“As we look at the images of the past, juxtaposed with current sights, we know with certainty that we are today living and building our own history.” Former San Jose Mayor Thomas P. McEnery, 1988
City with a Past
The Spanish pioneer settlement of the Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe was the focal point for the distribution of goods in Alta California. Although neither large in population (4,000) nor imposing in its structures, San José was selected as the capital of the new state of California in 1850. The blow to civic pride when the capital was lost led to an effort by the citizens to reclaim the honor. The construction of the Courthouse in 1868 with its classic revival architecture and splendid dome was pivotal in the transformation of downtown from simple wood and adobe to brick and stone.Bracketed by St. James Park and the Plaza, the downtown was the commercial and cultural heart of the Santa Clara Valley. From the first eastward shipment of fresh fruit in 1869, the Valley became the world's largest food processing center. San José developed as the hub for the world-wide distribution of the Valley's agricultural products. For the next one hundred years downtown thrived and responded to the changing needs of the area's ever increasing population.Efforts to diversify the economic base following World War II, coupled with an aggressive annexation policy, accelerated the city's growth and population (95,000 in 1950 to 204,000 in 1960). City Hall moved out of downtown in 1958 as a result of the many pressures produced by the burgeoning population. In the same year the area's first shopping center, Valley Fair, opened and heralded the decline of downtown. During the last quarter of the 20th century, attention was focused on revitalizing the downtown.
The home of Captain Thomas Fallon (center), who raised the American flag over San José in 1846. To the left is the Peralta Adobe, the only pre-1800 structure still remaining in the city.
This City Hall designed by Levi Goodrich was constructed in 1855 at what later became 35 North Market Street. It was a two-story brick structure with council chambers on the ground floor and two small rooms and an assembly hall upstairs. The county leased the second floor as a courtroom for a short time but the lease was not renewed in 1862 because the city needed the space. In the 1890s the building was converted to a fire station and the castellations were removed. The building was demolished in 1951.
Looking south on Market Street from St. John, c. 1905. On the left is the J. S. Williams clothing store next to the Palm Restaurant and the New York Exchange Hotel. City Hall (built in 1887) is in the center of the Plaza in the background. The Electric Light Tower, 237 feet high, spanned Market and Santa Clara Streets from 1881 to 1915.
San José's Chinatown on Market Street prior to the fire which destroyed it in 1887. This Chinatown was on the present site of the Fairmont Hotel.
Post Office on the Plaza soon after the 1906 eathquake. This building later housed the public library, and, since 1975, the San José Museum of Art.
City Hall in the 1950s. Designed by architect Theodore Lenzen, and constructed in 1887, it originally housed the jail on the ground floor, council chambers on the main floor, and public library on the third floor. This City Hall continued in use until it was demolished in 1958.
View of the Plaza, 1988. The Fairmont Hotel is built on the site of the old Chinatown.
Ground-breaking ceremony for the Civic Auditorium in 1934. The auditorium was built on land that was originally part of the Pueblo Plaza, donated by Mr. and Mrs. T. S. Montgomery
View of the San José Civic Auditorium under construction. Built between 1934-1936, the structure cost $500,000 and was opened to the public on July 14, 1936.
Courthouse and Hall of Records on North First Street on July 4th, 1914. In 1931 the Courthouse was gutted by fire. It was reconstructed with a new third story and without the dome.
In 1934 the Post Office moved from the building on the Plaza to this North First Street location.
Left to right are the First Presbyterian, Trinity Episcopal, and First Methodist churches, along the south side of St. James Park, c. 1868.
The Scottish Rite Temple at 196 North Third was built in 1924. The building has been restored and now houses the Silicon Valley Athletic Club.
The portico from the Eagles Hall building on Third Street, facing St. James Park, was all that was preserved when a large office building was constructed on the site in 1985.
Osen Hunter Auto Company, 1908, at the corner of First and St. James. Remodeled several times, the building later became a night club.
On the southwest corner of First and San Fernando, this 1905 steel-framed building is considered the first skyscraper in San José, and the site of its first radio station, KQW. It later became the Silicon Valley Financial Center.
The Beans Building on the right was home of the Bank of San José, built after the old structure was damaged in the 1906 earthquake. It was acquired by the Bank of Italy in 1927, and demolished in 1947. The Roos-Atkins store later occupied this corner, now office space.
First National Bank, built in 1909 at the southwest corner of First and Santa Clara, was the second "skyscraper" in San José, and towered over everything except the Electric Light Tower.
Incorporated in 1868, and located on the northeast corner of First and Santa Clara, the Bank of San José was one of the earliest banks in San José. Built in 1872, it served as the timepiece for the city.
"Safe Deposit Block," Commercial & Savings Bank on the corner of First and Santa Clara, 1884. This local bank was absorbed by the Bank of Italy and the building was replaced in 1912.
Bank of America, built in 1927, on the southeast corner of First and Santa Clara. The Bank of Italy in San Francisco was founded by A. P. Giannini, a native of San José. The San José branch opened in 1910. The name changed to Bank of America in 1930.
1988 view of banks at Santa Clara and Almaden. In the 1980s, the new bank buildings became streamlined, a contemporary look found throughout the financial world.
South First Street looking north, c. 1955. The exteriors of these buildings were "modernized" after World War II.
Post Street at Lightston Alley looking east in 1988. An early red-light district, Post was called El Dorado until 1902.
South Market between Post and San Fernando looking North, c. 1940. The car being ticketed is in front of the Liberty Theatre, a burlesque house during World War II.
The Electric Light Tower spanned the intersection of Market and Santa Clara from 1881 to 1915, a symbol of technology and progress.
South Second Street looking north. Parade passing the Empire Fire House, which burned down in 1892. A replica of the fire house can be seen at History Park in San José.
A movie "palace" on South First Street, it changed its name to the Fox Theater in 1955, closed in 1973, and reopened as the California Theatre in 2004 after extensive renovations.
San José was a regular stop on the theater circuit, featuring such personalities as Lionel Barrymore and Sarah Bernhardt.
The First Baptist Tabernacle is at the left with Temple Bikur Cholim, a Jewish synagogue, beyond. At the right of the photograph is the First Congregational Church. In the center is the original Normal School building, destroyed by fire on February 10, 1880.
Port San Say, 1915. In 1912 the Guadalupe River was dammed near St. John, and a recreational lake created. Small boats could be rented from Port San Say for an afternoon's pleasure.
The arched structure is the T and D Vaudeville House, which later became the Mission Theater.
Digital exhibit created from a 1991 physical exhibit:
Catherine Mills, Project Archivist, History San José; Nadine Nelson, Archives Volunteer, History San José; Don Ostrander, Digitization Volunteer, History San José
The original “City With a Past” exhibit was produced in 1991 and is on permanent exhibit in the San José Central Service Yard lobby at 1661 Senter Road.
Acknowledgements for the 1991 exhibit read:
For making this exhibit possible, special acknowledgement is given to Mayor Thomas McEnery, the San José City Council, and the “Committee for the Past:”
Councilmember Judy Stabile, Chair; Clyde Arbuckle, Chuck Buckley, Jack Douglas, Jim Fox, Art Lund, Leonard McKay, Jeanette McNeely, Ed Mosher, Leslie Parks, Bruce Pohle.
Support was provided by a grant from the San José Redevelopment Agency coordinated by the San José Historical Museum Association.
This exhibit was produced by the San José Historical Museum, Department of Recreation, Parks and Community Services. All photographs are from the Historical Museum collections.