San Jose blends many cultures and periods.
By Frank Edgerton Martin
Silicon Valley, once known as the Santa Clara Valley, is a historically agricultural basin that is dramatically framed by two mountain ranges. To the west, the verdant Santa Cruz Mountains or "Coastal Range" is blanketed with native oaks and small ravines. These small mountains create a boundary between two different climate zones: the maritime conditions of their ocean side and the hotter, more Mediterranean, more arid climate of the valley floor. Flying into San Jose, you can see the tangible transition from green to golden brown in scanning the valley from the west to the drier eastern slope. Larger than the Coastal Range, the Santa Clara Mountains enclose the valley's eastern edge with golden brown grasses.
Between these two very different mountain ranges lies one of the
most extraordinary collections of technology parks, freeways, and
sprawling suburbs in the country. There are traffic jams where once
there were orchards. On many days, the mountains trap a layer of
smog that is especially dense near San Jose. Yet the valley offers
many surprises in public gardens, hiking trails, and drives.
As host city to ASLA's 2002 annual meeting, San Jose (and Silicon Valley, for which it is the financial hub) is one of the world's leading venture capital and technology centers. The once agricultural town in the heart of the Santa Clara Valley has a population of 900,000 and the largest Asian population in the country. Not only is San Jose more populous than San Francisco, it is also in many ways more economically and culturally diverse. In looking back on our time, future urban historians may also find San Jose more intriguing; they may see in Silicon Valley's freeways, office parks, and experiments in public transit a remarkable geographic document of capitalism during the first economic boom (and sputter) of the Information Age.
Historic Layers Downtown
A common misperception of San Jose is that it is completely new and completely car oriented. Although a car is almost essential to live in the region, visitors will find many historical layers of time and culture in the valley, the oldest of which are the village and grave sites of the Ohlone Tribe who populated much of the area one thousand years ago. In the 18th century, Mexican settlement came to the valley, and missions were established in San Jose and nearby Santa Clara at what is now the heart of Santa Clara University.
One block east of San Jose's Convention Center, the Plaza is an oval-shaped park anchoring Market Street, whose modest size belies its historic importance. With its proximity to the original San Jose mission built in 1798, the Plaza was briefly the site of California's first state capital. Today the historic Sainte Claire Hotel and the City Auditorium bound the Paseo. Just a block south, the Romanesque-style former post office is now the San Jose Museum of Art. There are dozens of such sites that one can visit on foot or on the ASLA tour of downtown's generally unknown gardens, parks, and cultural facilities.
Martin Flores, ASLA, a senior urban designer with the city, is involved with urban design, transit, and floodplain projects throughout San Jose. He describes the thousands of new housing units being built downtown in proximity to the new Valley Transit Authority (VTA) trains running through the core. Although many projects are still in planning, Flores claims that San Jose "has a lot to offer for designers to study in new pedestrian spaces and Transit Oriented Development." With the immense tax revenues from burgeoning research areas north and south of downtown, San Jose's Housing and Redevelopment Authority has applied Tax Increment Financing to encourage new parks, street improvements, cultural facilities, and housing for technology workers who can bring new after-hours life to the largely 9 to 5 downtown.
One of the areas targeted for new housing is the St. James Park neighborhood just north of downtown. If it weren't for the immense palm trees, St. James Park itself could well be set in 19th-century Boston or Detroit. Several old-line Protestant churches, including the wooden Trinity Episcopal Cathedral dating from the 1860s, frame the two-block park with elegant and diverse facades. The classic Masonic Temple on North 3rd Street is now a health club with a small terrace cafe that makes a nice stop for lunch. On the southwest edge along North 1st Street, the immense Santa Clara Courthouse (begun in 1866 in an attempt to lure back the state capital) and the San Jose's New Deal-era post office create an impressive governmental district.
The square's origin dates back to the beginning of San Jose's American period (1848) when California entered the United States and San Jose set aside two blocks in its grid for parkland. Twenty years later, Frederick Law Olmsted designed the diagonal and peripheral walkways that largely remain today. More recent updates include a children's playground with a custom-designed trolley and a senior center on the park's eastern edge. A 10-minute walk from the Convention Center, St. James Park is a rare surviving example of 19th-century park and landscape design in northern California.
