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Early San Jose

For thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers, what is now San Jose was inhabited by several groups of Ohlone Native Americans. Whatever structures they built were undoubtedly built near the Guadalupe River, the area’s source of fresh water.


El Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe (The Town of Saint Joseph from Guadalupe) was founded by José Joaquin Moraga on November 29, 1777. It was the first settlement not associated with a mission or a military post in the Spanish colony of Nueva California, which later became Alta California.


The June 1, 1781 map of Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe, is the first known map of what is today San José, California. The creation date of 23 April 1781 is often erroneously attributed to this map, because readers saw that date in the text without translating the document.


This map represents the original site of the pueblo from November 1777 to approximately 1791. Therefore, the lands depicted are approximately between Guadalupe Freeway, Hedding Street, North First Street and Hobson Street. The pueblo proper is seen as a square at the top of the map, marked with a cross. Within that square would have been the solares (town lots). The outlying suertes (farm lots) are seen as the 21 squares with names in them. These lots were irrigated by the Guadalupe River, which fed into the farm lots via the main water ditch, seen at the upper right side.[1]

The town was founded by colonists led to California by Juan Bautista de Anza, as a farming community to provide food for the presidios of San Francisco and Monterey. In 1778, the pueblo had a population of 68. In 1797, the pueblo was moved from its original location, near the present-day intersection of Guadalupe Parkway and Taylor Street, to a location in what is now Downtown San Jose.

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Rancho De Los Coches

In 1844 California Governor Manuel Micheltorena granted Rancho de Los Coches to Roberto Balermino, a Santa Clara Mission Indian who had permission to occupy it since 1836. His 2,219.35 acre rancho was bounded by The Alameda on the north and west and by Los Gatos Creek on the east, and it was called Rancho de Los Coches. In modern Spanish "coches" means "cars" or "coaches" but in those days it was a word for "pigs." Roberto lived on the land for about a decade in a small adobe house a few hundred yards from Los Gatos Creek.


Roberto Balemino held a responsible position at Mission Santa Clara. In 1844 he was granted the half square league Rancho Los Coches and was issued a "Certificate of Emancipation", giving him full citizenship. Antonio Suñol obtained the Rancho Los Coches in 1847 from Roberto as payment on a debt.


In 1847, Balermino sold it to Antonio Sunol, an American settler. Sunol later subdivided his land into thirds. In the 1860s, one such parcel (739 acres) was sold to Captain Henry Morris Naglee which included the area we now know as the Buena Vista neighborhood.

At that time, the City of San Jose was centered in the area east of the Guadalupe River, with roads such as The Alameda extending toward Santa Clara and Steven’s Creek Road extending westward along what is now West San Carlos Street.  Most of the people who purchased land in those days either had future plans to use it for agriculture or had plantings of fruit trees. Popular choices included prune, plum, apricot, peach, pear, cherry and walnut trees.

Antonio Marie Suñol (1796-1865), born in Spain, was a seaman on a French merchant ship and arrived in the Pueblo of San José in 1818. He married María Dolores Bernal and held several public offices including Postmaster (1826-1829), and Alcalde (mayor) in 1841. He was a grantee of Rancho Valle de San Jose with his three brothers-in-law. Sunol, California is named for him. In 1849, Suñol divided Los Coches into thirds; one-third went to his eldest daughter, Paula and her husband Pierre Sainsevain, grantee of Rancho Cañada del Rincon en el Rio San Lorenzo, and one-third was sold to Henry Morris Naglee.​


With the cession of California to the United States following the Mexican-American War, the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo provided that the land grants would be honored. As required by the Land Act of 1851, a claim for Rancho Los Coches was filed with the Public Land Commission in 1852,[6] and the grant was patented to Antonio Suñol, Paula Sainsevain, and Henry Morris Naglee in 1857.  You can still see Roberto Balermino’s adobe home at 770 Lincoln Avenue[2], just south of where Highway 280 crosses Lincoln.


