With a population of about one million, San Jose is the largest city in Northern California and one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. Central San Jose is just that—the nucleus of Greater San Jose as well as the heart of Silicon Valley. Within its borders lies downtown—Silicon Valley’s commercial and financial hub for well over a century—and a myriad distinct multi-cultural boroughs including the Rose Garden, Japantown, Little Italy, and key historic residential corridor, The Alameda. Residents here have endless housing options, from modern high-rise living with jaw-dropping views of San Jose’s iconic postmodern city hall to historic Victorians on peaceful, shaded streets and just about everything in between.
There are homes in Central San Jose to meet every desire. Historic Craftsman, Tudors, and Victorians in the Rose Garden and The Alameda appeal to those with a penchant for the past while those seeking larger remodeled homes are drawn to Naglee Park and the neighborhood east of San Jose State. Condos and townhomes are abundant, with those boasting more modern amenities situated the heart of Downtown. Central San Jose has something for every homeowner: from the single young professional looking for a home in the center of the action, to the growing family desiring parks and safe streets, to the empty nester seeking a quiet borough, welcoming neighbors, and nearby amenities.
Diversity is the keystone of Central San Jose. Diverse people, food, architecture, entertainment, recreation, art, and culture, all are within easy reach of those who reside here. SAP center, San Jose State University, the Tech Museum of Innovation, San Pedro Square, the Civic Center, the Convention Center, the Rosicrucian Museum, and the Martin Luther King Library are just a few of the attractions to which this neighborhood plays host. With literally thousands of ethnically diverse restaurants, there are limitless options for foodies. Comedy clubs, theatres, pubs, bars, and cocktail lounges serve up nightlife galore. Whether you commute elsewhere via one of the four primary freeways easily accessed in this borough or work in its bustling Downtown, Central San Jose is has it all and then some.
History of Central San Jose
When European explorers arrived in the mid-18th century, Costanoan Indians were the only inhabitants of what is now Central San Jose. California’s first settlement was founded in 1777 by Spaniard José Joaquin Moraga. Originally named Pueblo de San José de Guadalupé, this farming community supplied wheat, vegetables, and cattle to the military garrisons located in Monterey and San Francisco.
On May 13, 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico. Captain Thomas Fallon lead nineteen men into the Pueblo de San José de Guadalupé on July 14, 1846 where he raised the United States flag over the town hall. At the time, residents of San Jose included Spanish Californians, Mexicans, Peruvians, Chileans, and Indians. The Mexican-American War came to an end in 1848, with California initially becoming a U.S. territory and on September 9, 1850, it was admitted to the union as the 31st state.
In 1848, gold was discovered in a gravel bed of the American River and swarms of immigrants arrived in California, hoping to strike it rich. The Gold Rush changed San Jose from a farming community to that of a supply city for the onslaught of miners flocking to the area. Local residents, distressed by the influx of thousands of people into the valley, fled to Mission Santa Clara seeking safety.
Not long after the American occupation of California in 1846, San Jose briefly served as the first Capital of the State of California. On December 15, 1849, the inaugural California Legislature convened in San Jose. A formal referendum was created to allow voters to determine where to permanently locate the state Capital. Three cities—Vallejo, San Jose and Monterey—competed for the honor, with Vallejo winning the vote. Eventually, after several additional relocations, the Capital was permanently relocated in Sacramento in 1854.
In March 1850, San Jose became the new state’s first chartered city. By this time, it had grown into a lively trade depot serving gold seekers to the east of Sacramento. When the railroad was extended from San Francisco southward in 1864, this provided San Jose with vastly improved trade connections, and soon enough, produce from nearby farms was being transported north to San Francisco. The railroad played a large part in the economic success of San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley as a whole, igniting the region’s fruit processing industry.
Until the 1940s, most of San Jose’s industry revolved around food processing as well as the manufacturing of orchard supplies and agricultural equipment. World War II served as a catalyst, creating a huge demand for electrical machinery, aircraft parts, and automobiles. Large aerospace and business-equipment firms constructed facilities in San Jose and the surrounding area.
Downtown San Jose served as the epicenter of economic and social life in the Santa Clara Valley as well as the city’s primary shopping district through World War II. On Saturdays, the streets and shops of downtown were bustling, filled with farmers and visitors. First Street was the principal commercial thoroughfare with major department stores including J.C. Penney, Blum’s, Woolworth’s, Hale Brothers, Goldeen’s and Sears, Roebuck and Co. Founded in 1866, Hart’s, the large, locally owned department store at Santa Clara and Market, was another retail anchor in the then economically vibrant downtown.
In the 1950s with the emergence of Silicon Valley to the north, the city lost its financial foothold and instead became the bedroom community for Silicon Valley instead of its economic core. As the city’s farmland was subdivided into office parks and suburban sprawl, its population skyrocketed from 95,000 in 1950 to 450,000 a mere twenty years later. Its rapid urban sprawl increased its size eightfold to 136 square miles. San Jose’s 1965 master plan defined Central San Jose as 16.7 square miles and began in earnest to focus on the development and revitalization of downtown. This revitalization project has been on-going since the 1980s when the San Jose Redevelopment Agency began an undertaking to create a downtown equivalent in scale and amenities to that of other major U.S metros.
