Community spirit making Morgan Hill a special place has remained intact
By Chuck and Darcy Foster
W e find history is an interesting thing. It binds our community together through a set of shared experiences. Some we’ve only heard about. Others we participated in.
We moved to Morgan Hill in 1977. It was by fluke we ended up here, but we’re grateful we did as we had relocated to California from out-of-state. Some of the people we’ve met consider us newcomers. Others consider us old-timers. For a town whose modern history goes back to its incorporation in 1906, I’d put us in the first group.
Our first exposure to the history of Morgan Hill probably came from reading the plaque at the corner of Tennant and Monterey marking the site of the Butterfield Stage stop where the enormous oak trees provided shade for businesses at that site today. Our next lesson may have been from the etched glass panels at the Morgan House restaurant, now known as Mama Mia’s.
We found out when we got her it was impossible to run quick errands on a Saturday morning, because you quickly got to know the merchants and they knew you. You might ask about the new home they were building. Time would be spent in the back of the store looking over their architectural drawing. Likewise, they would want to know about your job, your family, things like that. Plus, there were only three traffic lights. And the freeway ran right through the center of town! In fact, if you shop at Rocca’s Market in San Martin today, you will get a flavor of what Morgan Hill used to be like.
We often enjoyed shopping at the original Nob Hill (yes, the first one!) located in the shopping center at Hale and Main. If you did not want Nob Hill, the supermarket Alpha Beta was just down the street where you’ll now find the Ross Store. Safeway did not even have a store in town. Lombardo’s was the king of delicious donuts. Scooters had the best ice cream. Scooters and Ragoots restaurant preceded Ladera Grill at the downtown corner of Monterey Road and Third Street. Before that you could get your pictures framed and art supplies at that location at the Goose Pond Gallery.
A lot of things have changed. For example, I remember the U.S. Post Office was on Main Street. A child care center now stands at that spot. One Fourth of July a Live Oak graduate who became an Air Force pilot got permission to open the parade with a low-level flyover in his C-5 cargo plane. That gave us all a thrill. The Granada Theater was the only game in town for first-run movies. When Chuck and I first arrived, all you had to do was dial four digits to reach anyone in town. Land lines all started with the 779 prefix. We had the old telephone system from Los Gatos, so calling was easy.
The bank at the corner of Main and Monterey transformed into the main Morgan Hill Police Station. Decades later it became the El Toro Brewery restaurant. Britton Middle School had its own swimming pool. Bubbles was preceded by a coffee shop with a drive through (now Grant’s Garden). Before that it was a bank, hence the working vault now used as a wine cellar.
Live Oak High School was the only senior high in town and it was really big. Jimmy Vasser used to drive the police department crazy, racing around after school. Yes, that race driver.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s, spending time downtown was time well spent. It was the time of Beth Wyman who documented Morgan Hill in her local history book. Everyone still knew the north end of town as “Madrone.” On weekends folks would congregate at Dom’s, along with all the hot air balloonists, for more breakfast than a person really needed. (Oh, those dinner plate sized pancakes!) It was the time of a town deciding if it wanted to grow-up or not. And if so, how?
If you are interested in what went on before you were here, the Morgan Hill Historical Museum is a smart place to start. But history has been making Morgan Hill special for a long time. The Granary used to have working silos! I am glad they are still part of the downtown architecture! Changes continue to bind us together.
As I drive around town, I notice a lot of new buildings. Next time you’re running errands downtown, take some time to talk to the merchants. Perhaps they’re building a new house. I think you’ll find the town is growing, but the spirit that makes Morgan Hill a special place has remained pretty much intact.
Darcy and Chuck Foster are longtime Morgan Hill residents who wrote this column for the Morgan Hill Downtown Association.