Diverse, compact, and downtown, the 28,000-student San Jose State University offers an entirely different campus experience from most small colleges. Yet, over the past several years, the campus has converted some of its major streets to greenspace in one of the bolder placemaking efforts of any city campus in the country. An interesting public space is the Jazzland Cafe, one of San Jose's most unusual coffee shops, set in the breezeway under MacQuarrie Hall just off the university's Paseo de San Carlos. Surrounded by parked cars beneath the modernist tower, this charming cafe is far less automotive in character than it used to be when the street just outside was filled with passing cars.
This largely postwar campus has humanized its 88 acres of streets and buildings by returning San Carlos and the perpendicular 7th Street to pedestrian malls. Under the direction of campus planners Alan Freeman and, later, Richard Macias, San Jose State, like the University of Cincinnati (see "Campus on the Hill" in this issue), demonstrates how public urban campuses can bring "main street" vitality to their cores through a clear vision for active and well-shaped open space.
The Guadalupe River Park and Gardens
Although it appears to be quite modest and tame on downtown maps and when one crosses over, the Guadalupe River has a 200-year history of flooding much of San Jose's historic core. Begun by the city, the Santa Clara Water District, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1992, the $227 million project is one of the largest urban watershed restoration projects in the country. Over the past 10 years, numerous landscape architecture firms including Sasaki Associates, EDAW, and Hargreaves Associates have prepared schemes for the corridor; Hargreaves's work on the river won an ASLA Honor Award for Design in 1998. There are numerous Ohlone village and burial sites along the corridor that are carefully documented when discovered during construction.
Slated to be complete by 2010, a three-mile ribbon of bike trails and riparian restoration will stretch from I-280 on the south, near the San Jose Convention Center, all the way north through downtown to Guadalupe Gardens at the edge of the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport. At this site, wedged between the airport and the river, the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden displays more than 3,000 varieties of heritage, modern, and miniature roses. Along the way, the riverwalk will pass a string of cultural attractions including the Children's Discovery Museum and its adjacent Discovery Meadow designed by Hargreaves Associates, the San Jose Arena and its adjacent Arena Green also by Hargreaves, and McEnery Children's Park. Each segment of the corridor will be interpreted through signage explaining hydrology, native plant communities, and flood control.
The striking 52,000-square-foot Children's Discovery Museum, designed
by Mexico Citybased architect Ricardo Legorreta, is a short
walk from the Convention District. Crossing over the Guadalupe on
a suspension pedestrian bridge, one enters Discovery Meadow's large
swale of lawn that sweeps northward from the purple museum building.
Framed on the west by a transit stop, the meadow is gently contoured
to transform functional drain-age into a work of land art. To the
north, a grove of oaks shelters the "Parade of Animals," a play-
ful collection of bronze animal sculptures of an owl, frog, rabbit,
and other creatures by sculptor Michael Boris. Enclosed within the
grove, this menagerie becomes a self-contained and protected child's
world that peeks into the park's broad expanse of lawn and the riparian
trees of the creek.
Discovery Meadow is bordered by a riverwalk that serves as a preview of the pathway that will eventually line the entire three-mile creek corridor. Walking back toward the museum, one discovers Hargreaves's well-detailed triangular belvedere that juts out from the river path into the creek valley. Flanked by descending steps on each side, the flat stone lookout offers both tactile and visual interest. Farther to the south, at the edge of Woz Way and the museum's small children's garden, a ceramic tiled marker commemorates the founding of the Ciudad de San Jose in 1848.
Crossing to the Alameda
Traveling southwest on Santa Clara Avenue through downtown, one crosses over Guadalupe Creek to discover the metallic San Jose Arena, home to its NHL hockey team, and Arena Gardens Park designed by Hargreaves Associates. Perhaps the most sophisticated multiuse greenspace yet built along Guadalupe, Arena Gardens is announced by a geometric bosque of palms that edge up to the north side of the street.
At this river crossing, Santa Clara Avenue becomes The Alameda, one of the more urbane and architecturally rich commercial streets in the city. Well worth the walk, The Alameda was once San Jose's "automobile row" where car dealers and service providers set up shop in the early years of motoring. Today, these Spanish and Mission Revival garages and storefronts remain with new retail and entertainment uses. Martin Flores explains that the area has undergone a great revival in the past 10 years as cafes and coffee shops moved into empty buildings. In surrounding blocks, you can walk along some of San Jose's most beautiful residential streets, with mature trees and well-kept houses of many revival styles dating from 1910 to 1940.
