Zanker House

Zanker House at History Park, San Jose, CA
Zanker House, Historic Landmark 10-194

The House

Originally located on Zanker Road in Alviso, this Italianate farmhouse was built in 1868 and was the home of F. William Zanker, his wife and their eight children. A native of Germany, Zanker grew strawberries, asparagus and pears on the ranch.

The house is constructed of California redwood in the Victorian Italianate style, and follows an informal rural Italian farmhouse design. The windows of the Zanker House do not follow the usual Italianate design. There are no elaborate eye-catching architectural elements to command the viewer’s attention. The windows are plain and double-hung. Function is the primary concern.

The house was moved to History Park in 1987 and restoration was completed in 1988. The restoration revealed that the house lacked a flue, indicating an absence of heating and cooking stoves.

A two-room addition at the rear of the house, visible in the 1918 photograph on the sign in front of the house, was removed during the restoration along with a 20th century bathroom on the first floor. The front porch is a reconstruction based on the 1918 photograph.

The outhouse was on the original property in 1906. This two-holer is constructed of redwood siding and was located at the back of the main house. Reportedly there was also an eight-holer available for the use of the field hands, but this building no longer exists.

A fly-through video of the digital documentation of the historic Zanker House at History Park was completed using the FARO 3D Focus Laser Scanner during July 2015. This point cloud contains more than 400,000,000 data points and was completed by Minh Chau Doan, junior at Notre Dame High School in San Jose.

The Zanker House is home to the African American Heritage House.

View archival images of the Zanker family and house from History San Jose’s Collection

The Zanker Family

Mercury News staff writer Patricia Loomis wrote the following article about Zanker Road for the August 2, 1974 issue:

They’re picking pears out on Zanker Road just as they have for nearly 100 years and the new landlord doesn’t plan to go out of the farming business. The City of San Jose now owns most of the land along Zanker Road and plans to keep a buffer zone of farms and orchards between tits sewage treatment plant and the Alviso-Milpitas Road, a policy decision to gladden the hearts of ecologists and the ghosts of the pioneer ranchers who believed int the land.

And, if ever there was a believer, it was F. William Zanker, whose perseverance fostered a heritage that has passed down through four generations of the family. Zanker, who came to the United States from his native Germany at the age of nineteen, worked his way west to Missouri, where in 1855 he joined a California-bound wagon train. Most of his companions were headed for the gold fields, but after panning a few yards of El Dorado County dirt, Zanker packed up and headed for the Santa Clara Valley to look for a farm. He thought he’d found one near the thriving little seaport village of Alviso, but it turned out to be part of land ex-Governor Peter H. Burnett had a prior claim to, and a two-year court battle ended in favor of Burnett.

Discouraged but not defeated, Zanker rented the land he had fought for until he could afford to buy a piece down off the Alviso-Milpitas Road. This was in 1863, two years after he married Catherine Walter, also a native of Germany, whose family had come to California via New York and the Nicaragua route to settle in the Berryessa area. he couple built a home on the new farm where their eight children were raised and which still stands north of the pear orchard on the west side of Zanker Road.

A century ago Zanker and his neighbors, Thatcher F. Barnes to the north, J. Farney to the south, and Mike Bellew and William Boots across the road, were growing strawberries and asparagus which they hauled to Alviso for shipment to the San Francisco commission houses aboard one of the fast little steamers.

As far as Zanker youngsters could see from atop the tank house, 100 years ago, was one big green garden with here and there a rooftop beside a ribbon of brown dirt road. Artesian wells, bubbling up out of the ground, gave plenty of water to irrigate the fields. Wooden flumes carried the water to the fields, and ditches dug along the county roads ran year around up until only a few decades ago, recalls Mrs. Grace Zanker, widow of a Zanker grandson — pear association executive Curtner Zanker.

Mrs. Zanker, who is the family historian and mother of the fourth generation of farming Zankers, Evan and William D., says that F. William Zanker at one time worked for Leland Stanford over on the Palo Alto farm. She says the story goes that Stanford offered to pay Zanker in land, but the latter insisted on cash as he preferred the Alviso area’s rich soil.

The Zanker children — the first four were girls — were Emma, Minnie, Lena, Elizabeth, — and the boys — F. William (Curtner’s father who served as city treasurer of Alviso for nearly thirty years), Frank, Douglas and Adolph.

Curtner Zanker’s dad and his son, Evan, both served as trustees of the Alviso School District. Pearl Zanker, retired Milpitas school teacher and daughter of the late Frank Zanker, has a school in Milpitas named for her.

The Zanker ranch, where pears replaced strawberries and asparagus along in the 1880s, eventually extended south to the Alviso-Milpitas Road (Highway 237) and was sold in recent years to the City of San Jose for its sewage treatment plant.

Zanker Road was still known as Barne Lane when Mrs. Catherine Zanker and her neighbors, the Cropleys and the granddaughters of Barnes, Eudora Marcen and Stella Henley, petitioned the county to take over the road in 1914.

Cultivated fields and orchards will not only be pleasant oases among the Valley’s rooftops and freeways, but monuments to the Zankers and other pioneers whose roots are implanted deep in the rich earth.

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