Photo credit: Afton Badger

 

A Short History of the Rose Garden Area

NOTE: This is a synopsis of five newspaper articles that have been published over the last 15 years in the San Josť Mercury News compiled by past RGNPA President Linda Dittes.

Once a part of an eleven-acre prune orchard, the San Josť Municipal Rose Garden today is the centerpiece of one of the most sought-after neighborhoods in Silicon Valley, the Rose Garden.

The 5½ acre park was built in 1927 at the urging of early members of the Santa Clara County Rose Society and is devoted exclusively to shrubs of the rose family — featuring more than 3,500 rose bushes from 189 varieties.

Surrounding the Rose Garden is a mix of bungalows and stately mansions, with neighborhood boundaries mixed as well. From Bascom Avenue to The Alameda and Naglee Avenue to Hedding Street are the strictest limits. However, the Rose Garden Neighborhood Preservation Association (RGNPA) boundaries includes more of the surrounding streets — and accepts members from anywhere.

The few undeveloped parcels still existing are slowly being filled in as housing prices steadily climb. Other changes include tearing down existing structures and rebuilding to bring in more business such as the recent work at the corner of Park and Naglee. This project created a mix of single-family houses, townhouses, and a retail building on the corner that includes Leiter's Pharmacy and a coffee shop.

Antonella's Italian Restaurant recently reopened under new ownership on the corner of Park and Naglee formerly occupied by the Dog House (a hot dog stand converted from a gas station).

The attractive older, established character of the Rose Garden, however, remains untouched. Between The Alameda and Park Avenue are several houses built before the turn of the century. Many of the homes along University Avenue between Park and Bascom resemble country homes of European gentry.

The Rose Garden fosters a feeling of community. Area families raised their children and those children attended Trace, Hoover, and Lincoln and graduated in the Rose Garden.

There's something about the Rose Garden that appeals to people's sense of civility. It's quiet and clean. People go the park to get married, have birthday picnics, and attend graduation ceremonies. The garden area of the park features a reflection pool, wooden benches, and a two-tiered water fountain, all donated through the years by the community and the Rose Society.

The park has a natural grass stage surrounded by a grove of redwood trees separating the two areas. The park has about 187,000 annual visitors, including the more than 8,000 people who attend six graduations, and the 40 to 50 weddings that take place in the park each year.

The park is operated and maintained by the City of San Josť . Mary Heidler heads a full-time staff of three gardeners. Periodically, Mary and her staff replant roses supplied by the All America Rose Selections, a national independent rating organization. New varieties are sent to San Josť for testing before release to the general public, allowing Rose Garden visitors to preview varieties that will soon be available in local nurseries.

Near the garden is one of the most imposing pieces of architecture in the area — Hoover Middle School at the corner of Park and Naglee. Built in 1931, Hoover School was designed by William H. Weeks, architect of the De Anza Hotel in downtown San Josť . The 70-year old school was closed to students in 1971 because it did not meet state earthquake safety requirements. Until 1995, the building was used for a variety of purposes including adult education and San Josť Unified School District office space.

Because the cost of seismic retrofitting, district officials planned to sell it in 1994, using proceeds from the sale of the three-acre site for other projects. The community rallied to halt the sale and save the school for use by our students. In January of 1995, the San Josť City Council declared the school a historic landmark, and later that year a state court ruled against the San Josť Unified School District, blocking the sale because SJUSD officials failed to seek enough community input. The building now functions as a middle school and will soon include a community center and a theater area that will house the San Josť Children's Musical Theater.

At the Naglee and Bascom end of the Rose Garden neighborhood is Zanotto's Family Market, the area's unofficial town hall. All of Zanotto's thirteen children have worked at this store at one time or another. Zanotto's eventually expanded to two additional locations.

Also near the Rose Garden and across from the Old Hoover School is one of San Josť 's most unique landmarks, the Egyptian Museum and Planetarium. The gardens of the Rosicrucian Park contain buildings inspired by ancient Egyptian architecture with papyrus-lined paths passing statues of Egyptian gods, clustered lotus columns, and walls covered with hieroglyphics. The museum itself is modeled after the Temple of Amon at Karnak. Visitors are free to wander around the grounds. Always a popular destination for school field trips, the museum has recently become a venue for receptions, meetings, lectures, and private parties.

The Neighborhood

The neighborhood known as the Rose Garden was once part of pear and prune orchards owned by, among others, Food Machinery Corporation, headed by John Crummey. People said you used to be able to picnic in the hills and look down on the valley covered with blossoms from the fruit trees. The orchards grew into a neighborhood when Crummey subdivided his 25-acre pear orchard in 1937, offering his five children lots of their choice. Crummey sold the remaining lots for $5,000 each.

Over the next several decades, as San Josť stretched from a farming community to a sprawling city, the Crummey land and the surrounding area became a choice spot for the city's civic and business leaders who enjoyed its proximity to downtown. Residents carefully crafted and built their unique homes. They raised a couple of generations of children, many of whom have returned to buy their own homes in the area.

Only two of Crummey's children took him up on his offer, Beth Chinchen and Faith Davies. The two married women built expansive houses just a short walk from their father's gray mansion on University Avenue and Park. After building the home with husband Art Chinchen, Beth Chinchen became actively involved in area events. Her husband planted the oak trees on University that now tower over the wide street.

Today, Chinchen, son Stan, and a granddaughter live in the neighborhood. They are the remaining Crummeys. The patriarch's mansion has been converted into an office building that houses Prodis Association, an architectural firm. Davies died in 1996 at age 91, and her house was sold to a young family that spent months refurbishing it.

The pear trees are slowly being returned to the area and ornamental pears encircle the Rose Garden Park. In 1996, the Hawthorne trees that surrounded the park were dying one by one. Residents agreed to replace the trees with the ornamental pear tree that doesn't bear fruit but blooms with flowers in the spring and has deep red leaves in the fall.

The Park Naglee area to the southeast of the municipal Rose Garden shares the same vintage as the estate homes, but the custom designs are more modest. They lean to the period architecture of the '30s, borrowing their style from the English Cotswold Cottage, a bit of Norman and Tudor design, and the blocks and curves of the Modern. These were homes built for the solid middle-class citizens of a half century ago.

 

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