Saturday, January 1, 2011

Explore San José Parks: Open to the Public Since 1850

History San José presents: Open to the Public Since 1850.

Gateway to Alum Rock Park near the Tunnel
Photograph by Alice Hare, c. 1902
Collection of History San Jose
San José has a long and unique history of providing open space for the public. When California gained statehood in 1850, San José had already set aside several public squares including St. James, Washington, and Market Plaza. Designating land for public use was unusual at that time for a city of San José’s size. Older, more established cities like New York City and Chicago began establishing parks in the 1850s and ’60s to provide residents with an escape from crowded urban areas. However, in 1850, San José had a population of just 4,000 and was surrounded by vast open land used for cattle grazing and agriculture. There is no definite record of the town council’s motivations for preserving these public areas. They may have wanted to protect land to sell in the future; or they may have had a desire to move toward an American aesthetic and distance themselves from the city’s Mexican past; or perhaps they were way ahead of their time and had the forethought to preserve open space for the public.

Today, San José boasts more than 180 parks with 3,448 acres of land. The first public space, the Plaza at present-day Market Street between San Carlos and San Fernando Streets was established during the Pueblo Era and renamed Plaza de César Chavez in 1993. Originally used as a market space and recreation area for bear and bull fights, today it hosts tamer events like Christmas in the Park and the Jazz Festival. As San José grew from an agricultural base to become the center of Silicon Valley, new parks continue to be a part of the city’s vision. In 2009, the former IBM/Hitachi Campus in South San José was developed into three parks: RAMAC Park, Charlotte Commons, and Raleigh Linear Green.

Creating public parks is a complex process, involving community members, land owners, developers, city staff and public officials. But, more often than not, the effort begins with community volunteers passionately engaged in a shared vision. The San José Municipal Rose Garden is a fine example where Mrs. Frémont Older and Mrs. Charles C. Derby proposed the project, which was supported by the Rotary Club of San José in 1927.

View of History Park, c. 1975 Explore San José Parks begins with History San José’s home, Kelley Park. Originally Judge Lawrence Archer’s park-like estate, Lone Oak, the 156-acre park is now home to History Park, the Japanese Friendship Garden, the Leininger Center, and Happy Hollow Park & Zoo. Next the exhibit examines San José’s First Parks: the Plaza, St. James Park, and Alum Rock Park. In Neighborhood Parks a selection from the more than 150 suburban parks is featured with a look at Public Art. The exhibit ends with plans for The Guadalupe River Park and Gardens, originally a flood control project, and Park Conservation. San José’s parks and open spaces continue to provide opportunities for social interaction, recreation, and contact with nature, and as such are essential to the well being of our community.

History Park is located at the south end of Kelley Park at the corner of Senter Road and Phelan Avenue in San José.  With 27 original and reproduction homes, businesses and landmarks History Park highlights Santa Clara Valley's past. Complete with paved streets, running trolleys and a cafe, this 14-acre site has the charm and ambiance of times gone by.

Pacific Hotel Gallery, History Park

Open through January 23, 2011
Tuesday - Sunday
11 am - 5 pm

For more info please visit
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