historic building
EARLY DAYS - The Rankin Block in 1904, showing the original ornamentation and window treatments.  (Discover LOST Gatos)

The long-awaited arrival of the Parkside restaurant on the downtown dining scene is the perfect time for a story about the landmark building they’ll be calling home. 

The Rankin Block was built in 1902 as income property by Clara and William Rankin who arrived in Los Gatos from Indiana in 1891. It’s a classic example of Mission Revival architecture, with hip-roofed towers, ornamental window mullions, and brick columns, and was described as “an important visual anchor” in the town’s application for a listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. Various tenants over the years have included the Chamber of Commerce, the post office, a drug store, a market and a saloon. The Parkside will occupy the former site of the Boulanger bakery. 

The Rankins were a prominent family in Los Gatos. According to a Santa Clara County biographical record, William Blackstone Rankin was considered to be “one of the leading capitalists of Los Gatos who deservedly occupies a position of prominence among her public-spirited and progressive citizens.” Clara was active in the business community and became the first woman elected to full membership in the town’s Chamber of Commerce. 

As the son of Judge B.P. Rankin, one of the foremost members of the Santa Clara County Bar, William was expected to follow in his dad’s footsteps. But he preferred viniculture, and chose to pursue his own career in the wine industry, where he was quite successful. He owned and operated the Glenwood Winery in the Santa Cruz mountains, was manager of the California Wine Association, and was one of the chief stockholders in the Los Gatos Cooperative Winery. 

parade grounds
The Rankin Block (upper right) in 1909 when the Town Plaza was a railroad yard and parade ground. (Discover LOST Gatos)

William was known as a heavy smoker who enjoyed as many as a dozen cigars a day. When Clara warned him that so much smoking was bad for his health, he began treatment for his tobacco habit at the Los Gatos offices of the Keeley Cure Institute on E. Main Street. Dr. Lester Keeley was among the first wave of doctors to popularize the view that addiction was a disease which could be cured with a simple medical solution.

Although his miracle cure was dismissed as dangerous and potentially deadly quackery, and he was stripped of his license to practice medicine, thousands of patients testified to the success of Dr. Keeley’s “double chloride of gold” concoction. After only 36 hours of treatment, William said that tobacco had lost its attraction. But he still smoked a little, since he worried that “a sudden absence of the stimulant might cause injury to the system.” 

William’s death from “complications of the liver” at age 59 in 1907, “came as a great shock to Los Gatos,” according to newspaper accounts. A few years after his death, Clara sold the Rankin Block to a contractor and subsequently moved to San Francisco where she died in 1917. After suffering extensive damage in the Loma Prieta earthquake, the landmark property was restored in 1991. The Rankins would undoubtedly be proud to see that their namesake property looks very much the same today as it did when it was first completed 120 years ago. 

As a side note, I haven’t been able to establish any family connection between William and Clara Rankin and the much beloved elementary school teacher Dora Mae Rankin (1887-1979) whose donation of an elaborate sterling silver set is prominently displayed at NUMU. 

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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