America’s tenth-largest city got under way on November 29, 1777 as El Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe, the first civilian town in the Spanish colony of Nueva California. After California was granted statehood and following intense lobbying at the Constitutional Convention, the first town also became the first capital. Town leaders hastily purchased a two-story hotel under construction to accommodate the state legislature but an unusually wet winter delayed progress on the building. After holding senate sessions in private houses and slogging through knee-deep muddy streets the disgruntled legislators voted to move the capital from San Jose before the third session convened. California’s first capitol building was left vacant and was destroyed by fire in 1853.
There were efforts to bring the capital back to San Jose over the years but for the most part the town settled in as a farming community supporting the agriculture industry that was exploding in the surrounding Santa Clara Valley. When World II ended the valley was the last vast undeveloped land surrounding San Francisco Bay; the population of San Jose was less than 100,000 in 1950.
The City opened its arms to growth, annexed some areas to provide room for suburbs and the population would grow ten-fold before the 20th century ended. The town would come to encompass almost 180 square miles. The economic engine for the boom came from technology as the San Jose area became home to the largest concentration of highly-educated expertise in the world - more than 6,600 technology companies employ over 250,000 people in the region today.
Despite some of the most amazing growth in United State history, however, the heart of the city has never strayed far from the original assemblage of adobe brick structures in the Pueblo of San Jose and that is where our walking tour of the Capital of Silicon Valley will explore...
St. James Park
bounded by 1st Street and 3rd Street, St. James and St. John Street
When San Jose shifted from Spanish rule to American control after the Mexican War in 1846 the everyday center of town life was the Plaza three blocks south. St. James Park, that had beenplotted as open space by surveyor Chester Lyman, began to usurp that role as a symbol of the new American influence beginning in the 1860s. Important civic and cultural buildings sprung up around the two-block open space, most adhering to a human scale of construction that kept the landscaped grounds sunny and inviting. But St. James harbors a dark side as well - California’s last lynching occurred in the park in 1933 when accused kidnappers and killers John Holmes and Thomas Thurmond were dragged from the county jail and hanged here.
WALK OVER TO THE MIDDLE OF THE SOUTH EDGE OF THE PARK ON THE ST. JOHN STREET SIDE AT 2ND STREET.
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral
81 North Second Street at southwest corner of St. John Street
The town’s first Episcopal services were held in 1854 in the firehouse when William Ingraham Kip, the first Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of California, came visiting from San Francisco. The congregation formed in 1861 and benefited greatly from the inclusion of John W. Hammond, a retired sea captain and shipbuilder who designed and constructed this church building from redwoods hand-hewn from the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1863. When the congregation enjoyed a growth spurt in its early years Hammond devised a plan in 1876 to sever the church in half, pull it apart with teams of horses and reorient the entrance to face 2nd Street. A bell tower was also added to the simple Carpenter Gothic style building at that time. When the Diocese of El Camino Real was created in 1980 Trinity was elevated to a cathedral church; its sanctuary stands as the oldest in continuous use in San Jose.
FACING TRINITY CATHEDRAL TURN RIGHT AND BEGIN YOUR WALK ALL THE WAY AROUND ST. JAMES PARK IN A CLOCKWISE DIRECTION.
northwest corner of North First Street and West St. John Street
One of the things the federal government attempted to ease the Great Depression of the 1930s was to construct post offices. Many of them adopted the popular stripped down classicism of the Art Deco style but here architect Ralph Wyckoff tapped a more ornate Spanish Renaissance style with a red tile roof and loads of decorative terra-cotta work. The main post office has since departed for more spacious digs so this is merely an elegant branch post office.
Santa Clara County Courthouse
158 North First Street
In 1860 Santa Clara County staged a design contest for a new courthouse. Yes, the County could use a fine government building but there was an ulterior motive - entice the state legislature to come back to the coast from Sacramento. Local architect Levi I. Goodrich won the competition with a classical confection fronted by suitably impressive Corinthian columns and topped by an ornate dome. Goodrich earned $100 for his design, at a time when a dollar a day was a good wage. The cornerstone was laid in 1866 and the building was ready on New Year’s Day, 1868 but the legislature never came and the state capital remained in Sacramento. Equipped with six-foot thick brick walls the courthouse withstood earthquakes in 1868, 1906 and 1911 but a fire in 1931 caused the dome to collapse. It was replaced with a third floor and tile roof.
First Church of Christ Scientist
43 East Saint James Street at northwest corner of Second Street
Services were held for the Church of Christ, Scientist in San Jose in 1887, only eight years after its founding by Mary Baker Eddy in Boston, Massachusetts. Willis Polk, one of California’s first star architects, came down from San Francisco in 1905 to design the Neoclassical structure, laid out in the traditional form of a Greek cross behind a quartet of Ionic columns. The congregation moved on in the 1950s and the building is currently vacant.
