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The park that inspired the novel: ST. JAMES PARK

St. James Park is the name of my forthcoming novel about a 1933 kidnapping. Many scenes take place in this park.

St. James Park has been historically the most important public open space in downtown San Jose.

Developed in 1868, the 7.6 acre park was once envisioned as the city’s civic gathering space where genteel elements of society would stroll either along its undulating path around the perimeter or through diagonal paths leading to its centerpiece, an impressive fountain.

By the turn of the century, the park was graced with majestic elms throughout the park and fan palms lined the edge along First Street.

Along the park’s edges were most of the city’s notable public and private buildings. On the west side stood the County Court House, Hall of Justice and the Hall of Records.

Along the surrounding sides were the prominent places of worship…

… and elite social clubs.

The park itself was the epicenter for variety of public gatherings that include bicycle races…

…and political events, including President McKinley’s address to a crowd in 1901.

Two years later, a granite monument was erected to mark the occasion.

By the 1930s, the time of the novel, the park was where political battles were raged.

The former city historian, Clyde Arbuckle, described the park this way:

‘Leather-lunged, hat passing radicals harangued the curious and gullible on the economic ills of the nation, Bible waving, hell-fire and brimstone evangelists shouted fundamentalist condemnation of sinners from park bench pulpits. In pre-jury commission days, court bailiffs collared park loafers and bums for immediate jury duty across the street.’

My great-grandmother was an immigrant who settled on San Pedro Street, west of the park.

My grandmother grew up there and later moved to E. St. James Street, a few blocks east from the park. My mother was raised there and she told me her stories of her experiences growing up in San Jose: how the valley had changed, how the town grew up to be a city, the good and the evil. Nonetheless, my mother loved her San Jose.

Ever so often my mother would recount the events that unfolded one shameful night in St. James Park in late 1933. She was age seventeen at the time, one of many witnesses to crimes that made national headlines. Her persistent, jagged memories of what happened in St. James Park were the inspiration for my novel.

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