Gilroy Yamato Hot Springs

Gilroy Yamato Hot Springs

Gilroy Yamato Hot Springs is a California Historical Landmark property near Gilroy, California, famed for its mineral hot springs and historic development by early settlers and Japanese immigrants. The earliest extant structures date from the 1870s, and the earliest bathhouse dates from 1890. Other early structures are a Buddhist shrine from 1939 and a Japanese garden teahouse from that same year. The property is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The hot springs temperature varies between 99 and 111 degrees Fahrenheit.

Setting and early history

The site is benched in a mixed oak forest sloping above Coyote Creek approximately ten miles northeast of Gilroy. The locale is associated with the discoveries of Francisco Cantua, while the core landholding of 160 acres was purchased in 1866 by early settlers George W. Roop and William F. Olden. Roop could accommodate up to 200 guests per day, and the resort Roop developed achieved rapid fame. In those early times the resort was praised as "the finest springs in the state" (Coffin, 1873). A three story wood frame residence from 1874 and a single story wood frame clubhouse also dating from the 1870s were both destroyed by fire in 1980. In the last decade of the 19th century, further development took place: the 1890 bathhouse noted above, several 1890s board and batten guest cabins and a wooden kiosk above one of the hot springs. Notable guests to this historic destination hotel in the Victorian period included San Francisco Mayor James Phelan, gold mining magnate Adolph Sutro, Claus Spreckels and singer Margaret Alverson Blake.

The roaring 1920s

Further development took place in this vibrant period in American history. Immediately before the Roaring twenties a redwood water tank was built in 1913 and the first concrete pool for mineral water was installed at this site in 1917. In the early 1920s William and Emily McDonald purchased the property from Roop. More guest cabins were added, bringing the total to 24. The guest cabin Arizona was erected in 1924, but unfortunately it was consumed by fire in 1992. A number of the original guest cabins from the 1920s are still extant, each named after a different state. The cabin names are clearly affixed to the front of each structure for easy identification.

Social activity at Gilroy Hot Springs was intense in this period. Bootleg liquor and slot machines drew large crowds for birthday parties, Thursday night poker games, swimming parties, Saturday night dances and local service club socials. Over 500 registrants per day would visit the resort in the peak summer season. The San Francisco Motorcycle Club had an especially notable outing here in 1920 (Gilroy Advocate, 1920).

Automobile use was rising dramatically in this era, so that a frenzy of tree cutting occurred in the early 1920s all along Gilroy Hot Springs Road to accommodate the burgeoning auto arrivals. Yet at the end of the decade, the Great Depression caused resort activity to dwindle. Accelerants to the decline were the death of William McDonald and foreclosure by Roop. By 1934 the Gilroy Hot Springs Post Office was closed, and in 1935 the Southern Pacific Railroad ended its auto stage service to the resort.

Beginning of Japanese influence

On September 15, 1938, "Japanese Capitalist Buys Famed Gilroy Hot Springs Resort" read the headline in the Gilroy Advocate. Kyuzaburo Sakata, a successful local Japanese lettuce grower in Watsonville, announced he would build a Japanese garden to be designed by Nagao Sakurai, of the Imperial Palace, who was involved in the Japanese exhibit at the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition at Treasure Island in San Francisco. Gilroy Hot Springs was a microcosm of the successful struggle of Japanese Americans to attain full ownership in the American Dream. Unlike other cultures of immigrants who, encountering discrimination, withdrew into enclaves, Japanese settlers fought within the system to obtain a stake. Gilroy Hot Springs became a powerful symbol to Americans of Japanese ancestry, especially because the hot springs recalled similar physiographic features of their native land (Seido, 1941).

World War II and aftermath

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Sakata and the considerable Japanese American population of Santa Clara County were imprisoned in Internment Camps. Caucasian business partners of Sakata carried on the resort operations during the war at a lessened state of grandeur. After release from the Internment Camp, Sakata returned to be an owner and manager of the resort. He demonstrated great nobility of spirit by inviting his fellow Japanese Americans to join him "in the blessing nature created in Hot Springs in our search for the power of healing". Gilroy Hot Springs was an iconic symbol of the courage and grace of Japanese Americans, who sought to restore and recreate within a national pride of the USA, rather to give up and blame. The Post War era was a time of rebirth and regeneration in terms of spirit as well as physical facilities. It was also a wonderful gathering place where Americans of Japanese ancestry intermingled and relaxed with their Caucasian counterparts.

Modern era

The sleeping annex was demolished in 1946, and in 1964 Sakata could not afford to meet the bureaucratic demands of county building inspectors in new code requirements for cabin heating systems. Thus he sold the property to Philip S. Grimes, a landscape architect from Portola Valley. The property was operated as a private resort until 1988, when it was purchased by Fukuyamai International Inc., headquartered in Osaka. Fukuyama then launched plans for rehabilitation of the property as a Japanese American cultural and recreation center and secured its standing as a California Historical Landmark. The hotel and clubhouse burned down in 1980.

In 2003, the property was purchased by the California Department of Parks and Recreation and added to the Henry W. Coe State Park. It is currently closed to the public until a management plan is implemented.


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