When Sunol bought the home from Balermino he named it ''Laura Ville” and the sign remains on the property to this day, though it's now used as a law office.  The name "Los Coches" lives on in the name of a short street just south of West San Carlos where it crosses Highway 17[3]. Sunol gave his name to Sunol Street, which runs parallel to and east of Lincoln Avenue.[4]​

​Winchester Mystery House

Upon Sarah Winchesters, the widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester, arrival in the area in 1884, she found a six room home under construction which belonged to a Dr. Caldwell.  After her husbands death in 1881, Sarah moved west under the direction of a spiritualist who instructed her to “start a new life and build a home for yourself and for the spirits who have fallen from this terrible weapon (the Winchester Rifle) too. You can never stop building the house. If you continue building, you will live. Stop and you will die."


She entered into negotiations with Dr. Caldwell and soon convinced him to sell her the house and the 162 acres which it rested on.  She tossed away any previous plans for the house and started building whatever she chose to. She had her pick of local workers and craftsmen and for the next 36 years, they built and rebuilt, altered and changed and constructed and demolished one section of the house after another. She kept 22 carpenters at work, year around, 24 hours each day.  The sounds of hammers and saws sounded throughout the day and night until her death on September 5, 1922, at which time work immediately ceased.   Ever since the construction commenced, the property and mansion were claimed by many, including Winchester herself, to be haunted by the ghosts of those killed with Winchester rifles.

The house has many conveniences that were rarely found at the time of its construction, including steam and forced-air heating, modern indoor toilets and plumbing, push-button gas lights, a hot shower from indoor plumbing and even three elevators, including one with the only horizontal hydraulic elevator piston in the United States.


It is a designated California historical landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is now privately owned and serves as a tourist attraction.


Sarah Winchester's biographer, however, claims that Winchester "routinely dismissed workers for months at a time 'to take such rest as I might'" and notes that "this flies in the face of claims by today's Mystery House proprietors that work at the ranch was ceaseless for thirty-eight years."

1906 Earthquake


Outside of San Francisco the earthquake did immense damage for fifty miles north and south of the Golden Gate City.  San Jose, the prettiest city in California, sustained the severest shock, which killed a score of people and left the business section a pile of ruins.  The loss in this one city alone amounted to $5,000,000.


The State Insane Asylum at Agnews near San Jose collapsed and buried upwards of 100 patients beneath its walls.  Winchester House was also damaged in the “Great San Francisco Earthquake” of 1906 and workmen toiled for the next few months after to repair the damage done by the earthquake, though the mammoth structure had fared far better than most of the buildings in the area.  Only a few of the rooms had been badly harmed, although it had lost the highest floors and several cupolas and towers had toppled over.

Buena Vista Neighborhood History


Housing In The Early 1900s

Like San Francisco, the architecture of San Jose tells a story in and of itself, and the architecture of the Buena Vista Neighborhood tells the story of the growth of the City;  The original Sonol Adobe lies just a mile to the east and it like many of the early homes still stand.  The architectural styles of San Jose and the Buena Vista Neighborhood are explored in depth here.

Buena Vistas early development in the cities history is on of the core reasons why the neighborhood streets are so narrow, they were designed for coaches and wagons, not modern cars.  The first automobiles appeared in the valley in the late 1890s, but it was not until after World War I that the automobile began to affect the nature and scale of residential neighborhood development.

In 1904, soon after the rails were laid for the San Jose-Los Gatos Interurban Railroad (affectionately called “Toonerville Trolleys”) along what is now West San Carlos, developers laid plans for the first residential tracts. “Interurban Park” was on the north side and Rose Lawn Park on the south side of the trolley tracks. These two tracts are now the Burbank neighborhood.


