composite of old photographs and documents
INTO THE PAST - Lisa Traylor Scott has been digging into old documents and pouring over old photographs as she seeks to understand the mark her family left on Los Gatos. (Courtesy of Lisa Traylor Scott; composite by Drew Penner)

When I was a child in the 70s, Los Gatos was filled with Italians. I remember seeing the older women walking in town, dragging behind them their wire utility carts filled with groceries down Santa Cruz Avenue. My grandparents, Adam and Albina Contardo, were part of this community, having immigrated to Los Gatos from northern Italy in the 20s.

My grandfather, a talented stone mason from Tolmezzo, built many of the walls around Los Gatos, including one that still stands on Alpine Avenue, as well as another near Pine Avenue on Los Gatos Boulevard. He also helped build the barbecue pits and several fireplaces that were once at Oak Meadow Park as well as the brickwork surrounding them.

Family lore is that my grandfather did stonework for John Steinbeck at his home in Los Gatos, off of Daves Avenue, where the Grapes of Wrath writer lived during World War II. I also remember hearing my mother say that he worked for Alfred Hitchcock when he remodeled his newly acquired Scotts Valley vacation home.

old news clipping
CLIPPING – Antique newsprint tells of bricklaying in Los Gatos.
(Courtesy of Lisa Traylor Scott)

My grandfather built the family residence on the property adjacent to where Safeway stands today in downtown Los Gatos. They moved the house up Winchester Boulevard across from Daves Avenue in 1960, and my entrepreneurial grandparents built the commercial building which sits at 464-468 N. Santa Cruz Avenue.

When my father passed away last summer, I found myself with the tedious chore of digging through piles of old paperwork, but my heart stopped when I opened a shoebox filled with folded and crumbling typewritten legal documents, dated to the 60s and 70s. Here, in this mess of paperwork, was the history of my family’s building on Santa Cruz Avenue – receipts from its construction as well as the leases for the businesses that occupied it.

In the yellowed papers, I found my grandparents’ scrawled signatures on a contract with Knopf Brothers General Contractors dated Feb. 10, 1961, to construct the building for $24,997. Lee H. Evans, a contractor located on Mozart Avenue, did the paving for $1,375, and Cacitti and Cacitti, who did much of the concrete work around Los Gatos and San Jose, laid the sidewalks for $227.

I was a little disappointed most of the leases had only the tenants’ names on them and, curious as to the types of businesses that occupied the building over the years, I embarked on a journey to locate the tenants or their heirs to inquire about the names of the businesses and any memories they may have.

One agreement, dated Sept. 1, 1972, was signed by Wayne Willyard.  I finally located the tenant’s daughter in Roseville. She wrote to me to tell me the business was called R&W Upholstery and was located “behind the Baskin Robbins ice cream store.” So, it turns out “Thirty-One Flavors” was one of my grandparents’ first tenants—the lease signed Jan. 10, 1962. They rented the front store for many years before moving to the adjacent property where T-Birds Pizza is today.

on the front steps
ARCHIVAL – Elsie Contardo Traylor, Lisa Traylor Scott’s mother, in front of the house the writer’s grandfather built at 466 N. Santa Cruz Ave.—before they moved it up Winchester—where the family’s commercial building now stands. (Courtesy of Lisa Traylor Scott)

Another lease, this one dated March 23, 1972, was for a business named Lumpy’s Hot Dogs, whose owner operated hot dog restaurants in San Francisco, Redwood City and Palo Alto. Although I asked in a Los Gatos Facebook group, nobody seemed to remember this establishment.

In the late 70s and early 80s, the Wine Press Deli served the best sandwiches in town. I worked there for many years and remember the long line of customers that, at lunchtime on summer days, extended out the door—all the way out to Santa Cruz Avenue. What made the sandwiches so incredible were the hot, fresh-baked French rolls that arrived every morning from Polly Prim Bakery uptown. The featured sandwich was the “grinder,” which included a mixture of Italian meats and cheeses and a special herbal salad dressing.

One sandwich, named for a man who came in daily and asked for a unique combination of ingredients, was called the “Ron’s Irregular” and included roast beef, thousand island dressing, and coleslaw. The Wine Press also had a large deli case filled with every Italian and American lunchmeat and cheese imaginable. I remember one elderly Italian man who came in every evening wearing a suit, tie and fedora hat. He spoke broken English and specifically ordered four, paper-thin slices of Italian prosciutto. When I showed him the cut meat, he inspected each slice carefully, and then said with a flip of his hand, “Eh –give me one more!”     

NONI & NONO – Adam and Albina Contardo, in Los Gatos. Jan. 4, 1945. (Courtesy of Lisa Traylor Scott)

When the Wine Press went out of business, Steve’s Deli briefly took over, followed by Jenny’s Deli, but neither had the success of the Wine Press. Next to the deli in the front space was, for many years, a tile store that imported high-end tile from Italy before Yummy Yogurt and Yogurt Delight took over the space.

But back to the shoebox in my parent’s home last July. In it, I also found several of my mother’s handwritten ledgers with names of businesses from the 1990s. Many may remember the comic book and baseball trading card stores called Collector’s Corner and Batattitudes which attracted collectors of all ages who browsed the racks of vintage collectables. Today, Rosy Yogurt and Lonado Nail Salon are in the front and middle spaces. Nuvoux, the Salon that’s owned and operated by Brent Hatfield, has occupied the end unit for over thirty years.

Los Gatos was—and still is—a very special community to live in. I now live in Atlanta, but whenever I’m in town, I go back to the building on Santa Cruz Avenue and touch the rockwork that my grandfather placed on the façade. He would drive around Lexington Reservoir and hunt for just the right stones for his projects. These stones represent my grandparents, Adam and Albina Contardo. And when I look at them, it feels like my grandparents are still a part of the Los Gatos they loved.

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