Santa Cruz Mountains


The Cats Roadhouse and Tavern
The gateway to the mountain from the Los Gatos side is the Cat's Restaurant and Tavern. For the mountain residents, it is our landmark that tells us we are home! The building, dating back to 1896, has had several lives besides being a tavern. It started as a stage-stop before becoming a roadhouse, serving as a way-station for the horse-drawn lumber trucks coming out of the mountains, and in the 1920s as a well-known rowdy speakeasy and suspected bordello. With the repeal of prohibition in 1933, its popularity waned and the building sat empty for years prior to becoming a real estate office and eventually a gun and sporting goods shop, before becoming a tavern again in 1967. The parking lot was often filled with cars until its popularity declined in the early years of the new century, closing in December of 2006.
Times had changed, the traffic on the Santa Cruz Highway whizzed by with the improvements to the road over the years, morphing the two lane dirt road into the modern four lane asphalt California State Highway 17. The center-divider barriers and overpasses, allowed the amount and flow of traffic to increase dramatically. Driving patterns had changed over the years and roadhouses became passé. The Cats Restaurant sat empty, deteriorating until two visionaries came along and fell in love with the place, Mark Edwards, 49, with the help of his cousin, David Peterson. They thought after a basic remodel the place would be ready for occupation. Unfortunately, the remodel stretched on for years while they painstakingly brought the building up to modern codes. Instead of selling the place, they trudged on until the building was transformed. While the remodeling took place, they combed the countryside collecting memorabilia to embellish their new saloon.

Mark Edwards had built a saloon in upstate New York with his childhood friend, Erik Howard of the New York Giants, and he dreamed of building his own saloon. A local boy, Edwards attended Argonaut Elementary, Redwood Middle, and Saratoga High Schools, graduating in 1981. He moved to Los Gatos in the early 80s, and up on the mountain in 1986. The son of a developer, Edwards followed in his father’s footsteps inventing the ingenious, revolutionary Sun Tunnel Skylight in 1995. Selling Sun Tunnel USA to Velux Solutions in 2002, he now owns NuLight Solutions in Campbell where he is a dealer selling Velux skylights, along with his Sun Tunnels and his latest invention, a solar attic fan.
Driving by the Cats Restaurant everyday on his way to town, remembering his frequent visits for dinner before its previous closing, he dreamed of transforming the building back to its roots, an eighteen century era saloon. He tried to buy the abandon building on three different occasions to find it was being sold to someone else. Those deals fell through and he was finally able to purchase the property in August of 2008. The building is in the County of Santa Clara and the parking lot is in the Town of Los Gatos, the town has asked him to annex, he has declined citing less bureaucracy with the county.

Walking in the building the first day, Edwards fell through the floor in the bathroom, so he knew he was in for some repairs, however he had no idea what he was going to uncover. Major repairs to the structure, made out of redwood timber milled in the mountains, with real rough-cut 2x4s, were required to bring the building up to modern codes. All the floors, insulation, roof, pipes, and heating and air-conditioning systems had to be completely replaced. The kitchen, prep areas and the open oakwood barbecue had to be undated or replaced. Everything salvageable and reusable in the old building was saved.

The open oakwood barbecue was staying, along with the wood and tile mural that graced one wall of the dining room. On the other end of the building, a new grand piano was added to the stage for the nightly music to be featured in the new saloon, and the bar in-between the two would be fully stocked with liquors and the West Coast micro beers they hoped to make their signature. Upstairs, the rustic banquet room, equipped with its own small bar, was to be available for the overflow crowd or for private party rentals. They just had to make it come true, and after over three years of negotiations with the county, and renovating while running into one set back after another, they finally opened at the end of 2011, with a couple of soft openings before their Grand Opening on New Year’s Eve 2011.

The outside looks exactly like it has for as far back as everyone’s memory, with the addition of a new front entrance featuring a ramp made from a one hundred and twelve year old redwood water tank found in the Santa Cruz Mountains, adorned with authentic Wells Fargo Stagecoach wagon wells. Inside reminds us of the old place, with a lot of new memorabilia from the old west added in for our pleasure. Mosey on up to the bar and sit yourself down on a genuine saddle and glaze around at the numerous reminders of the old west. Most of the original Tiffany chandeliers decorated with cats, hang in the dining room and the mural above the stage, painted from old photographs by Able Gonzales, is a portrayal of the town of Alma, now beneath the waters of Lexington Reservoir.