Most of the streets we now know as the Buena Vista neighborhood (Maylellen, Menker, Richmond and Porter - now called Leigh) were part of the “Orchard Park” subdivision. Buena Vista Avenue was the only street in what was known as the “Zuver Subdivision.” “Maypark Half Acres” extended east and included Willard and Page. See map of 1927 subdivisions. The lots sold for $100-$275 each, with the last lots being sold in 1921.


There were no houses south of Scott Street and Scott Street itself was segmented, connecting a few blocks, stopping, then connecting a few more blocks, ad nauseam.​The early homes in the Burbank and Buena Vista neighborhoods were single-family homes with one story and one or two bedrooms. They had indoor plumbing but were on septic tanks. Many houses had basements because they had wood-burning furnaces which were installed there. There were a few carriage houses as well as small barns for horses.  


By 1925, houses had garages as more residents bought cars. They were single-car garages, and built at the back of the lot, like the horse barns and carriage houses before them. View more typical houses


Many families moved to the area because they did not want to live in the city limits. Many of them were making the transition from farm life and wanted to keep a cow, a few chickens, or a goat – which was not allowed in the city limits.


The lots were narrow but very deep, to allow for a vegetable garden, and to leave room for a cow barn or a chicken coop or goat pen far enough in the back to keep the smell of the animals out of the house.


In addition to residences, there were several small business located in the neighborhood, including a hand laundry on Richmond Avenue, Gold's Rug Works on Mayellen, and poultry farms on Douglas, Page, and Willard.

Wells were used for water until the San Jose Water Company came into the area in 1940.


The roads were still on a bed of dirt and gravel and there were no paved sidewalks, curbs or gutters unless an individual owner installed them. Horse-drawn water wagons would drive up and down the streets during the hot summer days to wet down the dusty dirt streets.


What is now West San Carlos was a dirt road with two lanes on the north for cars and two lanes on the south for the yellow Interurban street cars.


During the late twenties and into the Depression, affordable housing became an issue. Some developers created a very popular solution – small units surrounding a court. Owners could live in one unit and rent out the rest. There are several of these courts in the Burbank and Buena Vista neighborhoods: 24-26 Brooklyn Avenue, 12 Boston Avenue, 324-342 Buena Vista Avenue, 450 Page Street, and 50-58 Topeka Avenue.

Many of the houses that were built in the early 1900's still stand in Buena Vista and the surrounding neighborhoods, though now many are also being torn down to make way for new high-density housing.  BVNA use to hold a Home and Garden Tour that celebrated the history of many of the houses, the map below catalogs a handful of the homes and architectural styles that make up the Buena Vista Neighborhood.

Peninsular Railway


The Peninsular Railway, known to locals as PIN, was incorporated in January 1906 as a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific in response to calls for an interurban line from San Francisco to San Jose.  Electric passenger service between San Jose and Palo Alto began on March 5, 1910 and ended on October 1, 1934.


The interurban can be looked upon as a hybrid between a railroad and a city trolley car. The technology differed from the streetcar in a variety of subtle ways. The equipment was larger, heavier, and faster than that used in the urban environment. There were a couple of technology challenges that had to be overcome if the interurban was to become commercially viable. The first challenge was to find a way of transmitting electricity over distance without losing power to run the system. Electric traction relied upon direct current motors for power but because of line loss, direct current could not be transmitted over long distances. So how does the industry address the problem? The answer was the electric substation, or powerhouse, where electricity is transmitted over high-tension lines using alternating current; then at geographically dispersed locations, substations would convert the AC power to DC power using rotary converters. Once converted, the electricity could be channeled over the line via overhead wire that the interurban car would pick up to drive its traction motors using a trolley pole.


The original Pin tracks were from several other already existing interurban companies, such as the Alum Rock Railway Company, the Peninsular Railroad, and the Santa Clara Interurban Railroad. Some of the Peninsular Railroad and Alum Rock Railway trackage in San Jose became owned by the San Jose Railroads and were never a part of the Peninsular Railway. The trackage that the Peninsular Railway built itself was the line to Los Gatos through Campbell, the line along Stevens Creek Road to Cupertino, the two lines along the Mayfield cutoff from Cupertino to Mayfield, and Cupertino to Los Gatos, the spur to Congress Springs from Saratoga, and part of the line to Alum Rock Park.


