Interchangably called Cambrian, Cambrian Park, and Cambrian Village, this distinct, partially unincorporated area is bordered by San Jose, Los Gatos, and Campbell. Coveted for its distinguished public schools and relative affordability, residents of this suburban oasis enjoy quiet, tree-lined streets while being perfectly situated close to freeways, restaurants, and shopping. Many of the ranch-style homes found in this borough were built in the 1960’s and quite a number have undergone considerable remodeling. Cambrian itself doesn’t have a downtown but residents happily take advantage of the central districts of nearby Campbell, Willow Glen, and Los Gatos.
Homes in Cambrian Park are one of the best values in the Silicon Valley, making this neighborhood highly desirable especially for young professionals and families looking for great schools in an affordable area. Offering nearby employment opportunities is tech company, Xilinx, which has its headquarters in Cambrian at Union Avenue and Highway 85. The Camden Community Center offers numerous recreational activities, programs, and classes along with a pool and park while the newly renovated Cambrian Library offers the ultimate in high tech services, an extensive collection of materials, public art, and a variety of programs and clubs for all ages. The Valley’s first mall, Cambrian Park Plaza, is at the heart of the borough, playing host to a weekly Farmer’s Market as well as numerous restaurants, shops, and services. The center’s landmark carousel sign was designated a Historical Landmark in 2016. Bought by a large developer in 2015, there are plans in the works to reinvigorate the shopping center. The Cambrian community has mobilized to retain the plaza’s quaint country charm but ultimately the center’s revitalization could add more value to this already desirable neighborhood.
The Cambrian designation was first used in the 1870s to identify the area’s inaugural elementary school. U.K. born ranch hand, David Lewis, of the Lewis Casey Ranch named the school Cambrian Elementary in honor of his homeland of Wales, the Latinized version being Cambria. The neighborhood continued to be identified in this manner well into the 1950’s by local San Jose newspapers, and to this day, Cambrian residents are proud to define their San Jose neighborhood by this 150-year-old moniker. Cambrian schools are among some of the most distinguished in Silicon Valley and its residents are down-to-earth and approachable. An accessible, affordable, and family-oriented haven, Cambrian Park is a great place to set down roots.
History of Cambrian
In the 1800s,the majority of land now known as Cambrian Park was held in huge Mexican land grants, some as expansive as 13,000 acres. Rancho de Los Gatos was to the southwest and Rancho San Juan Bautista Narvaez covered a swath of land to the southeast. Tucked between the two ranchos and north of Dry Creek was 3,800 acres of former mission land granted to Juan C. Galindo by Father Real of Mission Santa Clara. The courts later negated Galindo’s entitlement and the property became public land and opened for settlement, a common practice undertaken for the majority of the Cambrian area. Galindo’s small home on Dry Creek eventually became the home of H. A. Leigh for whom Leigh High School is named.
In 1827, the Cambrian area continued to be used as grazing land for upwards of 14,400 head of cattle and 15,500 sheep. Over time, the land grants were subdivided and sold to settlers in 80 to 600-acre parcels. A few 2,000-acre plots were sold to returning gold seekers who found that the shortage of wheat, vegetables, and fruit made farming as lucrative and considerably more stable than their elusive search for the precious metal. By 1860, the principal crop in the Cambrian area was wheat, with those employing irrigation methods and varying crops able to more than double the value of their farms and their annual output. The area gradually became more populated but many land titles were not finalized until the 1870’s, with some settlers were forced to purchase their property multiple times, with others “squatting” until the title was finalized.
In 1863, settlers created two distinct geographical educational entities, the Cambrian and Union School Districts. The first Cambrian School was built on property donated by Lewis Casey and his sister, Rebecca, what is now the southeast corner Bascom and Curtner. David Lewis, Welsh immigrant and farm hand on the Casey Ranch, donated money to build the schoolhouse and was asked to help name the new school. He suggested Cambria, which is Latin for Wales. Constructed by local farmers, the first Cambrian School was the only one in the area and educated children from Campbell, San Thomas, and parts of the Moreland district. The first president, Ida Price, played an invaluable role in establishing the Cambrian Home and School Club, which provided hot lunches and eventually convinced the school board to install inside plumbing. Ida Price Middle School was named in her honor.