Sainte Claire Club
65 East Saint James Street
The Sainte Claire Club is San Jose’s oldest men’s club and this has been its home since 1893. The club was organized by some of the town’s leading young businessmen in 1888, including James Duval Phelan who would go on to become a reforming mayor of San Francisco from 1897 until 1902 and later a United States senator. Phelan hired architect Arthur Page Brown to design the clubhouse. Brown was New York born and trained but after relocating to California he became one of the early cheerleaders for the indigenous Spanish Mission style of architecture as witnessed in this structure. Brown would die just three years after its completion at the age of 42 in Burlingame, California when he was struck by a runaway horse.
Scottish Rite Temple/Silicon Valley Athletic Club
196 North Third Street at southeast corner of St. James Street
The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry traces its roots back to the 1730s; the San Jose Scottish Rite got under way in May of 1883 in the Auzerais Hotel. The Masons settled into a fine Neoclassical temple two doors down in 1909 but it soon proved inadequate and by 1924 architect Carl Werner was drawing up plans for this lodge. He gave the building a traditional grand portico of fluted Ionic columns but also decorated the facade with less conventional Egyptian themes. The temple served the Masons until the 1980s when they departed for a new center and this space was converted into facilities for the San Jose, now Silicon Valley, Athletic Club.
First Unitarian Church of San Jose
160 North Third Street
Circuit-riding preachers on horseback conducted the first Unitarian services in town at City Hall in 1865 with as many as 100 congregants in attendance including A.T. Herman, a civil engineer who built the road up Mt. Hamilton; Dr. Benjamin Cory, San José’s first physician; J.J. Owen, editor and publisher of the San José Mercury; and J.E. Brown, state legislator. In 1891 land was purchased here and local architect George M. Page designed the church building, drawing heavily on the work of Henry Hobson Richardson, the most influential architect of post-Civil War America, while using traditional Unitarian churches of Transylvania as a guide. Elements of the Richardsonian Romanesque style that can be seen here include asymmetrical massing, corner turrets, a bold arched entranceway and arched windows grouped in threes. The building has served the Unitarians ever since.
152 North Third Street
Members of some of San Jose’s most venerable fraternal organizations have walked through this portico of Doric columns, which is all that remains of the building George Page designed for the Scottish Rite Masons in 1909. After the Masons moved down the block in 1925 the California Pioneers of Santa Clara County, founded in 1875 and the second oldest historical organization in California, moved in. They were followed by the San Jose Fraternal Order of Eagles, whose Aerie is the oldest in the state. The Eagles stayed until the early 1980s when the historic lodge was demolished.
EXIT ST. JAMES PARK BY CONTINUING STRAIGHT ON 3RD STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO SANTA CLARA STREET.
100 East Santa Clara Street at southeast corner of 3rd Street
The YMCA was set up by George Williams in 1844 to help get young men off of English streets and give them something to do. The movement reached America in Boston in 1851 and just 16 years later a chapter started up in San Jose. This somewhat altered Neoclassical building began life as the town’s YMCA in 1913, replacing the organization’s original headquarters from 1891 that was lost due to financial difficulties. William Binder designed the building that boasted such recreational stalwarts as a swimming pool, handball courts, athletic track and a bowling alley. All were removed in later years as the building did time as a hotel, a bank and office space.
southwest corner of Santa Clara Street and 3rd Street
The Middle Ages in Great Britain saw the banding together of tradesmen into guilds to promote business and fellowship. The carpenters had their own guild, the bricklayers had their own guild and so on. Trades that did not have a large number of practitioners welded into hodgepodge guilds known as Odd Fellows. In 19th century America an International Order of Odd Fellows lodge building, usually exuberantly ornate, could be found in virtually every town. San Jose’s was constructed in the 1880s. A balcony over the 3rd Street entrance was sacrificed in a subsequent remodeling but the corner tower was added.
TURN RIGHT ON SANTA CLARA STREET.
New Century Block
76 East Santa Clara Street at southeast corner of Second Street
Adolph Pfister opened his general store in town a block to the west on Santa Clara Street in 1858. He would later serve as mayor and while in office donated his salary to help establish the San Jose Public Library. Pfister erected the core of this splendid Victorian commercial block in 1880. Over the years it has been expanded and renovated, most recently in the 1980s.
Bank of Italy Building
8 South First Street at southeast corner of Santa Clara Street
Amadeo Pietro Giannini, the son of Italian immigrants began in business as a produce broker and made enough money to retire at 31 to manage his father-in-law’s estate. He founded the Bank of Italy in a converted saloon on October 17, 1904 to take deposits from the often ignored “little fellow.” Gianninni would build his first out-of-town branch here, in the town of his birth. Henry A. Minton, a Boston transplant and go-to architect for Bank of Italy branch offices, drew up plans for the Renaissance Revival skyscraper in 1925, four years before the Bank of Italy would morph into the colossal Bank of America. The 176-foot tower was celebrated as one of the region’s first earthquake-proof high-rises and it remained the tallest building in San Jose for 61 years.