Venturing Out of Town
With the exception of the VTA line that runs north to the technology-rich office parks of Mountain View and other suburbs, traveling in the region generally requires a car. For drives north to San Francisco, I-280 is a scenic and generally fast-moving route that parallels the San Andreas Fault in passing such scenic areas as the western edge of Stanford University, the town of Woodside, and Foothill College. The best tip for driving in Silicon Valley is to avoid rush-hour trips on the freeways (roughly between 7:00 and 10:00 AM and 4:00 and 7:00 PM). Besides a fondness for long drives, Californians also love the beach. You will quickly discover that such ocean routes as Highway 17 crossing over the Coastal Range to Santa Cruz and the ocean are clogged with cars throughout the weekends. Yet, finding less-traveled rural roads is a delight. Driving along the Coastal Range or into the golden-colored Santa Clara Mountains to the east, one experiences unforgettable views into the valley and a fascinating variety of small towns.
ASLA is offering tours that will generally provide far more historic background and professional insight than you can gain on your own at many sites. For visitors interested in campuses, the historical significance of Stanford and Foothill College can be best understood with a tour guide. For visitors who wish to venture out on their own, the sites listed below are open to the public and are within a 40-minute drive of San Jose (if you avoid rush hour). Because most of Silicon Valley's technology campuses tend to be closed to the public, ASLA's Silicon Scenes and Settings II tour is the best way to see such sites as IBM, Almaden, Silicon Graphics, and Veritas Software.
Perhaps the most beautiful designed landscape in the region is Filoli. A property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Filoli is one of the finest preserved American estates from the Country Place Era early in the 20th century. Set in the eastern foothills of the Coastal Range in Woodside, Filoli is a top priority visit whether on your own or by ASLA tour. Located roughly halfway between San Francisco and San Jose, the 654-acre estate contains a Renaissance-style house set in 16 acres of gardens.
The Bourne family, Filoli's original builders, asked Bruce Porter, a multitalented designer known for his murals, interior, gardens, and stained glass windows, to help design the gardens and outdoor structures to complement architect Willis Polk's Italian villa scheme for the house. The National Trust's site guide lauds Filoli as a "prime example of the California eclectic style [that] provides an inspiring vision of a new Eden, with bountiful land, plentiful resources, and an emphasis on self-sufficiency."
Filoli's master plan reveals a strong Italian influence in the
alleés of cypress trees, the succession of garden rooms, and the
orthogonal shape and siting of terraces, lawns, and pools. "And
yet you have to understand that this is a very American garden,"
Lucy Tolmach, Filoli's director of horticulture, stresses. "The
Ohlone people were here centuries before Filoli." She goes on to
point out the hybrid of cultural and historic details at Filoli
that are also characteristic of American garden design in the early
20th century. They include the intimate and sloping "Dutch garden"
and the "High Place" on the southern edge of the garden, a small
clearing ringed by an arc of concrete columns that once served as
ballast in Gold Rushera ships.
Working without nursery records or planting plans, Tolmach and her horticultural team design and plant based on information from historic photographs and their own creative instincts. Each year, for example, Filoli replants annuals in the Chartres Cathedral Garden, an original Bruce Porter design wherein boxwood hedges represent the lead structure, and monochromatic fields of color evoke glass panes. The species may vary from year to year, but the color combinations and contrast remain true to the original window.
A new 1995 visitor's center is designed with such care for detail
that it seems as old as the estate itself. Such is the level of
attention to historic accuracy and character that the National Trust
brings to the gardens. Diverse as it is, Filoli's landscape is held
together by its constant maintenance and the lucid geometry of paths,
hedges, and allées. Tolmach explains that "the edges," whether they
are clipped plant materials or stone walls, "mean everything here."
Greenhouse manager and horticulturist Jim Salyards adds that there
are "about a mile of hedges at Filoli"not an insignificant
maintenance challenge. There are also extensive collections of magnolia,
rhododendrons, and camellias that he helps to propagate. Beyond
the enclosure of the formal gardens, Filoli's paths lead into a
wild garden filled with more humble and indigenous dogwoods and
maples sheltered by a canopy of indigenous coastal evergreen oaks.
