San Jose has been the cultural, financial, and political center of Silicon Valley since before Silicon Valley existed. Founded in 1777, it is the largest city in northern California, both in area and population, and it boasts the headquarters of some major world tech companies like PayPal and Zoom. San Jose makes history every day, but the preservation and display of its past is the responsibility of History San Jose.
History San Jose is more than just a museum. It includes three sites. History Park is fourteen acres of thirty-two original and reconstructed buildings that highlight the culture and history of the city. The Gonzalez/Peralta Adobe (1797) and Carmela and Thomas Fallon House (1855), located in downtown San Jose, feature period furnishings and offer interactive school field trips. The Collection Center houses the Research Library and Archives, the largest collection in Northern California. Over 120,000 visitors attend exhibits and events at these sites each year. Even so, History San Jose remains mostly undiscovered by almost eight million Bay Area residents. Bill Schroh, President and CEO of History San Jose, is trying to change that. In a recent interview, Schroh shared History San Jose’s vision of sharing untold stories.
Formerly called the Peralta Adobe, San Jose’s oldest building was recently renamed the Gonzalez/Peralta Adobe to recognize Jose Manuel Gonzalez, who built the adobe in 1797 and lived there with his family. Gonzalez was San Jose’s second mayor, the only Native American to ever hold that office. Gonzalez came to the area as an Apache scout for the DeAnza expedition that colonized Alta California for Spain. In 1808, Luis Maria Peralta and his family moved into the adobe.
Today, the adobe is nestled in the middle of San Pedro Square, a bustling collection of bars, restaurants, and shops. During the week, school children visit the adobe for an interactive field trip that teaches them about how the earliest residents of San Jose lived. On weekends, the adobe is open for adult tours.
Across the street from the Gonzalez/Peralta Adobe is the Carmela and Thomas Fallon House. Thomas Fallon was a frontiersman in the John C.Fremont expedition and one of San Jose’s early mayors. Built in 1855, his mansion showcases fifteen rooms of Victorian furniture.
Recently the house was renamed to include his wife and her story. Carmela’s mother, Martina, was a member of the prominent Castro family. Carmela was the first woman in California to request and receive a land grant in her own name. Her land, Rancho Soquel, comprised 35,000 acres on the coastline south of Santa Cruz.
Other recent programs include Black Heritage at History Park for Black History Month. The individuals highlighted were Lucy Turner, the first black graduate of San Jose State University, who became a teacher, Dr. DW Boyer, the first black medical doctor in San Jose, and James “Jim” Williams, the first black firefighter in San Jose and one of the first black residents of the San Clara Valley. Working with the Tamien Nation, History San Jose is also in the process of creating the Tamien Nation Heritage Center, which will tell the story of the first people of the Santa Clara Valley.
When COVID shut down educational field trips for the valley’s children, History San Jose used a bequest from a former educator to create a state-of-the-art studio to conduct live virtual tours. This enabled students from across the country to experience popular programs such as Adobe Days, Victorian Days, and Westward Ho!
Whether you are a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area or a visitor, History San Jose has something to offer. Arrange to conduct your research of the area at the Research Library and Archives, housed in the Collection Center, a seismically retrofitted, climate controlled facility. The Archives hold more than 5,000 linear feet of archival records and manuscripts, architectural drawings and specifications, maps, oral histories, audiovisual materials, sheet music, and books documenting the history of Santa Clara Valley from 1777 to the present. Walk through History Park to see vintage buildings such as Dashaway Stables or the Pacific Hotel, and experience rich cultural exhibits reflecting San Jose’s Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, and Mexican heritage. Each weekend five buildings are open to the public on a rotating schedule. Tours are available on the weekend and two days during the week, and must be reserved ahead of time.
Linda Ulleseit is a native of San Jose and a fourth-generation San Jose resident.