These outlying school district boundaries of Santa Clara County were used by cartographers for geographical delineation as shown in the 1876 Thompson & West Historical Atlas of Santa Clara County. The school names had grown into geographical and directional references and thus, the Cambrian name was solidified, especially once local San Jose newspapers began referring to the neighborhood as Cambrian Park.
Cambrian settlers, armed with sweat-equity, innovation, and rich soil, were benefitting from their proximity to San Jose, the canning community of Campbell, the Los Gatos gateway to the Santa Cruz Mountain lumber, and the New Almaden Mine. Cambrian was poised for growth with the key elements to development, location, and transportation.
Throughout it all, Cambrian farmers focused on continually increasing their yield of wheat and barley, boosting production eightfold from 2.7 to 20 bushels per acre by 1870. It was also during this time that the community constructed its first elementary schools. By the late 1870s, the wheat market plummeted and so did per-acre production. With the collapse of one-crop farming, there began a transition to raising various forms of livestock and grains while landowners W. Ware, H.A Leigh, L. Casey, G. W, Gardner, and G. M. Harwood began to dabble in horticulture and growing fruit orchards, leading the way for second generation farmers to realize incredible profits, bolstered by their ability to get their product to market via the Campbell railroad depot and canning facilities.
In 1892, the women’s club, We and Our Neighbors, was formed in the adjacent Union School District area. Its mission was “…to promote social ties, intellectual and cultural pursuits, charitable deeds, and recreation for the farm families of the neighborhood.” Their clubhouse, a Craftsman-style bungalow built in 1910, is a San Jose Historical Landmark. After 1906 earthquake, the club’s members sent wagonloads of food and clothing to affected families.
Cambrian farmers were active participants in the burgeoning fruit drying and canning market. In 1929, when the Campbell-Los Gatos Prune and Apricot Association was approved by the state, W. A. Riggs from Union and L. Hiatt of Cambrian were elected to the board of directors. Cambrian’s William H. Cilker and Frank Steindorf were elected representatives to the California Prune and Apricot Growers Association, builders of the Sunsweet Plant 1 in 1919.
The success and profitability of orchards prompted industrial growth and a population explosion that would change this once farming-focused valley. Three key projects were completed in 1939 contributed significantly to the future of the Cambrian area: water conservation programs, connection of the Bayshore Freeway, and the establishment of Moffet Field as a naval dirigible base.
As was common throughout the Santa Clara Valley, the end of World War II brought with it an influx of people looking to purchase homes. Between 1950 and 1975 the Cambrian Park population increased five-fold. Second generation farmers subdivided and sold their land to developers, who built Cambrian’s first housing developments in between the apricots, peaches, and prune orchards. Post-war contracts were awarded to Hewlett Packard, who, along with other companies, continued to grow the electronics industry, forming the embryonic Silicon Valley.
During this time, Cambrian saw a rapid transition from farming community to residential. Numerous retail shops and services overtook the small mom & pop shops like Carmen Nursery, Pepper Tree Market, Mac’s Market, and Daugherty’s Drugs. As tract housing continued to encroach on orchards, the area was in desperate need of new schools. In the 1950’s, with more services being required to meet resident demand, a significant change in political boundaries occurred with the incorporation of Campbell as a city, the extension of the Los Gatos borders, and the dramatic expansion of San Jose. Though Cambrian was never incorporated as a town, there were efforts to do so in the 1960s.
Cambrian is now a mixture of three generations: those who arrived after World War II, Millennials, and a few remaining pioneer ancestors. Although the number of houses, political boundaries, and livelihood of the area has changed drastically in the past 150+ years, Cambrian remains a relatively quiet respite tucked between its bustling city neighbors. Cambrian Park has retained its deeply rooted focus on family and community that was inherent in the original settlers. Cambrian is “as much as state of mind as of friendliness and informality that makes it a wonderful place to live.”