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November 21, 2007 > History


Looking back at Alviso

By Anuja Seith

Amidst the sprawling neighborhoods of Silicon Valley rests the quiet town of Alviso, one of the original homes of Ohlone Indians. Located at the southern edge of the San Francisco Bay, this town is named after Ygnacio Alviso, chief steward of Mission Santa Clara. Alviso came as an explorer with Captain Juan Bautista de Anza in 1776 and was granted Rancho Esteros by Governor Alvarado. The mission's boat landing at Guadalupe River was first called Embarcadero de Santa Clara, and later became Alviso. Surveyor Chester S. Lymon laid out the town in 1849, incorporated three years later in 1852.

A primary junction between San Francisco and San Jose, it became a prosperous port where hides, tallow, grains, redwood and quicksilver from the New Almaden mines were shipped around the world. It served as a port where ships could travel up the Guadalupe River to the Embarcadero de Santa Clara and the tiny community of San Jose, the capital of state for a brief period of time. However, in 1865, the newly opened San Francisco and San Jose Railroad began to take over shipping resulting in a dramatic decline of this once-bustling town.

Even though it lost its glory as a shipping town, Alviso was home to the third largest canning company in the world, renamed Bayside Canning Company by Thomas Foon Chew after he took over his father's Precita Canning Company. Chew soon became known as the Asparagus King, using a technique to can asparagus which retained crispness and freshness. This was Alviso's most successful operation, employing hundreds of workers who lived in company owned housing nearby. After Chew's death in 1931 and onset of Great Depression, the cannery slowed production and finally closed in 1936.

During the 1920's and 30's, Alviso became a hub of Chinese Tong wars, fights at the Filipinas Dance Hall, gambling and prostitution. Following its tumultuous years, it finally became part of the City of San Jose in 1968. Today Alviso, about 42 miles northwest of San Francisco, forms the north part of San Jose, bordering Milpitas to the east, Santa Clara to southwest and Mountain View to west.

Though its flashy hi-tech neighbors often eclipse this tiny town, Alviso is not only a unique place with colorful past listed in the National Register of Historic Places, but also a paradise for tourists and locals who enjoy its natural recreational spaces. The main attraction of the Alviso area for bike riders, walkers, and joggers are miles of picturesque trails.

This area has thousands of acres of marshes, salt ponds, mud flats, sloughs, freshwater creeks, and bay shallows providing peaceful moments far from maddening crowds.. It is an Eden for all bird lovers housing 250 species of resident birds and flocks of migratory birds. Headquarters of the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory and a part of Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, this seemingly quiet town is pulsating with life and vigor.


Images of America: Alviso San Jose, Robert Burrill and Lynn Rogers

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