The Cats had gotten its name from the two very large statues that guard the entrance to the large Mediterranean house that is perched on the hill above the restaurant. The statues, modeled in clay, were cast in plaster, then poured with colored cement in 1922 by sculptor, Robert Paine, as a commission for Charles Erskine Scott Wood and his wife, Sara Bard Fields. Wood and Fields purchased 34 acres in 1919, which included the restaurant, with the hope of building a “castle in the sky” in which to be able to write without being interrupted by visitors. They planted a vineyard in protest of prohibition and had the cats sculpted as a gatepost to their retreat. “Their object, in placing these cats where they now stand, was to impress Californians with the idea that sculpture, in the mild climate of our state, can be used to beautify our highways, as well as parks and museums. Indeed, if we are to make youth of our country interested in art, they ought to live with it daily. It ought to be part of their common experience‒not something set aside for the occasional visit to a museum or a park.” (Los Gatos News, Aug. 11, 1927) The Cats are eight feet tall and ten feet wide at their largest circumference. They stand on a pedestal that is one and a half feet by four feet. Leo and Leona, as they are called, stand proud at the entrance seemingly smelling the delicious barbecue, welcoming all who come to their namesake restaurant and tavern.

“What I wanted to achieve here was to have the best barbecue you could ever experience.” says Edwards, so with the help of a neighbor, he and David attended a pit master class in Kentucky, taught by the Kansas City Baron of
Barbecue, Paul Kirk. They became such good friends with Paul Kirk that he has helped them set up their menu featuring oakwood barbecue. Ribs, pulled pork, tri tip, rib eye steaks, and chicken sizzle over the original barbecue nestled in the corner of the dining room where patrons watch and smell their food being prepared.
Music was an important addition to the previous Cats Restaurant and the new owners are carrying on that tradition, with one or two bands per evening. Sometimes starting with a light jazz or blues band, moving into a soft rock or rock and roll band later in the evening. In the past, two of the previous owners of the restaurant, singers Diane Ogalvie and Tony Crawley would entertain in the evenings. In the 20s and 30s, during the days of Charles Erskine Scott Wood and Sara Bard Field, when the building was a speakeasy, music would have been a big part of the evening, as we all know liquor and music go together.
The new Cats Restaurant and Tavern is open:
Tuesday 4PM - 12AM
Wednesday 4PM - 12AM
Thursday 4PM - 2AM
Friday 4PM - 2AM
Saturday 4PM - 2AM
Sunday 4PM - 10AM
They have purchased their own shuttle. It runs on Friday and Saturday nights or by request from the Public Parking across the street from the Toll House Hotel.
Who Were Colonel Charles Erskine Scott Wood
and Sara Bard Field?
Charles Erskine Scott Wood was a complicated man who had several successful careers in his 92 years of life, besides building the mansion above Los Gatos and having his beloved cats statues that have entranced countless generations who have traveled on the main road between San Jose and Santa Cruz. He was a Colonel in the Army, a wildly successful and influential attorney and civic leader in Portland, Oregon, a painter, and a prolific writer. Born in 1852, the son of the Surgeon General of the United States Navy. His father wanted his son to follow in his footsteps while young Wood was artistic, wanting to be a painter and a writer. His father responded by having his close friend, President Ulysses S. Grant arrange Erskine’s entrance into West Point. Although Erskine had numerous demerits, he also had one of the highest grades in drawing at the academy. After graduation in 1874, he was sent west as an Army Officer. After a scientific expedition to Alaska where he lived with an indigenous tribe, recording his impressions of their lifestyle, a war brewing with the Nez Perces Indians brought him back to Oregon to help resettle the Indians onto reservations. The white settlers were encroaching on the Nez Perces native lands, and the Chief Joseph Campaign ensued. The Indian prisoners were placed under Lieutenant Wood’s control as General Howard’s aide-de-camp and he began to see the injustice of the situation. On October 5, 1877, when Chief Joseph of the Wallowa band of Nez Perce surrendered, giving a moving speech, C.E.S. Wood transcribed his “I Will Fight No More Forever” speech and it was published throughout the country. Wood and Chief Joseph became close friends. Wood even sent his teenage son to live with Chief Joseph on the reservation for a year.
In 1882, C.E.S. Wood earned a law degree at Columbia and two years later moved his growing family to Portland where he became an attorney for the rich and powerful and an advocate for the poor. As his prestige grew, he and his wife, Nanny, hosted lavish parties and he became embroiled in politics. Woods ran for US Senator from Oregon in 1905, but was defeated. During his campaign he called for women’s right to vote, a full seven years before Oregon and 15 years before the federal government granted women’s suffrage. The next few years were tumultuous with labor unrest, worker strikes and their battles with the government. Woods displeasure with the outcome of the Chief Joseph Campaign and the government’s refusal to live up to their promises to the Nez Perce Indians, caused him to reject white imperialism. At this point, Erskine had started writing and painting, even renting a small office in town where he could write in quiet. During this time, he became an accomplished painter, dabbling in various mediums.
In 1911, civil rights lawyer Clarence Darrow and a social worker from Chicago, Marion Fields, visited Woods and his wife in Portland. Marion’s sister, Sara Bard Field also lived in Portland with her husband, Baptist Minister Albert Erghott and their two children. Sara was a very attractive twenty eight year old journalist and poet who was involved in the women’s suffrage movement. Wood, the fifty eight year old father of five grown children and a pillar of the community was taken with this young forward-thinking woman.
Sara took the first step in 1912, by moving to Nevada where she could file for divorce for incompatibility. The scandal rocked Portland society, causing Reverend Erghott to be transferred to a church in Berkeley, California. He was awarded custody of their two children and Sara moved to San Francisco to be near her children for visitation. Wood’s wife of thirty five years denied him a divorce because of her Catholicism, so he spent time with Sara on Russian Hill, enjoying their association with other writers and artists in San Francisco, reluctantly returning to his law practice in Portland.
Woods law practice continued to prosper representing banks, railroads, and public utilities. He is said to have received the first million-dollar legal fee in the United States involving the sale of his wagon road grant to the railroad (Los Gatos Times Observer, Oct. 18, 1988). However, his interest in practicing law had declined and his interests in civil rights took precedence. While Wood was battling civil rights in Portland, Sara Bard Field went on a cross-country speaking tour in 1915 for the women’s suffrage movement, delivering a petition to President Woodrow Wilson in support of the women’s suffrage movement.
Sara Bard Field, born September 1, 1882 in Cincinnati, Ohio led a sheltered life before marrying Albert Ehrgott, a man twice her age, when she was only 18. She followed him to India & Burma doing missionary work and became aware of the inequality between the wealthy and the underprivileged. They returned to Ohio to find their newfound socialism was not in favor with their parishioners, so they relocated to Portland, Oregon where she met Erskine, her soulmate.