The PIN ran between its namesake cities on a route that took it down San Carlos (Stevens Creek Boulevard) to Saratoga Road (Avenue) where it traveled south to the little lumber town of Saratoga. It then turned east to Los Gatos and ran down what is today Route 9. The cost of the round trip fare between Saratoga and downtown San Jose was twenty cents.  During their peak years, a passenger could ride from Palo Alto to San Jose for fifty-five cents.


By 1931, the system was operating 34 streetcars on 91.1 miles (146.6 km) of track though all of the lines were replaced by bus service by the late 1930s.


The Early Economy

At the turn of the century, the economy of the Santa Clara Valley centered around agriculture – the growing, picking, drying, canning and selling of the fruit and nuts crops. At the time, San Jose, then known as The Valley of Heart’s Delight, was producing 90 percent of the fruits and vegetables in the state of California.


There were walnut orchards along San Jose-Los Gatos Road (now Bascom Avenue), along with pear orchards and cherry orchards. Prune and apricot orchards bordered Moorpark Avenue. A peach orchard surrounded the property on West San Carlos where the DiFiores built their cannery in 1913. The cannery was located on the north side of Stevens Creek Boulevard near the intersection of Porter (now Leigh Avenue). Many residents worked in the DiFiore Canning Company, as it was within walking distance of their homes. Others had jobs at Contadina, U.S. Products, and Richmond Chase, all accessible by taking a local streetcar.

As is evident from this photograph taken from the DiFore Canning Plant looking Northward in 1915, San Jose was a completely different city at that time.  Fire destroyed the cannery on or before July 24, 1915 according to Insurance Press; a temporary structure was built to handle the imminent peach crop, it’s not clear if the photograph was taken before or after the fire, the packing plant employed over 200 workers.


The lumber and planing mill employed many residents as well at such companies as Pacific Manufacturing Mills, Chase Lumber Company, Cheim Lumber, and Mission City Lumber.



 The Cheim Lumber Co. building at 800 W. San Carlos St., San Jose, California, USA.


Bob Cheim and his brother Leo Cheim had this handsome and unique building built as a surprise for their father. At the time, their father and mother were on a cruise to Hawaii. The building is constructed from a multitude of exotic woods, inspired no doubt by the company's mission. The Cheim Lumber Co was a manufacturer of pre-fab homes.  Because the new building appeared too sophisticated to be the office for a lumber company, contractors tended to avoid it; and they placed orders at the will call window.


Some people worked at the County Hospital on San Jose-Los Gatos Road (now Bascom Avenue). O'Connor Hospital had opened in 1889 and was the first hospital in Santa Clara County. The original O'Connor Sanitarium, as it was called, was located at the corners of Race Street and what is now West San Carlos and also employed local residents.


The Orchards Disappear - 1930-1960

In the late 1930s the streetcars gave way to automobiles and the more flexible bus lines. The trolley rails were removed from West San Carlos and sold for scrap metal.


The DiFiore Canning Company closed its doors in 1940 and the building and surrounding yards sat unused for over a decade. The San Jose Mercury-News had an article in April 1950 that give the details of the “old brick cannery building to be torn down on the 30 acre DiFiore Cannery property on West San Carlos...” The property was to be divided into 68 residential lots. The developer was stated as saying, “San Jose is entitled to a shopping center along Wilshire Blvd. lines.” All that currently remains of the cannery is a short street in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood, just south of San Jose City College, that is named DiFiore Drive[6].


In the mid 1950s, the streets in the area were renumbered. For example, 52 S. Menker Avenue because 478 S. Menker Avenue.


