by Shannon Clark
This is an excerpt from The Alameda — The Beautiful Way and is reprinted here with the permission of the author. Other uses strictly prohibited without express permission. For additional information on The Alameda and the surrounding neighborhood, visit The Alameda Business Association’s website for information on where to purchase the book.
The Agricultural Park encompassed 76 acres of land bordered by Race Street, The Alameda, Magnolia Avenue and Park Avenue. The Santa Clara Valley Agricultural Society began to have state fairs in 1856, but finally bought this park in 1859. The Agricultural Society’s fundraising committee sold subscriptions and raised $14,464.55 in just two weeks. The Society paid General Naglee $6,000 for the 76-acre parcel. This allowed the society to use the remaining funds to improve the park. This park served as a recreational facility for over 40 years. Livestock fairs, circuses, and dances made this one of the most popular San Jose parks. Leland Stanford raced his prize horses, Palo Alto and Occident, in the famous racing track located there. After returning from his trip around the world in 1879, President Grant visited The Agricultural Park to watch Occident race against the clock. In 1905, the “father of basic flying” and inventor of the cambered wing, John J. Montgomery, gave some of the first public flight demonstrations of a heavier than air high-air glider in the Agricultural Park.
Due to a lack of funding and the accumulation of debts, the last state fair was held around 1900. The land was sold to the Peninsula Land and Development Company, headed by Louis E. Hanchett.
Lewis E. Hanchett was a San Jose native, born in 1872. His wealth came from his inherited mining interests in Esmerelda County, Nevada. In 1905, he bought James H. Henry’s trolley system for $650,000. In 1906, he added a rail to The Alameda narrow gauge track, making it standard gauge. In the next year, he bought the Agricultural Park and developed the Shasta-Hanchett Park neighborhood, one of San Jose’s first “streetcar suburbs.” According to its developer at the time, Hanchett Park was “the only subdivision ever placed on the market in California with a modern septic tank sewerage system and flush tanks.” Hanchett built a car line from The Alameda to Park Avenue and Race Street via Martin and Tillman Avenues. By 1907, Hanchett had joined Bishop as a “giant of San Jose transit,” according to historian Clyde Arbuckle.
The neighborhood was brimming with Craftsman bungalows, Mission style, and Spanish Eclectic style architecture by the 1930s. Currently, Shasta-Hanchett Park has the area’s largest collection of craftsman houses built between 1900 and 1920.
Alameda Gardens, one of San Jose’s first subdivisions, originally encompassed most of the land north of The Alameda, from Stockton Avenue to West Hedding Street. Governor Micheltorena granted this plot of land, El Potrero de Santa Clara, to James Alexander Forbes in 1844. Three years later, Commodore Robert F. Stockton negotiated the purchase of Forbes’ land for $10,500. He subdivided the land as the Alameda Gardens Subdivision and ordered 60 pre-fabricated houses to be transported from Philadelphia in 1849. However, upon arriving in San Francisco the houses were destroyed by fire. Subsequently, he ordered up to sixteen more homes from Massachusetts. It was not uncommon for wealthy landowners to pick out pre-fabricated houses on the San Francisco wharfs. Stockton’s houses were assembled by his agent, Mr. James F. Kennedy, one of the first sheriffs of Santa Clara County. Prestigious residents of The Alameda including A. L. Rhodes, John H. Polhemus, Charles B. Polhemus, and D. M. Delmas owned these pre-fabricated houses. The area currently encompassed by Alameda Gardens is notable for the Hester School (1861) and the house designed by Julia Morgan at the corner of Villa and The Alameda.
St. Leo’s Neighborhood
St. Leo’s district is named for St. Leo’s Great Church and School on West San Fernando Street. St. Leo the Great Church was founded in 1915 as a mission of St. Joseph’s Cathedral. In 1920, it became a parish and established a school. On December 13, 1953 Archbishop Mitty dedicated the present church building.
St. Leo’s Neighborhood was originally part of Los Coches Ranch. Don Antonio Maria Suñol, the first postmaster and well-educated settler of San Jose purchased Los Coches Ranch from the Indian, Roberto, in 1847. His adobe, built by Roberto in 1839, remains on Lincoln Avenue, now known as Lauraville.
Historic features of St. Leo’s Neighborhood along The Alameda include Babe’s Muffler, Schurra’s Candy, and the Auditorium Roller Rink.
The 15-foot figure in front of Babe’s Muffler Service at 808 The Alameda is affectionately known as “Babe.” “Babe” has been holding this muffler since 1954. Roland “Babe” Royer established Babe’s muffler service in 1953 at 955 The Alameda, and the company moved to 808 The Alameda the following year. In 1954, a model of Paul Bunyan holding an ax caught Royer’s eye when he was at a trade show. It inspired him to use Paul Bunyan as a roadside advertising gimmick. Royer turned Paul Bunyan into “Babe,” the first of many Babes that would advertise for Royer’s shops throughout northern California.
The Alameda’s most historic candy shop, Schurra’s Candy, had its start in 1912. Alphonse and Anna Schurra emigrated from France with their son Justin. Their second son, Albert, was born in Washington on their way to California. While Anna and Alphonse settled on a farm in Sunnyvale, the boys pursued candy making. Albert opened a store in Modesto before he opened shop on The Alameda in 1938. Schurra’s occupied the 125-year-old brick building at the corner of The Alameda and Sunol for four decades. At the new Schurra’s location next-door, Brian Mundy continues to use original Schurra recipes.
The Auditorium Roller Rink stood at 1064 The Alameda from 1927 to 1974. J. E. Cassidy owned the rink until Robert B. Roll took over management in 1949. Through the years, many champion skaters practiced here. Also known as Roll-Ameda, the rink was a popular weekend attraction for children who lived near The Alameda especially in the pre-war years. Roll recalled that in the rink’s early years, “Girls coming in with skating skirts would have to kneel on the floor. We’d put one of those little Coke bottles down there and if there was any space at all between the hem of the skirt and the top of the bottle then they didn’t skate.” Connie Trevino, a long-time resident of The Alameda, remembers that it cost about 35 cents to rent skates there, and notes, “we would dance with all the sailors who would go there during the war.”
For a time, the oldest freight depot in San José was located in the St. Leo’s Neighborhood, at 754 The Alameda. The Western Pacific Railroad freight depot was built in 1922 and lasted until 1967. It was later an “Archer’s Den” and eventually was demolished. Today, the Avalon at Cahill Park Apartments are situated at this location.