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The Road to Immortality

Signs of Past Times

By Bobby McGill

FROM THE TIME IT WAS DOTTED with mud huts and known as Pueblo de San Jose, to the present sprawl of houses in the jampacked "Silicon Valley," the South Bay has been home to a wide variety of trailblazing and innovative people, many of whom subsequently had streets and thoroughfares named for them. For many, though, it may have been a blessing that the name was placed, posthumously, as a surprising number are misspelled and just plain wrong.

  • Stevens Creek Boulevard, the long strip that connects Cupertino, Santa Clara and San Jose, is one such example. This stretch of road was posthumously named for the first man to lead a wagon train through the rugged Sierra Nevada in 1844, Captain Elisha Stephens.

  • Lawrence Expressway, the stop-and-go capital of valley commuting, could very well have been called "Bull" Expressway, an interesting footnote to contemplate while stuck in traffic. It was named in the late 1800s for a local settler who was born Albert Chester Bull. His family, who originally immigrated to Boston, proudly traced the Bull name back to distant roots in old England. But as a boy growing up, young Chester had become so tired of the teasing and taunting of children amused with his surname that upon reaching adulthood he petitioned the Massachusetts state legislature to change it to Lawrence. No Bull.

  • Lenzen Avenue was named after Theodore Lenzen, an architect, who at the time of his retirement near the turn of the century could safely say that there was not a street in all of San Jose that did not contain at least one of his buildings. He died in 1912, but his custom home sat on Lenzen Avenue and The Alameda until 1965, when it was torn down to build a parking lot.

  • McKee Road is the namesake of Henry McKee, who along with his son Joseph ferried the first shipment of Santa Clara Valley fruit, from the port in Alviso up to the booming little town of San Francisco. His house stood where San Jose High School stands today.

  • Race Street is just as it sounds--the place where they had all the races. The 76-acre plot, originally bought by Gen. Henry M. Naglee for $6,000, saw contests of swiftness and agility ranging from horse races involving such record-breaking horses as Leland Stanford's prized steed "Palo Alto" to exciting bicycle races that drew huge crowds of fans every weekend. Now the old track is a subdivision in the middle of the rat race.

  • White Road got its title from Charles White, the "law man" of Pueblo de San Jose in its early years. Being a judicial authority at the time of military rule was a tough row to hoe, to say the least. He ended up stepping down for what he termed "political intrigue."

  • Reed Street in downtown San Jose was named for James Frazier Reed. He was in the infamous Reed-Donner party, as it was then called, but found himself banished midway through the journey for murder. Though history would bear it out as an act of self-defense, he nonetheless was forced on ahead of the group, thus missing the bitter winter that trapped his fellow travelers, including his wife and children. After arriving safely in California, he put together a rescue party and went back and saved his family from the tragedy that has since become legend. In 1849, James Reed, along with Charles White, successfully convinced the constitutional convention that had assembled in Monterey to make Pueblo de San Jose the capital of California. Together they offered to put up the $34,000 needed to build the capitol building to house the new legislature. The convention agreed, and the first California capital was established here. The Reed family's house sat near downtown on Third and Margaret streets (named after his wife, who actually spelled it Margret) until it was replaced by an on-ramp to Highway 280 in 1972.

  • Bascom Avenue is one of the few thoroughfares named for a woman. As the legislators of the new state began making their way into the area, a kindly lady began a little business selling pancakes and other food to the incoming lawmakers. "Grandma" Bascom, as she was known, was adored by the many who made her acquaintance. A little-known fact is that she was the first person to bring a piano to the Bay Area. For many years she would play for the delighted visitors and natives who would gather outside her home to listen to her pounding away on the keys into the late evening. Bascom Avenue originally stretched from Stevens Creek Boulevard to the south edge of Santa Clara, until it was extended to Los Gatos in 1961.

    For further historical information, contact the California History Center at De Anza College in Cupertino (408/864-8712).

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  • From the Sept. 25-Oct. 1, 1997 issue of Metro.

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