Where is Gilroy?

Restrain the impulse to reply “Gilroy was here” (I’ll get to that below); the title is an echo of my 7/7/15 posting “Where is Ojai?”, which was about whether the city of Ojai, in Ventura County CA, is in California’s Central Coast region or in in the South Coast region (along with Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties).

Just so for Gilroy, a city in (far southern) Santa Clara county: is it in the Central Coast region, or in the Bay Area region on the northern California coast?

Ojai and the rest of Ventura County are in a cultural liminal zone, between central and south; and Gilroy and neighboring Santa Cruz county are in a cultural liminal zone, between central (with small cities, picturesque open spaces, and extensive rural or semi-rural areas) and Bay Area (mostly dense urban and surburban settlement).

I stumbled onto the Gilroy question through food, specifically through Original California Style Hot Pepper Sauce, made in Gilroy (but encountered on a table at the Peninsula Fountain Grill, here in Palo Alto), whose makers advertise:

Pepper Plant Pepper Sauce was developed by a lover of spicy peppers who wanted to enjoy their unique taste year round. Pepper Plant quickly became a favorite of the California Central Coast.

The Pepper Plant folks seem pretty clear that they’re on the Central Coast (along with Watsonville, Salinas, Monterey, and Carmel) — at the northern tip of the region, granted, but in it.

The product.

(#1) Original California Style Hot Pepper Sauce, Chunky Garlic Hot Pepper Sauce, Chipotle Sauce, Habaneros – Extra Hot! Pepper Sauce; also available: BBQ Sauce, Chunky Style Salsa, Dry Rub Seasoning

Amazon.com description:

The original California hot sauce! Blend of jalapeno and red peppers. This sauce is a mainstay in most restaurants in Monterey and Carmel. Adds some zing to taco’s, eggs, fish, steaks, bloody marys, or whatever you wish to top.

(Quick review of the original: very flavorful, not too hot or too vinegary, but salty.)

On the parent company (verbatim from their website):

Established in 1933, Blossom Valley Foods [20 Casey Ln, Gilroy CA 95020] started as a distributor of fresh fruits. Over the years, the company expanded to manufacture sauces, condiments, syrup and juices.

Well established companies such as, Williams-Sonoma and Trader Joe’s, have entrusted us to produce some of their most popular products. Thousands of products available in grocery stores worldwide are produced daily in our modern manufacturing plant.

Blossom Valley Foods also produces its own line of unique products such as: The Pepper Plant family of hot sauces, condiments, BBQ sauce and salsa; Old Recipe Brand of non-alcoholic cocktail mixes; Treasure Island vinegars.

The location. Start with a map of the California coast, going from the center of the Central Coast (San Luis Obispo) north to Gilroy and beyond:


Then focusing specifically on Santa Clara County (in pink):


Gilroy is well south of San Jose (which is certainly part of the Bay Area), out in the country and rurally oriented. From Wikipedia:

Gilroy is a city located in Northern California’s Santa Clara County. The city’s population was 48,821 at the 2010 United States Census.

Gilroy is well known for its garlic crop and for the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, featuring various garlicky foods such as garlic ice cream, leading to the city’s nickname as the “Garlic Capital of the World”. Gilroy also produces mushrooms in considerable quantity. Boutique wine production is a large part of Gilroy’s western portion, mostly consisting of family estates around the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west.

Gilroy is Garlic City; nearby Watsonville is Artichoke City. Avocados are everywhere.

Then there’s Santa Cruz. Now with close ties to San Jose (32 miles “over the mountain” from Santa Cruz via CA 17), so often treated as part of the Bay Area, but it’s also the quintessential California beach town (with UCSC in a redwood forest on the mountainside above the town), along the coast with agricultural land and scenic landscape both north and south, so that it feels in many ways like part of the Central Coast, and is often so treated. It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping.

Treatments of geographic regions for cultural, geological, and biological purposes are often shoehorned into areas defined by political boundaries, just because the political boundaries are (relatively) crisp and easily available, even though they’re often not what you want for scientific purposes. The maps in DARE (The Dictionary of American Regional English) use state boundaries, rather than true dialect boundaries (which don’t align well with state boundaries), because dialect boundaries aren’t particularly crisp and are likely to be unfamiliar to readers.

Consider this map of the Central Coast (from my earlier Ojai posting), which uses county boundaries.


Santa Cruz and its county are liminal areas, but Gilroy doesn’t even get a chance at being located in the Central Coast region, because it’s in Santa Clara county (ok, out in the boonies 33 miles south of San Jose, but in Santa Clara county nevertheless).

At the other end of the map in #4, Ojai is culturally a Central Coast place, while further south in Ventura county, Ventura and Oxnard are part of Greater Los Angeles and should probably be treated as part of the South Coast.

Bonus: Gilroy and Kilroy. Whatever. From Wikipedia:


Kilroy was here is an American popular culture and a meme expression that became popular during World War II; it is typically seen in graffiti. Its origins are debated, but the phrase and the distinctive accompanying doodle became associated with GIs in the 1940s – a bald-headed man (sometimes depicted as having a few hairs) with a prominent nose peeking over a wall with the fingers of each hand clutching the wall.

“Kilroy” was the American equivalent of the Australian Foo was here which originated during World War I and later became popular among school children.

“Mr Chad” or just “Chad” was the version that became popular in the United Kingdom. The character of Chad may have been derived from a British cartoonist in 1938, possibly pre-dating “Kilroy was here”.

One Response to “Where is Gilroy?”

  1. Joseph F Foster Says:

    Re “Kilroy was here.”, Rick Atkinson* (p.517) indicates that it first started showing up in North Africa as the US 1st Armored and 9th Infantry Divisions started moving into Ferryville (near Bizerte) in Tunisia, in early May 1943, shortly before the end of the North African campaign.
    Atkinson, Rick
    2002 An Army at Dawn:The War in North Africa 1942-1943. NY: Picador (Henry Holt).

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