The Ghosts of Gilroy’s Past

Historical Society will premiere collection of films from the
1920s through 1950s
Gilroy – The faces you may not recognize. Even the places might not seem familiar. But they are the ghosts of Gilroy’s past, lifted from 16mm and 35mm movies housed at the Gilroy Museum and preserved on digital film.

The Gilroy Historical Society will premiere “Scenes From Gilroy Past”, a collection of four short films from the 1920s to the 1950s at the museum later this month.

“It’s exciting – even though I can’t identify the people, just to see the city at that time … I just never thought I’d see moving pictures of this time in Gilroy,” said Phill Laursen, a Historical Society board member. “It’s really pretty fascinating.”

The Historical Society applied for a grant from the Gilroy Foundation to transfer the film from celluloid to digital tape because projectors to play the reels are rare. The tapes were virtually inaccessible to Gilroy residents before now.

One film was rescued from a waste basket, another was found in the basement of Wheeler Auditorium. Several were donated by the estate of Justin Byers.

The films do not have sound, and the Historical Society is hoping longtime community members will be able to identify some of the individuals and locations pictured. Once more is known about the films, the Society plans to add narration and sound tracks.

“We’re really hoping for some leads,” Laursen said.

The longest film featured is called Gilroy Gymkhana and lasts 14 minutes. Beginning with a parade around the gymkhana track and moving to formations in midfield, the film goes on to show bronco riding, calf roping, bull riding, and steer wrestling. The date is believed to be sometime in the mid-1950s.

A second film titled Gilroy National Guard at Camp San Luis Obispo features shots of a squad in Scout-like uniforms marching through the back country, with scenes including a campfire, signaling with flags, cutting wood, and various camp scenes.

Society members are hoping to unlock the secrets of who the people are that appear in the footage.

A four-minute segment titled Armistice Day is believed to have been shot in the early 1920s. The segment shows the enactment of a battle and a parade marking Armistice Day in downtown Gilroy – before the days of Chips N Salsa and Econo Furniture.

Laursen contacted Sal Tomasello, Gilroy High School’s former Athletic Director, to help shed some light on the last film, a four-minute football segment of a championship game between the Hollister Legion Team and GHS.

But the identities of Gilroy’s championship football team remain unknown. Even the date is foggy.

The film’s canister was label ‘1911,’ but the film includes scenes of Armistice Day, which was not declared a holiday until 1919.

Anyone with more information or who possesses additional footage is asked to come forward at the premiere. The digital tape will be available for loan, purchase, or simply to view at the museum.

Admission is free. Popcorn and soda will be served at the premiere on Jan. 28 at 1:30pm.