January 3, 2012 > History: Downtown
We hear some discussion these days about "downtown," but not everyone agrees on what that means or where it is. The dictionary says that "downtown" is toward or in the lower part of a town or city, the section of a city located downtown in the main business section.
The question is what does that mean in Fremont today? Perhaps a historical look really makes the question more meaningful or maybe will just add more confusion to the issue.
Mission San Jose was the first of the towns or villages that joined to become Fremont. Many early visitors commented on the plaza in front of the church without mentioning the street. Others commented about the narrow or dusty street without naming it and, others just referred to "the road" with no mention of a street. A lady visitor was horrified to see an animal butchered "on the public street." Eventually the road became known as Main Street and Vallejo Street. Nearby residents began saying they were "going uptown" or to town or maybe even downtown if they lived above Vallejo Street.
Charles Shinn wrote that nearby Centerville was the "crossroads town of the valley." It really was a place where crossroads met, but where was downtown? There was not much change in elevation, but residents sometime said "they were going uptown or downtown," which usually meant they were going to the main business section on Main Street.
Washington Corners, now Irvington, had a different kind of "downtown." Part of it was on the road to Mission San Jose, part on the road to San Jose and part on the road to Centerville. Going "downtown" could have several meanings depending on where you started from, but there was no doubt where the center of town was. That was where the roads met at "the corners," now marked by a small park and the historic "Irvington Monument."
People who lived on the west side of Niles sometimes spoke of going uptown to the business district on Main Street or First Street. People in Old Town, the original town, sometimes spoke of going uptown, over to town or just to town.
Warm Springs created a different problem because the business houses were located around a "Y" created by the junction of Mission Boulevard and Warm Springs Boulevard. People sometimes said they were going to a specific business to identify their destination.
These five towns were incorporated into the City of Fremont in 1956, and a master plan was devised to meet the needs of the five towns and "provide a central business district and civic-cultural-recreation center." Planners were wise in choosing the area near the present Mowry Avenue and Fremont Boulevard for commercial development because it was undeveloped and had few streets and buildings.
Chapter four (4) of the book The First Thirty Years is entitled "Looking for a Center, 1958 - 1969." Not everyone agreed on where the center should be or what should be built there. The community center and the City Government were built on the edge of Central Park. The General Plan showed a central park near the business district that would be the center for government and cultural activities. In 1962, THE "Hub" was opened and described as the "central business district. Some said "Fremont has found its center."
Architect John Vogley presented a concept for an exciting downtown in Fremont's Central Business District in 1966. The district was described in 1969 as "11.6 acres behind Payless Drugs, bounded by Beacon Street, State Street, Capital Avenue and Liberty Street." The district would have been served by the State Route 238 freeway that was abandoned in 1978.
The City passed a moratorium on development on Mount Vernon Avenue in 2001 so plans could be completed to convert the area to "a thriving downtown." Vernon Avenue was to be a high density area in the Central Business District.
Through the years, several attempts were made to publicize the Central Business District. Community workshops and meetings were held to promote the downtown area. Tours were held by a group of civic minded citizens called PLACE (People for Livable Accessible Community Environment). In 2003, the city was reported to be moving closer to helping develop 13 acres of land, "once known as the central business district." The district was then bounded by Fremont Boulevard, Paseo Padre Parkway, Mowry Avenue and Walnut Avenue. Articles in 2009 noted that "Fremont was once again seeking a downtown."
Articles in 2010 noted that the city was planning a "Midtown District" that would include mixed-use buildings with plazas organized around a main on Capitol Avenue. By 2011 citizens were asking "Where is the real Downtown" when they heard about the Block development in Pacific Commons.
Now do we know where "Downtown" is? How about the "Central Business District"? One of our more eloquent citizens replied, "Thanks for your help. It's now clear as mud! I could have figured out all of this without your help." Most people no longer ask, "Where is Fremont?" but they still might wonder where downtown is.