In 1918, Sara was involved in an automobile accident on the way to meet Erskine, and her son was killed. Erskine Wood cared for Sara through her grief, finally deciding life was too short, he left his wife. He was sixty-seven years old, the father of five grown children, and he planned on devoting the rest of his life to writing, painting, and being with Sara Bard Field.

They purchased their 34 acres of mountainous wooded land right on the edge of the town of Los Gatos in 1818. The statues and the vineyard were finished in 1922 and after they returned from Europe, a Mediterranean style home with a view of the Santa Clara Valley was built with the idea of providing seclusion and comfort for the owner. In January 1925 when construction got underway, Erskine and Sara often stayed in the only livable structure on the property, a three room cabin made out of rough cut redwood (Barriga, Joan 1989). After the house was finished, they spent their lives being creative and entertaining many of the affluent of the day. In 1933, Nanny Wood passed, enabling Erskine at the age of 81, to marry the love of his life. Erskine and Sara finally married in 1938, and six years later, on January 22, 1944 Erskine Wood died on his beloved property. Sara Bard Fields stayed on at the house until 1955 when she moved to Berkeley to be near her daughter, dying in 1974.

Special Thanks To:
Mark Edwards and David Peterson, co-owners of the Cats Restaurant and Tavern
George Barriaga, husband of the late writer Joan Barriaga

Barriaga, Joan, The Raucous Bluejay: Charles Erskine Scott Wood, 1989
Los Gatos News, August 11, 1927
Los Gatos Times Observer, Oct. 18, 1988
Oregon Historical Quarterly, Two Rooms: The Life of C.E.S. Wood, Spring 2005
Oregon Public Broadcasting- Videorecording, C.E.S. Wood, 2008
Wikipedia, Charles Erskine Scott Wood
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