Los Altos

The Town of Los Altos

In 1851, Santa Clara County was created, and in that original creation, Los Altos was part of the Fremont Township. Initially, the majority of land use in the Santa Clara Valley was for cattle grazing, and eventually became wheat and grain fields in the 1860s and 1870s. During this time, and due to the land activity, Mountain View became the principal settlement of the county due to the Mountain View stage stop station. This station was located on the San Francisco-San Jose Stage Road, but today, you know it as El Camino Real.

By the late 1800s, small ranches began producing prunes, peaches, cherries, and apricots among other fruits. As the ranches grew, so did the community, which eventually became a community centered around farming. For a while, occupants lived on the land that they farmed, until Los Altos was officially established as a town in January 27, 1956. After a number of businessmen with families moved into the area from San Francisco in the early 1900s, the land slowly became used for residential purposes in addition to orchards over the next 40-50 years.

In 1906, just before families from San Francisco began relocating in Los Altos, the Altos Land Company, founded by Paul Shoup, acquired 100 acres of land from Sarah Winchester, locally known now for being the owner of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA. These 100 acres were converted into today’s downtown area, including Main Street, and many consider this to be the beginning of Los Altos as we know it. Even with families moving in in the early 1900s, by 1911, there were only 50 homes in the entirety of Los Altos; large amounts of growth occurred later in the 1920s and 1930s, which we can tell through the homes that were built. This is where we can see a difference between the agricultural properties listed above, and residential properties that were being built to accommodate for new families.

Shoup was also the president of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, got the green light for a railroad in 1907, a year after acquiring the 100 acres. The railroad (completed in 1913) and land combined emboldened Los Altos from its surrounding communities, and allowed more people to reach it through commuting. The Los Altos Train Station still exists today, and houses a café.

Paul Shoup, president of Southern Pacific Railroad Company and founder of the Altos Land Company, put Los Altos on the map. The acquisition of railroad right-of-way and surrounding lands, coupled with the new layout of the townsite in 1907 gave Los Altos a separate identity from the surrounding communities and enabled middle-class commuter populations to move into the area. The entire rural nature of the area was changed with the development of more roads, school, churches, commercial, and residential construction activity. Foremost amongst this built environment is the Los Altos Train Station, symbol of the town’s very existence.