Orchards were subdivided and/or sold outright and the area south of Scott Street was gradually developed with streets and houses. A walk through our neighborhood streets tells this story in the architecture of these homes. The homes on the north side of Scott are 30-40 years older than the homes on the south side of Scott Street. See maps.


It is interesting that the homes in the new section mimicked the small bungalows in the older section. They lacked some of the detailing and use of wood for moldings, wainscoting, brackets, window and door frames, but they kept the simplicity. The basements were eliminated as well as the fireplaces in most of these later homes. They had one-car garages, but they were no longer in the back of the lot but were adjacent to the house, usually connected to the kitchen. Brick and stucco replaced the wood framing of the early bungalows.


The last orchards in the Buena Vista neighborhood became several large apartment complexes at the southern end of Menker, Mayellen, Buena Vista, Willard and Page Avenues.


In 1946, Lou’s Village opened on Steven Creek Road where it would serve seafood to locals along with visiting celebrities for 60 years until its closing in December of 2005 when the property was raised to make way for housing.


Started by three retired San Jose Firemen, Lou Santoro, Lou Ferro and Paul Polizzi in June 1946 @ 1465 West San Carlos Street in what was previously a Walnut orchard. It quickly grew to become the top spot in town for 50's style floorshows, dancing and a great steak. Crazily it even featured its own weekday morning radio show live from the dance floor! Top performers like Lucille Ball, the Mills Brothers, Scatman Crothers, the Drifters would find their way to San Jose to either perform or be seen at the restaurant. 


In 1961 there was a fire that allowed the restaurant to rebuild and take full advantage of their long skinny lot. Gone was the popular dance floor, but the new Lou's Village could now accommodate large meetings luncheons, wedding banquets, large family dinners and other community group get togethers. In 2012 Lou’s Village was re-established in Willow Glenn at Lincoln Avenue and Willow Streets.[7]


Another popular spot was The Fiesta Lanes Bowling Alley (1523 W. San Carlos). Built in 1957, it was the largest bowling alley in the area at the time of construction. The building was a reinforced concrete tilt up structure and originally included a drive-in restaurant in the southeast corner of the building. That structure met the same fate as Lou's Village, and -- eventually -- a housing project will be built on the site.


In 1953 the San Jose School District operated the San Jose Technical High School and moved the school from its original location in downtown San Jose to the site of San Jose City College south of Moorpark Avenue. The name was officially changed to San Jose Junior College in 1958, and later to San Jose City College.



O’Connor Hospital moved from the corner of Race Street and Stevens Creek Road to its present location on Forest Avenue in 1953. A Sears-Roebuck store was built on the land and served the local population for the next 25 years. Following the closing of the store and several years where the store sat unused, it was torn down and replaced in the 1990s with the Mid-Town Safeway.

Sam Carlino, Sr. and his brothers, Vic, Joe, Chuck, Steve and Pete, got an early start in the food business, opening a fruit and vegetable stand together out on Monterey Highway in December, 1938, and running it until the beginning of World War II. In 1950, the brothers formed a partnership and opened the Time Market on Bascom Avenue in the Burbank Neighborhood of San Jose.


As proprietors of the famed Time Market, the Carlinos served the community with produce, fresh meats and gourmet grocery items not available anywhere else. The market was known as much for the friendly and personalized service as it was for the quality and uniqueness of the merchandise. Sam Carlino, Sr. sold his share of the business to his brother Joe in 1979, who later sold the market to the Jussen family. It’s not clear when the name was changed.


1970'S And Highway 280

Highway 280 had been penciled into maps as early as the mid-1960s. Sections of the highway had already been completed to the west. In the late 1960s four or five houses north of Moorpark on each of the streets were removed to make way for the proposed freeway. See aerial photos.


At the time Highway 280 was completed, an overcrossing was built that extended from Porter Avenue across property that once belonged to San Jose City College. That street was connected to Leigh Avenue coming up from the south across Southwest Expressway, and was renamed. You can still see the old name "PORTER AVE." stamped into the concrete curbs on the south side of Scott at its intersection with Leigh Avenue.


