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Introducing: ST. JAMES PARK

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

St. James Park revolves around the events of a 1933 lynching in a downtown San Jose park.

It is the first installment in The San Jose Trilogy, a series of novels which provides a narrative arc to the city’s social history. The second installment will be entitled ESCAPE IF YOU CAN (Spanish: Sal Si Puedes, an East San Jose neighborhood) and set when Nixon visited in 1970. The third will focus on recent downtown redevelopment, gentrification and the rise of Silicon Valley.

Excerpt from St. James Park’s prologue:

“San Jose existed long before there was something called Silicon Valley. The valley had always been desirable for its sunny climate, plentiful bounty, available timber, and constant source of fresh water. When the Spaniards arrived, San Jose was established in 1777 as the first pueblo in what was known as Alta California. When Americans invaded less than a century later, the town was celebrated as the state’s first capital until the newly formed California legislature decided to move it elsewhere.

San Jose had promise, but the furor for gold created wealth and fame for San Francisco, fifty miles to the north. Sacramento was eventually chosen as the state capital in recognition of its proximity to the mines, and San Jose remained on the periphery, concentrating on its fruit-bearing orchards as well as its vineyards to make wine—until most of them succumbed to the phylloxera epidemic and were replaced by prune trees. After the 1906 earthquake, San Francisco gained new celebrity as ‘The City That Knows How,’ becoming the mercantile hub of the West, while San Jose was doomed to a less elegant sobriquet: ‘The Prune Capital of the World.’

San Jose capitalized on its orchards, eventually becoming the largest canning and dried- fruit packing center in the world. By the early twentieth century, thirty-eight canneries and thirteen packing plants were the economic engine that enabled the town to bloom again. With a population swelling to 57,000, San Jose was too big to be called rural, but too spread out to be urban. The city built up its compact downtown to create civic pride and promoted a new identity: ‘The Garden City.’

During the Prohibition era, San Jose gained yet another moniker: ‘The Wettest Town in California.’ While savvy businessmen capitalized on the wealth to be made controlling liquor and other illicit pursuits, tensions rose between the Drys and the Wets, between ethnicities and religions, between the lawful and the unlawful. The economic depression of the 1930s exacerbated the general unrest. Jobs disappeared, and for those who found employment, in the fruit orchards and canneries, wages were rock bottom. Beleaguered workers in San Jose began to fight back.”

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Way to go John. Looking forward to reading the published first book, and whole trilogy eventually. What a great project! Great description and photos!

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