Alma College (aka: Bear Creek Redwoods, Daybreak School)

(December 2018 update: An interesting video of the Daybreak School, that operated here in the 1970’s …and, yes, the bulldozers have arrived and they are preparing to open the site to the public.)

How much do you know about the “Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve”? It’s right off Highway 17 and Bear Creek Road, just above Los Gatos, California.

Well…it’s not open to the public yet, but it’s very easy to get a permit to visit and it’s a very interesting place!

(Get your car’s license plate number and apply here a few days in advance: )

Why is it interesting? Well it was the site of a wealthy individual in the early 20th century. He had extensive fountains and a man-made waterfall. It was then sold to the Jesuits around the time of the Depression and was home to “Alma College” until 1969. There was then a small private school there for a few years, then it passed through the hands of  few owners. Since 1999 it’s been owned by the Midpeninsula Open Space District (“Mid-Pen”), which is taking the slow steps to open it to the public in 2019. Read about those efforts and more history here:

Why am I blogging about it? Two reasons: (1) GO SEE IT before the bulldozers arrive. Mid-Pen is proposing to demolish all the buildings except the main chapel and library building. and (2) when I was there recently, we met someone who offered a collection of historical photos from when the Jesuits were there. She didn’t know the origin of the photos, but they do seem like they were taken by the Jesuits. If you know anything more about them, send me a comment (link at bottom). I’d like to give credit where credit is due, and maybe learn a bit more.

Anyway…back to YOUR upcoming visit and the photos.

After you enter the gated parking area, you’ll be in a small parking area. It used to look like these photos (below), but not any more! Note the pond in the background.



From there, walk straight back, with the pond on your right, and you’ll see a lot of fenced-off derelict buildings.


Study the roofline of the photo above and the photo below. Same building!


I believe this current photo (below) is the chapel building


The chapel building (below). Again, study the roofline to be sure you’re looking at the same building!


More of the chapel (below), during a rare snowfall:


More of the chapel, with the flagpole in the background, near the entrance area:



Towards the rear of the main cluster of buildings, you’ll see these brick columns:


I believe the above brick columns match the following three pictures. This place was beautiful “back in the day”!




Below, I believe, is the library building. (Photo credit: Sharon Lum) Notice the tall, smashed windows, then look at the second photo below. See also pictures #7 and #31 in the Mercury News article.



Below are a few more historical pictures of the grounds, including many of the same buildings, as well as the pond, which is at the right foreground of the main buildings.






The picture below, dated 5/5/1942, is in front of the chapel. An interesting rumor that I heard from this individual we met, was that the hilltop at the back of the property had a ham radio antenna, which received the first mainland report of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Is that true? Quicker than military communication channels? Who knows for sure, but I did send a comment to Mid-Pen suggesting that be investigated as part of the current historic assessment of the property.


My advice is to go see it now, including walking counter-clockwise around the main buildings, onto the lower road. From down there, you’ll get quite a view of these (potentially historic) structures, as well as what looks like a huge (dry) man-made waterfall.

The adjacent historic stables, mentioned in the Mercury-News article, have an active Facebook page and some great programs!

That’s it! If you have anything to add, please send me a comment. (Comments are reviewed by me, before publishing. If you wish to send me a note, that won’t be published as a comment, that works too!)



About AlphaRoaming

Random outdoor roaming: hiking, cycling, camping, backpacking & plotting more of the above Grew up on the edges of the Adirondack mountains of New York, just a bit west of Vermont. Now living in Silicon Valley and venturing out when and where I can!
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15 Responses to Alma College (aka: Bear Creek Redwoods, Daybreak School)

  1. BJ G. says:

    Fascinating! I love the local history you’ve published here about Alma College. You’ve motivated me to file an application for a visit. Thanks again!
    (No need to publish my comment, thx.)

  2. Margaret Ma says:

    Hi, enjoyed your blog. I found it when researching a couple minutes of 1934 film my grandfather shot and the archivist for the California Jesuits identified it as the Sacred Heart Novitiate and Alma College. I edited it together with titles. The Alma College section starts about halfway. You can view it here:

    • BJ G. says:

      Thanks Margaret, for editing and posting the video on line. I watched it 2x, pausing in several places to study the scenes.

  3. Don Whiting says:

    Santa Clara University Archive dept. has a lot of information about Alma College. A lot of the Jesuits’ at Santa Clara went to Alma College which was affiliated with SCU, according to my wife who works there. She actually knows people that have personal knowledge about all this. Now that you got me interested, I might look into this some more.

  4. Carol Musser says:

    I really enjoyed seeing these photos and I learned more than I knew about Alma College. A beautiful place in its day and still ill is today. I hope to go there soon to see it before any demolition and changes.

  5. Heather says:

    I remember going here on a field trip back in elementary school (in the 1980s) and only have a few memories, so was just poking around trying to figure out the history.

  6. Has this place been demolished yet?

  7. Dennis Bilardi says:

    I lived there for a while, unsure of dates, 1969-1971, it was beautiful

  8. David May says:

    Yes, there was an ham radio station there on the hill behind the college. The station was operated by some of the priests, including Father Leonard Kaufer. We also knew Fathers Charles Henry, Dare Morgan, Francis Greene, and more, all of whom would come to St. Angela’s in Pacific Grove to help out on weekends; we became quite friendly with them, and visited at Alma several times in the mid-50’s. I remember the ham station quite well, including the big vertical antenna on the top of a water tank. The Roman Plunge was beautiful, and we had a memorable picnic there with our priest friends. It’s sad to see how far the college has fallen into disrepair. It was a beautiful place in the 50’s.

  9. irishman5 says:

    It is fun to see your photos. We were married there in August 1974 when it was Daybreak.

  10. Dar says:

    My wedding was there in 1979. Such a beautiful setting

  11. Carroll says:

    Hi , I see that this was posted many years ago but found it while looking for a classmate. I graduated from Daybreak in the summer of 1974. And actually lived on the property as a caretaker for the patented rose garden. My residence was the ham radio station. It was a magical place. With a full wall of windows to overlook the valley and watch the rowing crews on Lexington reservoir. Those tall columns were also the front entrance to a wonderful pool. There was a company called Bob’s salvage that was taking down the dormitories & selling off the architectural wood. I still have a framed mirror made with the vintage redwood from that building. It was a wonderful place…. I would take scrap wood up the hill everyday for the stove st the station… it had a water barrel outside for water a wood burning stove for heat and no electricity … those were the days !

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