The dot.com boom in the 1990s attracted more residents and more businesses to the city and fully solidified its position at the epicenter of Silicon Valley. San Jose annexed land as fast as it could, more than tripling its area between 1960 and 2000. During those same four decades, the city’s population more than quadrupled.
The city’s redevelopment strategies have been continually modernized and restructured, most recently with the Downtown Strategy 2040 plan, which includes creation of new commercial office space, an increase in residential living, and 1.4 million square feet of new retail development. In large part because of San Jose’s on-going renewal and rebirth of its downtown, it is finally reemerging as a central social district for the South Bay.
Even as the city strives to reinvigorate its downtown core, at the heart of Central San Jose are residential areas harkening back to the city as it was during its earliest days. Downtown San Jose dates from between the late 1800’s to the start of World War II. Surrounding downtown are Central San Jose’s initial suburban districts, which include the Rose Garden, Japantown, Naglee Park, and The Alameda to name a few, are pre-World War II neighborhoods that look to be straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, wealthy residents built mansions along The Alameda. The Dunne mansion on the corner of Emory Street, built in the 1890s, is believed to be the oldest building on the street. Once primarily prune and pear orchards, the upscale Chapman & Davis Tract along The Alameda began its metamorphosis into a residential district in the late 1800s. One of the oldest subdivisions in California, original homes here were grand Norman and Tudor estates on large one-half acre lots. Though the parcels have been subdivided many times since, this Central San Jose subdivision includes a number of large historic homes, from Victorians to 1940s bungalows, many with detached garages. This borough was home to the San Jose and Santa Clara Railroad, the first interurban railroad in California. The Railroad traversed along what is now The Alameda and utilized horsecars when it initially began operation in 1868. It was converted to an overhead trolley in 1889.
In 1927, the Rose Garden district and the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden were also plentiful fruit orchards, the majority of which were owned by the Food Machine Corporation (FMC). Scattered among the orchards were farmhouses and a smattering of mansions. In 1927, San Jose bought 11-acres to create the Municipal Rose Garden, a 5.5 acre garden with over 4,000 rose bushes, expansive lawns, redwood trees, picnic areas, pathways, and a water feature. A decade later, FMC chairman, John Crummey, subdivided his 25-acre pear orchard into residential lots, establishing the core of the neighborhood called Rose Park. The Rose Garden district is also home to Rosicrucian Park and the Rosicrucian Museum. Today, this borough is comprised of about 1,000 homes of varying architectural styles and is one of Central San Jose’s most desirable districts.
To the northeast of downtown in Central San Jose is Japantown, a unique ethnic neighborhood offering a rare blend of business, cultural, and historical resources. The residents there enjoy a bounty of architecture styles including bungalows and Craftsmans, many of which have been lovingly restored and remodeled. It is one of three remaining Japantowns in the nation, all of which are in California.
The city seat of Santa Clara County for well over a century, downtown San Jose has numerous architecturally significant commercial buildings and landmarks. Buildings dating to the 1870s reflect San Jose’s metropolitan emergence, buildings dating from the 1890s harken back to its agricultural status, while its 1920s structures heralded the city’s first skyscrapers. Constructed in 1925, the former San Jose branch of the Bank of Italy located at 12 South 1st Street is a designated landmark while the DeAnza Hotel, Hotel Montgomery, and Hotel Sainte Claire are all on the National Register of Historic Places. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph was built in 1803 at the corner of Market and San Fernando Streets, making it the first parish in the state. Originally an adobe structure, the Roman Catholic Church was damaged by earthquakes in 1818, 1822, and 1868 as well as partially destroyed by fire in 1875. In 1877, the fifth and present structure was dedicated and in 1884, the portico was completed. In 2005, the Postmodern City Hall designed by famous architect, Richard Meier, officially opened, gaining LEED Platinum status four years later. The landmark rotunda functions as a “hub of indoor and outdoor civic and cultural activities” as well as serving as San Jose’s government headquarters, the sixth such building in its history. At a cost of $384 million, it is possibly one of the most expensive city halls ever built in the nation.
Also within Central San Jose borders is San Jose State University, the oldest public university on the west coast. The founding campus if the California State system, it was originally established in San Francisco in 1857 by George W. Minns as the Minns Evening Normal School. In 1862 it became the California State Normal School and in 1871, it moved to its current location at Washington Park and San Carlos Street. The university changed its name yet again in 1921 and 1935. In 1972, it was granted university status and became San Jose State University in 1974. It is a leading supplier of alumni to Silicon Valley tech firms, earning its motto of “Powering Silicon Valley.” It is one of the most underrated universities in the nation especially for STEM fields.
From its beginnings as a rural farming community to its rise as the largest city in Northern California, Central San Jose still holds fast to its early roots while embracing advancement. Within its borders are a diverse blend of historic homes as well as a bustling, vibrant downtown with modern living options, a multitude of workplace opportunities, and a truly unique culture filled with food, art, and entertainment.