The California Town Named After Wild Cats

Caitlin Dempsey


An orange tabby concrete sculpture in a tree with lights.

Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains lies a Silicon Valley town by the named of Los Gatos. Spanish for “the cats”, the original name of this smaller Silicon Valley town was La Rinconada de Los Gatos (corner of the cats). The name stems from the screams of mountain lions heard by Mexican settlers who came to the area and established the town in 1868. Los Gatos was incorporated in 1887.

Today, Los Gatos lives up to its name with its many artistic references to not only the two native California wild cats, the mountain lion and the bobcat, but also to the domestic cat.

Mountain Lion entrance signs for Los Gatos

Homage to the town’s namesakes can be seen dotted throughout the town. Visitors to Los Gatos who cross at some of the town’s most trafficked points of entry will see metal cat sculptures created by Seattle artist Matt Babock. Babock was selected from 14 submission as part of the Los Gatos Arts Commission’s effort to bring in new signage that was more aligned with the town’s art focused scene.

Motorists who take the Lark Avenue exit off Highway 17 are greeting with one of the sculptures created by Babock. A five-and-half foot gold abstract mountain lion sits perched on top of a blue sign with the name of the town.

An abstract golden mountain lion sculpture on top of a dark blue sign with orange lettering that says, "Los Gatos".
An abstract mountain lion metal sculpture greets motorists entering Los Gatos designed by artist Matt Babcock. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

This isn’t the first time that Los Gatos has commissioned artists. Pedestrians strolling down one of the shopping streets in downtown Los Gatos might be unaware that they are being “watched.” Peer up into some of the trees that line the shopping district and you might see a pair of eyes staring right back at you.

Cat Walk in downtown Los Gatos

An orange tabby concrete sculpture in a tree with lights.
The concrete cat sculptures were securely fastened to the trees. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

The artwork was created by Solomon Bassoff from the Sierra Nevada based Faducci art studio. Ten sculptured cement cats were installed in 2014 along North Santa Cruz Avenue between Main and Bachman streets in downtown Los Gatos. Known as “Cat Walk” each cat sculpture was installed high up in the city trees.

A sculpture of a grey tabby stares down from a tree.
A cat sculpture perched in a tree in Downtown Los Gatos. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

Art Deco cat

It’s not just the trees where cats can be found. Los Gatos Theatre is adorned by a stylized silver Art Deco cat. The theater was first built in 1915 and was called The Strand. After a fire in 1929, the theater was rebuilt with an Art Deco motif.

A silver Art Deco cat in front of a box office.
The Los Gatos Theater was redesigned in 1929 to feature an Art Deco style. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

Leo and Leona

Los Gatos has a long tradition of combing art and cats. Located just south of downtown Los Gatos off Highway 17, a pair of white bobcats stand guard at the entrance of a private driveway. Known affectionately as Leo and Leona, the sculptures, created by Robert Treat Paine, were installed in 1922 by writer Colonel Charles Erskine Scott Wood and poet, suffragist Sara Bard Field.

A black and white photo of two white bobcats at the foot of a dirt road.
A postcard from 1922 showing Leo and Leona at the foot of the private road. Photo: via Town of Los Gatos photo archives, public domain.

Robert Treat Paine studied cats at the San Francisco Zoo as his inspiration for the twin statues that resemble bobcats. The eight-foot high cat sculptures are made of poured concrete and were originally painted a pale brown color. Today the two wild cats stand as bright white sculptures framing a gated entrance.

It was the property’s second owners who gave the two statues their nicknames that have endured to this day. When sports psychologist Dr. Bruce Ogilvie and his wife, Diane, purchased the property in the middle of the 20th century, they decided to name the cat on the left with the alert eyes, “Leona” and the cat on the right with the squinting eyes, “Leo.”

The Cats Roadhouse

A smaller duplicate pair of cats next door greet diners as they enter The Cats, a restaurant and bar that dates back to 1896 when it was a weigh-in station for loggers from the redwoods into San Jose. The Cats has had a colorful history, having been a bordello, a speakeasy, and a mixed-used building housing a realty office, gun shop and sporting goods store. Since 1967, the Cats has reverted to serving drinks and food.

A view of a restaurant with two small white cat sculptures in front.
The Cats bar and restaurant has a smaller version of Leo and Leona out front. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

Wildcat redwood sculpture at Los Gatos High

Greeting passersby in front of Los Gatos High is a unique sculpture of the schools mascot, the Wildcat. The wood sculpture came about as a way to pay homage to the fifty year old Sequoia redwood that died after a prolonged drought in 2016. The tree was cut down, leaving a 12 foot high stump on the expansive lawn that fronts the school.

A few months later, German artist Steffen Merla took a chainsaw to the stump and carved a sculpture of the Los Gatos wildcat mascot.

A wooden sculpture of a wildcat in front of a large lawn with a building in the background.
German artist Steffen Merla carved the Los Gatos’ wildcat mascot from the stump of a downed Sequoia redwood tree in 2016. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

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Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey holds both a master's in Geography from UCLA and a Master of Library and Information Science. She is the editor of and an avid researcher of geography and feline topics. A lifelong cat owner, Caitlin currently has three rescued cats: an orange tabby, a gray tabby, and a black cat.