Hakone Gardens and Montalvo
South of Filoli, yet also set against the eastern slope of the Coastal Range, the towns of Saratoga and Los Altos are historic and walkable communities where many of Silicon Valley's affluent technologists now live. Saratoga is worth a visit for its human-scale main street and Hakone Gardens, one of the oldest Japanese Gardens in the country.
Though not on the ASLA tours, Hakone Gardens and Saratoga are worth the 30-minute drive. In 1915, San Francisco arts patrons Oliver and Isabel Stein purchased an 18-acre hillside site to build a retreat. Their tastes for Japan were stimulated by the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exhibition. When Mrs. Stein later traveled to Japan, the Fuji-Hakone National Park particularly impressed her. In 1917, she hired architect Tsunematsu Shintani to design the Upper "Moon Viewing" House at her newly named "Hakone" retreat and landscape artist Naoharu Aihara to design the hillside gardens.
Constructed without nails, the Upper House shelters a serene veranda and tatami mat room for afternoon teas and moonlit soirees. Today, the handmade wood exterior conveys the patina of age and character rarely seen in American Japanese gardens and their structures. The Lower House was added to the gardens in 1922 to serve as the Stein's family home for overnight stays.
In 1966, the City of Saratoga purchased the gardens to save them from threatened subdivision. The difficult task of garden restoration and accommodating visitors was bolstered by a major grant from the Packard Foundation. Today, Hakone's serene Hill and Pond Garden is seen from winding paths that reveal changing views of the pond, waterfalls, and the Upper House. Visitors can also seek out the small Tea Garden and Zen Garden that serve as accurate interpretations of these specialized garden styles. The Bamboo Garden is a later addition to the hillside forest that offers visitors the unusual spatial experience of descending into the soaring green shafts of bamboo groves.
Just a short distance from Hakone, Montalvo is a Renaissance-style estate of Filoli's vintage. Operated as a public park, the estate's gardens are laid out on an axis that slopes dramatically downward from a rear amphitheater through the house's courtyards and terraces. At the front door is a long lawn whose space-enhancing forced perspective terminates in a pair of redwoods that frames a pergola garden at the base of the hill. Although lacking the superb garden restoration and maintenance of Filoli, Montalvo is a strong expression of site planning and the role of topography in framing and shaping long views in the Coastal Range foothills.
Montalvo's main public mission is to serve as a regional arts center with gallery space, a theater, and a large amphitheater for pop and classical performances that uses the back of the house as its backdrop. Many locals also visit to hike the hillside paths. One of the most striking qualities of the estate is the way the hill steeply frames the amphitheater to create an almost intimate space within the larger majesty of the landscape.
The real secret to Silicon Valley's success lies in California's long-term investment in education both in private schools such as Stanford and in the state's three tiers of public institutions: the University of California system, the California State University System, and the community colleges supported by local districts. Stanford University, UC-Santa Cruz, and Foothill College are remarkable examples of campus innovation. They are all included on ASLA tours within an hour's drive of downtown.
One of the world's best teaching and research centers, Stanford
University in Palo Alto, is about 40 minutes north of San Jose on
Highway 101. Entering from University Avenue in Palo Alto, one crosses
the Camino Real, the historic mission road that links all of California's
missions, to enter the campus at Palm Drive. This grand vista was
laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted as part of the original campus
plan. Still shaded by many of its original palms, the elegant drive
was recently restored with new paving, pedestrian paths, and curves.
The drive leads visitors in a one-way path around The Oval, an Olmsted
invention that is part lawn, part wild garden, and part formal planting
bed. Each year, the campus plants a new parterre design at the center.
At the terminus, one enters Stanford's enclosed and arcade-lined
quadsperhaps its greatest contribution to American campus
In the Main Quad, the original paving and many of Olmsted's original
California plantings can still be seen. Recently the original globe
light fixtures along the arcades were accurately recreated. Stanford
boasts many small and intimate spaces worth visitingand probably
best seen with a tour guide who knows the campus well. "Geology
Corner" is a cluster of geology buildings near a courtyard to the
southwest of the Main Quad. This seemingly remote space contains
one of the best-preserved Thomas Church gardens on campus. Church
designed an intimate garden filled with fringe trees, boxwood shrubs,
Lagustrum topiaries, and seating. Unfortunately, many other Church
landscapes on campus are less intact. Yet, to the southeast of the
Main Quad, in a mirror image plan of Geology Corner, Cathy Deino
Blake, ASLA, assistant director of Stanford's University Architect/Planning
Office, evoked Church's work in her design for the new "Oregon Garden."
