Johnson’s Drug Store: Pioneer Family Links with Local History

The Johnson Drugstore Building Today

The Johnson Drugstore Building Today

[Note: The bulk of this article was originally published in Volume 19, Number 26 Week of April 3, 2005 WWW.PINNACLENEWS.COM

Johnson’s Drug Store: Pioneer Family Links with Local History

By Elizabeth Barratt

The old Johnson’s Drug Store building at 7451 Monterey Street was once part of a 1920s era downtown revitalization effort. The reinforced concrete structure, with its pressed-brick exterior, was completed in 1924. Despite hosting a series of other businesses since 1971, when the last Johnson druggist died and a pharmacy ceased to exist on the premises, the building’s interior remains surprisingly intact. Inside the main space, original oak and glass display cases still line the walls and [until recently] at the back, an etched glass partition announcing “Prescriptions” in Art Nouveau lettering [marked] the spot where owner Martin Johnson, then his brother Garrett, stood duty near an ornate cash register ready to fill prescriptions, sell cosmetics and give advice on over-the-counter remedies.

The Original Prescriptions Counter

The Original Prescriptions Counter

Some of the furnishings go all the way back to the time of their father, Edward Johnson, who operated the first Johnson’s Drug Store in town. Martin and Garrett’s father, pharmacist Edward Franklin Johnson, born in newly incorporated city of Gilroy in April, 1870, began operating the first Johnson’s Drug Store in a wooden building at the site in 1896. Active in community affairs, Ed Johnson also served on the board of Dr. Jonas Clark’s Gilroy Private Hospital as part of an association formed to oversee operations of the facility.

[March, 2013: The cabinets that lined the walls on either side of the interior are still in the building. The still have the original glass doors. – JR]

[Ed’s Dad, Dr. James Johnson] practiced medicine during those earliest years of Gilroy’s incorporation, [and]was praised by the local Editor for the civic improvements he made on his block, described as being “on the east side of Monterey Street opposite Fourth Street.” In an attempt to spur other business owners to follow suit, the Oct. 31, 1868 Gilroy Advocate urged downtown business owners to follow the doctor’s example, noting “The sidewalk in front of the Johnson block on Monterey St. was all completely floored early this week at the entire expense of property owner. If all the rest of our city’s properties fronting Monterey would now follow the worthy example of Dr. Johnson, we would soon have beautiful sidewalks.”

[Ed] was married to Elsie Abeel Garrett of Gilroy on Feb. 20, 1898. Their son, Edward Martin Johnson, who went by the name Martin, was born on June 4, 1901. Garrett Abeel Johnson came along two years later, on Aug. 10, 1903. Ironically, Edward Johnson died on son Garrett’s 14th birthday in 1917.

In 1921, Edward’s older son, Martin, completed his pharmaceutical studies and graduated from the University of California College of Pharmacology. The following year, in May 1922, Martin assumed management of his late father’s business. Early success enabled him to purchase two more pharmacies, adding a Johnson’s Drug Store in Morgan Hill in 1923, and in 1927 a Johnson’s Drug Store in Watsonville. In between purchasing the two branch stores, Martin had his father’s two-story old wooden drug store torn down. In 1924 his new, single-story drug store, built by Palmer and Gurries, went up next door to the new medical office building of Drs. Heverland and Elmer Chesbro (7445 Monterey Street.)

After Martin’s death on May 13, 1945, his brother Garrett took over the pharmacy, operating the store until an automobile accident took his life on Feb. 16, 1971.

Following the 1971 death of pharmacist Garrett Johnson, Johnson’s Drug Store changed hands, becoming Crystal Radio and TV until 1980, then for many years The Nimble Thimble occupied the premises. For a time in the mid-1990s the space was turned into a coffee house. Still an architectural anchor on the block, its oak and glass lined interior adding an air reminiscent of the historic family pharmacy, the Johnson’s Drug Store space [was most recently] home to The Pinnacle’s South Valley offices.

[March, 2013: The Johnson’s Drug Store has been empty for the past few years., since The Pinnacle closed its doors. The City of Gilroy has undertaken a project to provide a pedestrian passageway, or paseo, linking the parking lot behind the building with Monterey Street. The building immediately North of the Johnson’s Drug Store was torn down to make way for the paseo. During this project, it was discovered that the unreinforced masonry wall adjacent to the paseo would have to be replaced for the safety of the pedestrians. This effort is scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2013. – JR]

Ancestry Hints for Garret Abeel Johnson

 4 possible matches found on

Father: Edward Franklin “Ed” Johnson b: Apr 1870 in Gilroy, Santa Clara Co, California 
Mother: Elsie Abeel Garrett b: Aug 1874 in of Sacramento, Sacramento Co, California

Title: Biography of Julius Martin online at 

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