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[whitespace] Where, exactly, is Willow Glen?

The boundaries of the city's most identifiable neighborhood seem to shift depending on the definition of the district

Willow Glen--Steve Booker had been eyeing some of the houses for sale in Willow Glen for quite a while. Booker and his wife decided they wanted to start a family, and the tree-lined streets and cottage-style homes Willow Glen was the perfect environment to raise their little ones.

The young couple shared their nest in South San Jose and, a few months ago, began their quest to find the perfect home in what they considered to be the perfect part of big old San Jose.

Booker began thumbing through newspapers, attending open houses and reading Realtor listings. And while in search of a home in Willow Glen, Booker began to notice that many homes are listed as being in Willow Glen, but out of the boundaries of what he considered to be the small suburb.

It didn't take long for the search to become confusing. He began asking one question: "Where is Willow Glen?"

The nontown Willow Glen has always been a popular place to live, but that was before the tight housing market and hot economy started driving prices sky-high. Moreover, people are looking for an area that captures that small town feeling--and Willow Glen has become fresh meat for home hunters.

While some people say a 95125 ZIP code is a good definition of Willow Glen, some parts of the area that are indisputably Willow Glen are part of the 95126 ZIP code.

So it's not surprising that people, Glenites or not, wonder where the boundaries of the town really lie. After all, Willow Glen hasn't been its own town since 1936 when its residents voted to incorporate their town into San Jose.

According to Old Willow Glen by Elizabeth Giarratana, residents of the area joined together to rally against the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1927, when the train company was planning to reroute tracks through Willow Glen.

The citizens prevailed, and because they were so successful in their pursuit to keep the railroad out, residents decided they should incorporate Willow Glen as a city of its own.

Giarratana says the boundaries at the time were recorded as Los Gatos Creek on the west, Guadalupe Creek on the east, and a series of small streets on the south, including Hicks, Pine and Cottle avenues, and Malone Road.

Nine years passed and, because the city of Willow Glen lacked necessities such as a high school and adequate sewer systems, voters went back to the polls to decide whether they should incorporate into the city of San Jose.

Many Willow Glen residents turned their noses up to adjoining with the City of San Jose. Giarratana says residents feared San Jose city officials would allow saloons to move into the area, which was full of proud churchgoers.

However, that election year, the vote to incorporate into San Jose passed by a margin of just 57 votes, or 928 to 871.

When San Jose swallowed up Willow Glen, boundary signs disappeared, too. Today there is just one sign that states where Willow Glen begins. The bridge near Coe and Bird avenues welcomes people into town with green writing that says "Welcome to Willow Glen." Another sign, on the corner of Lincoln and Minnesota Avenues, reminds people, "Smile, you're in Willow Glen."

But there are no signs that mark boundaries of exactly where the suburb begins, or where it ends. But there are some maps.

The association says that Willow Glen is roughly three miles southwest of downtown San Jose, and includes all of the original town of Willow Glen.

However, the association's official definition says the boundaries along the lines of Interstate 280 on the north side, Highway 87 and Almaden Expressway on the west side, Foxworthy Avenue on the south side, and Leigh Avenue and Southwest Expressway on the east side.

WGNA also states that the traditional boundaries of Willow Glen are the Guadalupe River, Los Gatos Creek, Coe and Curtner avenues. Downtown Willow Glen is generally Lincoln Avenue from Minnesota to Coe avenues.

And although these are the approximate boundaries of Willow Glen, today, there are many adjacent areas that are also considered Willow Glen. But according to the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association, Willow Glen doesn't have exact boundaries. Instead, the neighborhood association says Willow Glen is sort of a state of mind.

WGNA President J. Michael Gonzales says there are three things that make Willow Glen distinctive from other parts of San Jose.

He says the narrow streets with no dedicated left hand turns are a signal to people that they are probably in Willow Glen. The mature trees that line the sidewalks and shade homes are also traditional in the area, Gonzales says. Additionally, Gonzales says all the homes in Willow Glen have a unique look to them.

Gonzales says because Willow Glen was built on a small-scale model, it doesn't handle traffic well. He says keeping heavy traffic out of Willow Glen preserves the small town feeling. He says big streets and chain stores will ultimately contribute to the loss of Willow Glen's charm and personality.

Gonzales says a lot of people used to associate Willow Glen with downtown San Jose. He says today, everyone wants to move to Willow Glen, take an old house and remodel it.

He says people move to Willow Glen because they want a house like little house on the prairie--not a house built by a factory developer.

Because there aren't specific boundaries to Willow Glen, the San Jose suburb has become a place to cherish and sustain for many of its residents and business owners.

Chris Carris, owner of Willow Glen Coffee Roasting Company, says that about 85 percent of the original Willow Glen homes and buildings still exist.

"Willow Glen is still here," Carris says. "And with whatever strength I have, I want to make sure it stays."

Carris considers San Jose as Willow Glen's big brother. He says one of San Jose's responsibilities as a big brother is to look out for Willow Glen and protect its integrity. "You can't capture the past by building something new."

He even says that many people that live on Coe and Minnesota avenues still act as if Willow Glen is its own town. "When there's a threat to the integrity of the village, or something to celebrate because of the village, the town comes together."
Chantal Lamers

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Web extra to the September 14-20, 2000 issue of Metro.

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