Santa Clara County's Heritage
The early inhabitants of Santa Clara County were the indigenous Ohlone People, thought to occupy the area at least 1,000 years before Spain began to colonize California in the eighteenth century.
Spanish settlers established the valley's first mission and pueblo in Santa Clara and San Jose respectively, and governed "El Llano de los Robles" (Plain of the Oaks), until the Mexican Revolution led to Mexican control from the 1820s through 1840s. In 1850 California was admitted to the Union and Santa Clara County was incorporated, becoming one of the state's original 27 counties. Deriving its name from Mission Santa Clara, the county originally included much of what was Washington Township (part of Union City and Fremont) in Alameda County. The current county boundaries, delineating an area of approximately 1,315 square miles, were set in 1853 when Alameda County was established.
From 1850 to 1870, ranchers made a transition from raising cattle and sheep to cultivating hay and grain. French immigrants planted the first vineyards. Quicksilver (mercury) mining flourished. California's first colleges were founded in Santa Clara County. The coming of the railroad produced a small boom in real estate. After 1870, orchards began displacing grain fields and vineyards. The Santa Clara Valley became the world's leading producer of canned fruit and processed dried fruit, and the area was dubbed "Valley of Heart's Delight." By the end of the nineteenth century, wealthy San Franciscans, such as Leland Stanford and James Lick, established farms and summer homes in the county.
Santa Clara County remained pastoral until World War II when many people were brought to California to work in war-related industries. The area attracted a concentration of electronics firms and experienced a dramatic population influx. Mass-produced housing spread across the Santa Clara Valley, and orchard land was subdivided and developed for housing.
The Santa Clara County Heritage Resource Inventory (Inventory) was begun in 1962, when a preliminary inventory was prepared for the Santa Clara County Planning Department in an initial effort to identify and evaluate historical landmarks throughout the county. Information was gathered through a public participation process and personal interviews, telephone conversations and correspondence with individuals having special knowledge of the history of a specific area. Evaluation was based on historical, cultural, and architectural value to the countywide community.
When the Historical Heritage Commission (HHC) was established in 1973, it found that many of the structures identified a decade earlier had been demolished. The HHC embarked on the important on-going mission of establishing the Inventory, and compiling and updating the listing of historic resources. With the help of volunteers and the Junior League of San Jose, the Inventory was published in 1975 and a second edition was issued in 1979. The Inventory was revised and reformatted in 1999, and properties located within the city limits of municipalities in the county were removed.
The Inventory is an important component of Santa Clara County's preservation planning efforts. It is a resource that informs land use and development decisions of the Santa Clara County Planning Office. Properties listed in the Inventory are subject to a demolition review process by the HHC and the Board of Supervisors Santa Clara County Code, Division C17, Article IV, Section C17-23. Review is also required in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act to determine if any significant historic resources will be adversely impacted by proposed projects. In addition, the Planning Office considers proposals for other permits, and the Inventory provides a source for identifying properties that require special consideration in the permitting process.
The Inventory serves other County departments undertaking projects that may affect listed historic resources. Other departments are encouraged to confer with the Planning Office to determine whether historic resources are located in their project area. The Inventory may also be used to respond to inquiries about the development potential of properties, and to educate the public of Santa Clara County's historic, cultural and architectural heritage.
Maintaining the Inventory
The HHC, in conjunction with the Board of Supervisors, maintains the Inventory. The Inventory is intended to be dynamic and to change as resources are added or revisions are made to existing listings. Formal procedures for this process are currently being developed in ordinance form.
The Inventory is not a definitive list of all of Santa Clara County's historic resources. The Inventory only includes those properties located within the unincorporated areas of the county and many properties in this vast area have not yet been identified or recorded. It is the goal of the HHC and the Historic preservation Program to continue this important survey work to evaluate the historic significance of properties throughout the county.
Historic Resource Surveys
Historic resource surveys are the foundation of preservation planning across the country, and form the basis for many preservation-related decisions. Surveys identify, record, and evaluate properties and provide a local base of information about community history and architecture. They create a photographic and written record of historic places that is important in recognizing, and preserving the heritage of the past. Survey files are maintained as a permanent record to assist in evaluating properties for nomination to local, state and federal registers and facilitating decision-making about the potential impact of public and private projects affecting historic properties. Surveys can also educate and raise awareness, directing new attention to familiar sights, or forgotten places, and focusing new investment in those resources.
The following are examples of documentation projects completed in Santa Clara County that are available for viewing in the Planning Office.
Historic American Building Survey (HABS) During the summers of 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1980, teams of student architects compiled historical data, and produced scale drawings and photographs of 30 major historic properties in Santa Clara County. Visit the Library of Congress website to view the documentation.
Heritage Resource Inventory Update
An ongoing project is to confirm and update the documentation of historic resources already listed in the Inventory, with the gradual addition of new properties as they are approved by the Board of Supervisors. Information gained from this updated list will help streamline the land development process and provide a better understanding of the history of Santa Clara County.
The Inventory began as a preliminary survey of "Historical Landmarks" in 1962. This early version of the Inventory was updated in 1975, 1979, and again in 1999. While the information included in the Inventory is interesting and provides a solid foundation, it does not meet current statewide documentation and preservation planning standards. Subsequent updates to the Inventory document will include each listed property on the State of California Department of Parks and Recreation Forms 523 (commonly known as DPR forms). These state inventory forms contain much needed technical information that was not originally recorded in the early surveys.
The Planning Office contracted with historical consultants, Dill Design Group (Phase I) and Archives and Architecture (Phase II) to prepare the DPR forms and analyze the historical data. Archives and Architecture is revisiting the Phase II listed resources to describe conditions on each property, conduct additional research to confirm existing information, and provide a professional analysis of historical significance using recognized national and state criteria. Additionally, Archives and Architecture is preparing a historical context report for unincorporated Santa Clara County. This report will address the development history of Santa Clara County, in relation to existing historical resources, and outline why the resources are significant and how they relate to each other in type and theme.