A uniquely charming suburban sanctuary, Willow Glen embodies style, grace, and imagination. People come here to stay, lured by the homey, familiar, and nostalgic ambiance offered by this San Jose borough. Its almost 66,000 residents possess an innate sense of preserving the history and appeal of their community. A thriving downtown is at the heart of Willow Glen, offering a pedestrian-friendly location to enjoy a casual lunch with friends or an extravagant dinner, luxuriate over a handcrafted coffee, or shop at one of its distinctive retail establishments. In keeping with preserving its heritage, the neighborhood’s oldest commercial buildings near Minnesota and Lincoln Avenues harken back to the town’s economic heyday when well-to-do orchardists helped create a town from uninhabitable marshland. Those who choose to reside in Willow Glen can choose from a myriad of beautiful heritage architecture, classic ranch homes and Eichlers. For homebuyers looking to set down roots in a suburban safe harbor, Willow Glen is a true Silicon Valley oasis.
Architectural options abound in Willow Glen. The area referred to as Old Willow Glen, much of which radiates outward from Minnesota and Lincoln Avenues, appeals to the romantics of today. Streets are lined with a renaissance of old style residences: Tudor, French villas, Victorians, Cape Cods, and Spanish Haciendas. It is along these architecturally diverse avenues where you’ll find neighbors sitting on their front porches, or tending to their beautiful gardens. Those who choose to live in Old Willow Glen prefer charm over luxury, embracing the quirky, familiar, and casual yet often remodeling interiors to embody desired amenities. New Willow Glen, located near Foxworthy and Meridian, was developed after World War II. Here, homeowners enjoy large lots, sprawling California ranch homes along with mid-Century Eichlers.
Like most of Silicon Valley, Willow Glen was planted with fruit trees, its once marshy soil proving to be some of the most fertile in the Valley of Heart’s Delight. Though its fruit growing days are long past, Willow Glen continues to cherish its place in history. Culture, preservation, and community are all keystones held dear by residents as they work to embrace change while conserving the quaint charm for which Willow Glen is known. With it’s myriad of boutiques, shops, cafes, restaurants, and services, downtown is a gathering place for people from all walks of life. The Willow Glen Business Association puts on festivals, wine walks, car shows, puppy parades, BBQs, and other events year-round. Good schools, beautiful parks, and a deep sense of community and individuality make Willow Glen a true Silicon Valley treasure.
History of Willow Glen
Once a swamp shrouded in willows and wild blackberries, the area that was destined to become Willow Glen was first settled by the Costanoan Indians. It eventual became part of the San Jose pueblo lands used to grow food and hay for San Francisco and Monterey presidios as well as to provide sustenance for the massive influx of Gold Rush immigrants. As was common in California, the pueblo-owned property was divided into two prominent land grants, the 8,900-acre Rancho San Juan Bautista awarded by the Mexican government to Don Joaquin Narvaez and the 2,200-acre Rancho de los Coches granted to Christian Indian, Robert Ballermino. In the mid 1800s Canoas Creek was diverted to the Guadalupe River, resulting draining of the surrounding marshland. By the 1850s, Rancho land began to undergo subdivision. Parcels were sold to farmers who took advantage of “The Willow’s” fertile soil, planting some of the most productive fruit orchards in Santa Clara County.
In 1860, fruit orchards dominated the Willow Glen landscape, an industry that would flourish for well over 80 years. Willow Glen was a bustling business community filled with hardworking orchardists and their employees. “The Corners” at the intersection of Lincoln and Minnesota Avenues was the town’s small commercial section, housing the post office, grocery store, and elementary school. Willow Glen Cottage was a popular local roadhouse frequented by thirsty farmhands in the 1870s and Willow Glen Oak Hill Cemetery, which dates back to 1849, is the final resting place of many of the town’s early pioneers.
Orchardists who didn’t live in nearby downtown San Jose built residences along streets radiating off Lincoln Avenue. By the late 19th century, Willow Glen had become an “architectural canvas” with many of its homes displaying a prominent San Franciscan Victorian influence. From the early 1900s to the 1930s, public transportation came to the valley in the form of the electric Peninsular Interurban Railroad, which served Willow Glen, Campbell, Los Gatos, and surrounding cities. The tracks could still be seen in Willow Glen until the 1970s.
In 1927, Southern Pacific Railroad was planning to reroute its tracks from 4th Street onto Willow Avenue, directly through the town. Concerned about increased traffic and plummeting property values, Willow Glen residents formed the “Save The Willows Committee” to thwart the railroad’s plans. The railroad fought back, with the case going all the way to the Supreme Court. The town prevailed and as a result, decided to incorporate Willow Glen into its own city to help safeguard against similar “attacks” in the future. Becoming its own city was the defining moment in Willow Glen’s history when residents proclaimed their identity as a community distinctly and defiantly separate from San Jose. In September 1930, the city of Willow Glen celebrated its third birthday with a population of 4,145, making it the fourth largest city in Santa Clara County. It also boasted a tax rate the lowest of any city its size. After nine years, the continued growth of Willow Glen resulted in its annexation into San Jose. The city needed a high school and lacked a sewer system adequate for its population. Without the funds to make either of these come to fruition, the hotly contested annexation vote was approved by only 57 votes. The 7,000 residents officially became San Jose citizens on September 4, 1936.
In the 1940’s, with World War II coming to an end, much of Willow Glen’s orchards were razed to build homes. Housing in the town exploded, with the California Ranch dominating the new Willow Ranch development. A former walnut orchard, this area embodied a country feel with extra large lots and the absence of sidewalks. In the area of Fairglen and Cherry Glen, one will find an enclave of post-WWII Eichler homes. These fledgling suburban areas attracted people from outside California who possessed the same deep-rooted sense of community as their more established Willow Glen neighbors. Residents from both areas of the town came together to form the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association, created to actively protect the community from any big city influx its citizens felt would strip away the nostalgic charm for which Willow Glen is celebrated.
In 1990, Lincoln Avenue underwent a $3 million revitalization, spearheaded by the Downtown Willow Glen Advisory Committee who ensured this anchor street and its commercial buildings retained their allure. Today, downtown Willow Glen is a thriving destination, its boutiques, cafes, coffee shops, restaurants, and small town vibe appealing to those near and far. Through it all, Willow Glen has preserved its beautiful blend of old and new. A town that once was a city, its residents are deeply loyal to their neighborhood, reveling in this peaceful oasis tucked within the boundaries of San Jose.