This small space is planted with a restful arrangement of columnar
and branching cherry trees, holly shrubs, and teak benches set amid
California Gold Gravel.
In the past decade, Stanford has developed an entirely new master plan for its science and engineering campus. The Science and Engineering Quad was recently completed and planted with grass panels, sloping granite retaining walls, and steel and canvas arcades that recall the arcades of the historic quads of the Olmsted era. The design by Laurie Olin, FASLA, represents Stanford's continuing effort to reinterpret its historic landscape for a 21st-century campus program. At the center, Stone Pine Terrace and Cedar Terrace express the names of the trees that frame them.
Thomas Church was a great designer not only of private and small gardens but also of entire campuses. One of the most beautiful campuses in the world is the 2,020-acre University of California, Santa Cruz, that Church, along with John Carl Warnecke and Associates and other architects, helped to master plan in the early 1960s. Based on the English university concept of a cluster of residential colleges, the Santa Cruz campus brings together a collection of individualized undergraduate colleges nestled in a coastal redwood forest. Hundreds of acres of original ranchland roll down to Highway 1 and the ocean. Near some of the original ranch buildings at the Western Drive entrance, the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum overlooks Monterrey Bay with one of the finest collections of Australian, New Zealand, and South African plants in the northern hemisphere. The arboretum displays a significant variety of acacias and proteas, some of which may sprout flowers nearly a foot in diameter.
Although California's community colleges are the most affordable and open in their admissions, they offer superb academics and design. Designed by Earnest Kump and Sasaki Walker Associates, Foothill was built after World War II as a two-year college. Widely recognized as one of the most innovative pedestrian concepts in campus planning of the past 50 years, Foothill makes use of its hilly topography to separate automotive and pedestrian circulation with bridges that draw walkers into intimate, shaded courtyards. Like San Jose State, the campus is eminently walkable, dense, and enclosed.
Finding the Way to San Jose's Soul
In visiting San Jose, you will notice that everyone talks about
the tech economy. As of this writing (August 2002), the combined
market value of the nasdaq-which is filled with Silicon Valley companieshas
dropped $4.5 trillion from its high in mid-2000. Since the boom
times of 2000, the Santa Clara County unemployment rate has risen
from a virtually nonexistent 1.5 percent to 7.6 percent. In a recent
cover story, "Ailing Valley Searches Its Soul," The San Jose
Mercury News argued that "it's not only the products that tech
companies are having trouble selling. It will take a long time before
the public again buys the Silicon Valley story. The image of the
tech entrepre- neur does not ring true." Yet the talent base is
still there and California's UC System, state universities, and
well-supported community colleges continue to turn out one of the
most skilled and adaptive labor forces in the world. Walking through
San Jose State's newly greened streets, one sees an extraordinary
diversity of students who already "buy the Silicon Valley story,"
because they know they are the people who can write its next chapter.
Urban designer Martin Flores is optimistic about the future of
San Jose's urban realm. He remembers going with his mother to the
lunch counter at the now closed Woolworth's on 1st Street for grilled-cheese
sandwiches, an adventure that began his love for San Jose's downtown,
and possibly for landscape architecture. Although not yet a "big
city" in the traditional sense of Boston or New York, San Jose will
be in a few generationswith a new kind of urban form and economy
that we can only begin to imagine. "Having the chance to dream about
and work on San Jose's future is," Flores says, "the best job I
could ever have."
The following web sites provide location information, further background, and operating hours for several of the sites discussed.
Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose, San Jose, California,
The Hakone Foundation, Saratoga, California, 408-741-4994, www.hakone.com
Filoli, Woodside, California, 650-364-8300, www.filoli.org
Guadalupe River Park and Gardens, San Jose, California. Description
of flood-control measures, new garden projects, and the San Jose
Heritage Rose Garden near the river and airport, www.grpg.org
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