TURN LEFT ON FIRST STREET.
34 South First Street
This property was left to Sarah Knox-Goodrich by her first husband, who co-founded the first bank in town in 1866, a private firm known as Knox & Beans that became the Bank of San Jose. In 1889 she used sandstone from a quarry owned by her second husband, architect Levi Goodrich, to build this commercial structure. Sarah Knox-Goodrich was a frequent contributor to area publications and founded the San Jose Suffrage Association in 1869. Women did, in fact, get the right to vote in California before national women’s suffrage in 1919 but it happened in 1911, eight years after Sarah Knox Goodrich died. She is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery between her two husbands.
70 South First Street
This commercial block from 1889 carries the name of Letitia Burnet Ryland who was the daughter of Peter Hardeman Burnett who was the first American governor of California at the time. Burnett had three daughters and wags at the time noted it was not an insignificant factor in his election in a state whose population was heavily infused with male Gold Rushers. Jacob Lenzen, a Prussian immigrant builder and architect, designed the building. Over the years it did duty as an auction house for grapes, a rooming house and, since 1922, retail space and offices.
301 South First Street at southwest corner of San Carlos Street
When Alfred Sydney Appleton, who had come to San Jose from Canada with his family in 1892 when he was 17, built his women’s clothing store on this corner in 1925 this neighborhood was far from the business district and in the beginning he had only empty lots and small buildings for neighbors. Appleton & Co. had formed in 1912 and already grew out of two earlier spaces before trading up into this Spanish Renaissance showplace. Original Joe’s - the name was a generic greeting on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast - began as a restaurant in San Francisco in the 1920s and after a falling out four of the partners came to San Jose in 1956 to start their version here and has been a favorite noshing spot ever since.
345 South First Street
Architect Charles Peter Weeks and engineer William Peyton Day, known for their elegant creations on San Francisco’s Nob Hill and elsewhere, designed this entertainment palace in 1927 as the Fox Theatre. Its Wurlitzer console organ boasted 1,521 pipes and there was seating for almost 1,200 patrons. The Fox followed a similar life arc to downtown theaters across America - glory days in the 1920s and 1930s, decline from the competition of television and suburban malls in the 1950s and 1960s, and multiple owners trying to breath life into the theater until its death in 1973. But the California was one of the lucky ones - it escaped the wrecking ball and found restoration dollars in the 1980s. Today the city’s last remaining movie palaces is one of the best preserved 1920s-era motion picture houses in America. In 2004 Steve Jobs and Apple unveiled its special U2 IPod from the California Theatre stage.
TURN RIGHT ON SAN SALVADOR STREET. TURN RIGHT ON MARKET STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO SAN CARLOS STREET.
Hotel Saint Claire
southeast corner of San Carlos and Market streets
Charles Weeks and William Day continued to spin their architectural magic on this block with this grand hotel from 1926. The architects blended elements from several Renaissance Revival styles, including French, Spanish and Mediterranean. Notable features include the truncated corner entrance, an arcaded ground floor, and denticular stringcourses separating the brown brick stories on the facade. The moneyman for the Saint Claire was the town’s leading promoter and developer, T.S. Montgomery, who also donated land across the street for a building that would help drum up business for his hotel.
135 West San Carlos Street at northwest corner of Market Street
This Spanish Mission-style hall opened as the San Jose Municipal Auditorium in 1934 with a Depression-era price tag of $500,000. It was created as a joint venture between San Jose residents and the federal government on land donated by T.S. Montgomery. In its early days the 3,000-seat venue was known for its political rallies and sporting events - both heavyweight champions Joe Louis and Max Baer fought bouts here. Since the coming of rock ‘n’ roll, however the Auditorium has carved out a reputation mostly as a must stop on the concert circuit.
CONTINUE NORTH ON MARKET STREET ONTO...
Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park
Market Street between San Fernando Street and San Carlos Street
A plaza was the beating heart of every Spanish settlement in the New World and this plaza was the hub of the 1797 Pueblo de San José. With the coming of American rule in the 1840s surveyor Chester Lyman laid out the elliptical park seen today. On the eastern edge, marked by a stone tablet, was where the first California State Capitol stood in 1849; it was destroyed by fire in 1853. City Hall was the centerpiece of the park from the 1880s until 1958 when it was demolished. By that time St. James Park had long replaced the plaza as the town’s premier open space. The park was renamed for community organizer and founder of the United Farm Workers Union César E. Chávez, a San Jose resident, after he died in 1993.
