The new permanent exhibition being installed at the Los Altos History Museum features several notable residents from the early days (pre-1950) of the community.
The exhibition, “Making Connections: Stories from the Land,” spotlights people from across four sections of the display: Leland Smith (the town), Mary Golda Ross (the valley), Rose Marie Taaffe (the hills) and Shoichi Kagawa (the creeks). This article focuses on Kagawa.
Kagawa arrived in San Francisco in 1905 from Japan by way of Hawaii. He worked various jobs, learned English and eventually settled in Los Altos, where he became caretaker for the Paul Shoup estate circa 1913. Shoup, considered by some as the founder of Los Altos, was a Southern Pacific railroad executive who established a train stop and developed homes.
Kagawa saved money so that his wife, Natsuyo, could join him from Japan in 1918. He resided on the Shoup estate for 30 years before being forced to live in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II.
A museum oral history described Kagawa as a model employee. He built a Japanese garden and koi pond along Adobe Creek. His son Isamu (Doug) helped haul large stones for the garden down from the mountains and had vivid memories of the winter rains when the creek would overflow its banks and the water noise became terrifying.
The Kagawa family helped other Japanese farm families who were having a difficult time making ends meet. Kagawa’s obituary in the Palo Alto Times referred to him as “The Governor of the Japanese People of Los Altos.”
The family’s five children were born and raised in Los Altos, attended the Los Altos Grammar School, went to the Japanese language school on the Furuichi property after their daily classes at the grammar school and played with neighborhood children.
In 1942, by executive order of President Franklin Roosevelt, the family was forcibly removed to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. A neighbor saw them off with coffee and doughnuts as they boarded the train. After World War II, they lived in Chicago. Eventually, some family members returned to California.
The Kagawa family was “loved and respected” by the Shoup family, according to a museum oral history transcript with Kagawa’s daughter, Fumiko Kagawa Lee. The Shoups kept the Kagawas’ furniture and other belongings during their internment and helped the family resettle after the war.
“It’s exciting to share stories representing our diverse culture,” said Diane Holcomb, lead curator of the Creeks Section. “The Kagawa family stood out for their generosity in helping many Japanese farm families who were having a difficult time making ends meet. The Garden House at Shoup Park is located where the family used to live when Shoichi Kagawa tended the Paul Shoup estate, and is inspired by the beautiful Japanese garden he created, with its fish pond, bridge and bamboo chairs.”
The new permanent history museum exhibition, set to open early next year, ensures this notable Japanese American family from early Los Altos will be remembered.
The Los Altos History Museum is located at 51 S. San Antonio Road. For more information on the permanent exhibition, visit losaltoshistory.org.
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