look at the history of this landmark Los Gatos property.

The stately nine-room Queen Anne Victorian home on what was then a residential section of North Santa Cruz Avenue was built for Mary Barry Coggeshall and her two young children in 1891. Mary has been portrayed as a “rich widow from Australia,” but her real story is far more interesting and complex than that.

Mary’s parents, Denis Barry and Catherine Ryan, were natives of Ireland. They were from poor families who were just scraping to get by. When each was convicted of a minor offense, they were transported by the British government to a penal colony in New South Wales, Australia. That’s where they met and married back in 1839.

The newlyweds were released soon thereafter and sailed to Valparaiso, Chile, a city in a predominantly Catholic country which attracted many Irish settlers at the time. Mary was born there on Nov. 10, 1840.

When Mary was 9 years old, word arrived of the discovery of gold in California. Mary and her parents joined the thousands of people who sailed north seeking their fortunes. The Barry family arrived in San Francisco at the height of gold fever but didn’t strike it rich. In her teens, Mary started working as a servant for a family in Colma with three small children. Many poor immigrant girls of Irish descent took similar positions.

funeral home history
BUSINESS – Advertisement for the E.E. Place Funeral Home, 1919. (Discover LOST Gatos)

Her fortunes took a rather dramatic turn for the better when she married Benjamin Coggeshall on Aug. 21, 1871. They settled in San Francisco and were happy for a while, but the marriage didn’t last. She was an independent girl from a working class background. Her husband’s family, on the other hand, were quite wealthy, with a lineage that traced all the way back to the arrival of the Mayflower. Divorce was unacceptable in their Catholic faith so they came to an agreement. Mary was given enough money to build a home and decided to settle far from the city in the newly incorporated town of Los Gatos. They each lived separate lives, and told everyone that they were widowed.

After her children were grown, Mary moved to Sacramento and established a fruit farm which became quite profitable. Mary died there in 1909. She may have begun her life in America as a poor immigrant servant girl, but eventually became a very successful businesswoman.

E.E. Place, proprietor of Place Furniture and Undertaking, purchased the former Coggeshall mansion and converted it into what he called “a strictly modern funeral parlor.” It may sound unusual today, but the combination of furniture (including coffin building) and undertaking was a typical family business in the 19th century. The company was started by patriarch Alexander Place in 1884 and it continued at this location under his son and grandson until 1971.

Ever since that time, the property has housed several upscale restaurants, beginning with the Chart House in 1976 and followed by Trevese, Palacio and The Palms. The original house was expanded considerably with the addition of a large room and patio on the left side at some point during the restaurant era. Some locals have refused to dine there, believing that the former funeral parlor is haunted. But the only spirits that I’ve encountered have been behind the bar.

Mary’s former home is the only survivor of several blocks of stately Victorians that lined the west side of North Santa Cruz Avenue until the area was rezoned for commercial use in the 1950s. The only reason that it was spared was that it already housed a business establishment.

Content and photos from “Discover LOST Gatos” historical walking tours by Alan Feinberg, Peggy Conaway-Bergtold and Sandy Decker. Download the free mobile app from the Apple App Store or Google Play. Contact us at [email protected].

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