Hank Guenther came to San Jose in the late 1960s to run the Sweden House, an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord, eventually changing the name to Bit O' Sweden. When the restaurant business started slowing, he successfully bought the restaurant out and opened the Saddle Rack in 1976.


Built on six and a half acres on Auzerais between Meridian Avenue and Race Street. It was the hot spot for Country-Western music fans. It sported four dance floors, live bands, mechanical bulls, and line dancing. During its 25 years in San Jose they booked such acts as James Brown, B.B. King, Garth Brooks, Huey Lewis, Roy Orbison, the Charlie Daniels Band, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Martina McBride and an all-star roster of other bands and singers.


Guenther incorporated a bull pen with live bulls in the back corner of the property around 1982.  The bulls lasted a few years, until one jumped over a 10-foot fence and got off the property.  An automobile traveling on Meridian hit the bull and ended its short spree of freedom. The bull arena didn't last much longer and in 1984, after their insurance company said they wouldn't cover it, Guenther shut it down.[8]


In October 2000 the owner, Hank Guenther, sold the property to KB Homes and The Saddle Rack closed its doors in 2001 (the bar was re-opened in Fremont CA in April 2003). All that remains of it in San Jose is Saddle Rack Street.

More Housing Woes


The housing situation in the Buena Vista neighborhood took another turn: in-filling. The deep lots lost their appeal as space for a garden and farm animals, and "granny units" began to sprout in back yards that once held fruit trees. Some owners added one additional small home, while others opted for a string of small one-bedroom apartments in a low-slung unit behind the main house. In other situations, all the structures on a property or adjacent properties were removed in order to build an apartment or condominium complex.

The streets that were originally designed for foot traffic, bicycles, and an occasional horse-drawn carriage, now are barely wide enough for on-street parking and simultaneous two-way traffic by today's automobiles. As a result, some streets such as Buena Vista Avenue and Leigh Avenue resorted to allowing parking on only one side of the street. The in filling mentioned above brought even more cars into the area and parking became a neighborhood concern.




VTA began life in 1984, fifty years after the demise of the PIN, and is a reincarnation of that historic train service, utilizing overhead wire, 600-volt traction motors, car barns, motormen, and street running in downtown San Jose.[9]  The new electric rail lines don’t run down West San Carlos as its predecessor did, but run Southwest from Diridon Station parallel the Southwest Expressway to the Southern end of Winchester in downtown Campbell.  Buena Vista is serviced by the light rail service via the Race Street station.[10]


Annexation Into San Jose


Parts of Buena Vista remained an unincorporated county pocket of Santa Clara, a piece of land surrounded by the greater City of San Jose, but serviced by the County of Santa Clara.  On December 19, 2000, the San Jose City Council conditionally approved the annexation of the neighborhood in the approval was a condition that the recordation of the annexation resolution be deferred contingent upon a subsequent Proposition 218 election, to be held in March, 2002, with eligible voters agreeing to accept new or increased property based taxes commensurate with those collected for parcels already within the incorporated City limits. Proposition 218, approved by voters in 1996, was intended to ensure that all taxes on property owners be subject to voter approval. Measure P failed to obtain the 2/3 vote required for approval (64.5% in favor, 35.5% opposed) and the annexation did not proceed.   On November 19, 2008 San Jose City Council officially annexed the North Western portion of Buena Vista into the City.

Buena Vista Park

The neighborhood realized the impact that the absence of recreation facilities and local parks was having on the residents and their children. One solution was to set aside small lot at the corner of Scott and Menker as a "pocket park." Buena Vista Park became a reality in the spring of 2004 taking over a then vacant single family lot.   In 201X, the park was remodeled and expanded into an adjoining lot, adding a small grass area, additional seating, a tricycle track and other amenities.











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