Ralph works at the California Room in San Jose State University. It is located next to the John Steinbeck Center and is filled with books, maps and archival documents from San Jose. We got to talking about Russian history in Bay Area, Almaden Quicksilver Mine and Ralph’s passion which is the Japanese American Baseball history.
Ralph is a local. He had lived in the tract (name for parcels of development) since it’s conception in 1956. He had many pictures on his computer. He had many pictures on his computer of the old green orchard days and recalls the pre-development era where him and his friends used to run through the orchard near by.
"I used to come up here on the hill and have my lunch. I remember thinking, wow this place is changing fast," says Ralph with a sense of nostalgia but strength of his endurance through seeing it change.
The goal for this Sunday was to find the mine cave that him and his friends used to go into during childhood. We walk to the top of the hill around the church look at Mt. Umunhum on the west and Lick Observatory on the east.
We both talked about the deep history under all these developments. He mentioned that there was a Native American Cemetery that was excavated to make room for the development. It’s amazing that the new comers, me included, didn’t know anything about these stories.
"San Jose doesn’t do a good job in making the stories pop out, Ralph said and I agreed. "People move here from all over but everyone is so busy in the hustle," I proclaimed. He agreed and said, "they don’t come here to fall in love."
As we come down hill we go down Canoas Garden Ave under the 87 bridge. On our right there is a Notice of Development sign. “Enjoy it while it lasts,” alluding to the notice.
Names and figures
All the street names were of birds. Apparently the developer did that on purpose. It was called Bird Land.
Ralph pointed out that a local historian by the name of Patricia Lumis had done a project on extracting the meaning behind the sign posts in a “Sign Post II" book that covers the history on the street signs in San Jose.
I also learned that there is a post called the City Historian. Currently a Paul Bernall who is also a Supreme Court Judge holds this position. I also learned about the Preservation Action Council of San Jose.
Also Ralph mentioned that there was a baseball stadium on 7th and Younger. It is no longer there.
Transcription of the 1970’s San Jose article:
Downtown San Jose…What is there now and what is changing.
center. A pedestrian paseo offers fountains, grassy hillocks, and a setting for outdoor entertainment.
But you will also see signs of Mexican heritage in small bakeries, restaurants, bars. You’ll see the jam-packed windows of family-run shops and the staring windows of vacant department stores whose tenants moved to suburban malls. Cleared blocks regularly used for parking are the legacy of 1960’s urban renewal demolition.
In 1950 San Jose was still the world’s largest canning and fruit packing center_a tradition begun with the founding of the town to supply food for the presidios at San Francisco and Monterey. But rapidly expanding subdivisions were already beginning to replace orchards the fertile valley south, east, and west. Some canneries closed and many downtown businesses followed their customers to new suburbs.
In 1958 a new city hall was completed on the outskirts near the new airport. (Directly on the flight path, central San Jose may never gain the heights of other urban centers.)
When federal urban renewal money came along in the 1960’s many downtown blocks were cleared to offer private developers land as economical to build on as field somewhere in the surrounding valley. Destroyed were many of the buildings that gave San Jose the distinction of having the best collection of architectural style of any city its size in California.
But many of the cleared blocks are still empty a decade later. City councilman and vocal small-businessman Joe Colla sees redevelopment as “the biggest mistake we were made.” But developer Lew Wolff, whose $75 million Park Center Financial Plaza is the only private project brought to fruition so far, came to San Jose because “the land was clear and available for purchase. The void we saw was quality office space.” What the city got was quality office space and some striking architecture. But these are work day spaces, usually deserted evenings and weekends.
Russ Campbell, Assistant Executive Director of the city’s Redevelopment Agency, cautions patience. “Redevelopment is slow. We have to do better at creating an environment for investment. We need to do highly visible things to attract the private sector.”
Highly visible amenities are in the works. Over the next three years San Jose has $3.2 million in federal money to use for a massive tree-planting and street beautification program. Around San Pedro Square, you’ll already see good sized specimens of Brazilian pepper and Victorian box, along with other examples of street beautification (an entry arch, decorative paving).
And a totally new direction for the Redevelopment Agency was designation of the Pueblo Uno district. On these three blocks, a checkerboard of old buildings and cleared lots, the best of the old will be refurbished and new buildings will fill the spaces between. Street plantings will complete the picture.
This kind of urban renewal is part of a new trend preserve and recycle what’s left of San Jose’s architectural heritage. Art Ogilvie, staff to the Santa Clara County Heritage Commons part of the County Planning Department maintains, “A 1976 change in tax laws is largely responsible-now there’s more incentive to recycle old buildings that to start over after demolishing.”
Luckily the shift in thinking has come in time. A visit to downtown these days will show you the architectural treasures as well as what’s new. You can pick a self-guided “history walk” brochure to use as the start of exploration. Look for it at the Chamber of Commerce (One Paseo de San Antonio), at the San Jose Museum of Art (Market and San Fernando)