The city’s history began thousands of years ago before Europeans settled the area now known as Los Altos, CA. At that time, Los Altos was occupied by its first known inhabitants, who came to be called the Ohlone Indians. Ohlone, which means “people of the west,” is the name used today for the group that early Spanish colonizers referred to as the Costeños or “people of the coast.” These names were used because the tribes did not have a name that they used themselves. While these tribes flourished before the Spaniards arrived in what was the densest American Indian population north of Mexico, once missions were established, the Ohlone’s numbers were decimated. Few survived their servitude underneath the Spanish missionaries, and those who did were not allowed to practice their customs. By the time Mexico began governance over California, the area that makes up Los Altos was a different place than the one the Ohlone had known, but it had not yet become the city we know today. That development was instigated by the creation of the railroad and later by the technology firms of Silicon Valley.
History of Los Altos, California
In the 1800’s the land that now encompasses both Los Altos and Los Altos Hills was included in two Mexican land grants, Rancho la Purissima Concepcion and Rancho San Antonio. By the late 1800s, much of Los Altos’ main town site was owned by Sarah Winchester, who was the widow of the William Wirt Winchester, son and sole heir of Oliver Winchester, manufacturer of the famous Winchester repeating rifle. She owned 100 acres. In 1906 the Peninsula Interurban Railway bought the land from Winchester so its new commuter trains that ran from San Francisco to San Jose and Santa Cruz would have the right away, according to the Los Altos Town Crier’s historical account.
Upon the arrival of the railway, the Altos Land Company was formed with a man named Paul Shoup at its helm. Shoup would become known as the “father of Los Altos,” as he helped create the town and make it popular, building several summer homes on University Avenue, which still sit there today.
With its mild weather and new transportation system, businesses and families began to settle in the area. By 1952, Los Altos voted to incorporate so it would not be annexed by surrounding communities. Los Altos Hills followed four years later with its own incorporation to protect its one-acre zoning.
Today, Los Altos is home to many high-tech executives who work in Silicon Valley. This type of resident has strongly influenced the community. Highly affluent and educated, the population has created an enviable community with top schools, a mild climate, a small-town atmosphere, a volunteer spirit, and cultural awareness. The town is also very family oriented and hosts a multitude of events, from Kiwanis Pet Parade, the Arts and Wine Festival and the Festival of Light Parade to the Los Altos Fall Festival, Friday Movie Nights and Fine Art in the Park.