CONTINUE NORTH ON MARKET STREET TO EXIT CESAR CHAVEZ PARK.
United States Post Office/San Jose Museum of Art
110 South Market Street at southeast corner of San Fernando Street
In the 1800s most Americans had no contact whatsoever with the federal government beyond mail delivery and when this sandstone structure was raised in 1892 it was the first federal building in San Jose. Architect Willoughby Edbrooke tapped the Romanesque style for his building with arched openings and a corner tower that suffered damage during the 1906 Earthquake and was never repaired. The post office of a growing town left its cramped quarters here in the 1930s and since then it has served as a public library and the San Jose Museum of Art.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
80 Market Street at northeast corner of San Fernando Street
St. Joseph’s traces its roots back to the founding of Mission Saint Clara in 1777. An adobe house of worship was constructed on this site in 1803, making it the first non-mission parish in California. An earthquake cracked the walls in 1818 and another in 1822 crippled the roof so a second adobe church was built. It lasted until 1868 when another earthquake rumbled the town and the church buildingwas replaced by a wooden sanctuary that was destroyed by fire in 1875. This classically flavored church ended the run of bad luck for the parish and has served since 1877, although its spectacular dome wasn’t completed until 1885.
33 South Market Street at northwest corner of Post Street
It was on this site that the town hall, or Juzgado, of the Pueblo de San Jose was constructed of adobe bricks in 1798. The Juzgado was pulled down in 1850 and Pedro de Saisset purchased the property in 1873. He constructed this ornamental brick building called Alcantara around 1890 and it became the Hotel Metropole in 1902. Pedro de Saisset came from France to join the California Gold Rush although he wasn’t planning to prospect in the dusty hills. He was looking to tap into the newfound wealth somehow and he eventually did that by founding the Brush Electric Company in 1882. The Brush system was adopted for lighting the city and he bought a 237-foot light tower at the crossing of Santa Clara and Market streets a half block from here that was the largest single source of electricity in the United States and the third largest in the world. It consisted of tubular iron and supported enough lamps to generate 24,000 candlepower. The tower would remain in operation until it was felled by a storm in 1915. The Hotel Metropole lasted much longer - for more than a century.
TURN RIGHT ON SANTA CLARA STREET AND WALK A FEW STEPS. ON YOUR LEFT IS...
The San Jose Building and Loan Association
north side of Santa Clara Street between First Street and Market Street
Charles Wesley Breyfogle was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1841 and served under General William Tecumseh Sherman during the Civil War, reaching the rank of Captain. He became a physician after the war in Kentucky but overwork caused his own health to deteriorate and he headed west for California in 1871. Quickly recuperated, he took up medical practice in San Jose for 15 years after which he retired and organized the San Jose Building and Loan Association in 1885. He became mayor the following year. This Neoclassical vault was raised for the bank in 1927; its neighbors have disappeared but the details of the facade have stood up well through the decades.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON SANTA CLARA STREET AND CROSS MARKET STREET. AT SAN PEDRO STREET TURN RIGHT INTO SAN PEDRO SQUARE. TURN LEFT AT ST. JOHN STREET AND WALK INTO THE COURTYARD TO YOUR LEFT.
San Pedro Square, south side of St. John Street between San Pedro and Terraine streets
This is the oldest Spanish structure in downtown San Jose and the only physical link to the Pueblo de San Jose. Manuel Gonzalez, an Apache Indian, is considered to have built the structure of adobe bricks in 1797 for his wife and five children. In 1804 Luís María Peralta, a soldier who received one of the largest Spanish land grants, 44,800 acres that encompassed most of East Bay, purchased the small house. The City acquired the historical treasure in 1966 and restored the adobe.
ACROSS THE STREET IS...
Thomas Fallon House
northwest corner of San Pedro Street and St. John Street
Irish-born Thomas Fallon signed on with John C. Fremont’s expedition to California in 1846. He commanded a volunteer company that bloodlessly captured the Pueblo of San Jose and raised the American flag over the Juzgado. After the Mexican War Fallon bounced around, selling saddles in Santa Cruz, selling iron picks to gold miners and homesteading in Texas. He returned to San Jose in 1855, built this Greek Revival frame house and entered local politics. Fallon was elected mayor of the town in 1859. All did not end well for Thomas Fallon, however. In 1876 his wife of 26 years, Carmel, discovered her husband and a family maid engaged in carnal shenanigans and divorced him. She took her money and began developing San Francisco real estate; he lived nine more years before dying in San Francisco at the age of 60.
WALK EAST ON ST. JOHN STREET BACK ACROSS SAN PEDRO STREET AND CONTINUE ONE-AND-A-HALF BLOCKS BACK TO ST. JAMES PARK AND THE TOUR STARTING POINT.