Two Men Who Saved San Jose’s History

Clyde Arbuckle and Theron Fox are responsible for preserving San Jose’s history by saving important buildings, collecting historic materials, and founding the San José Historical Museum, which later became History San José.

Clyde Arbuckle
Clyde Arbuckle

Arbuckle and Fox were from pioneer families who came to the Santa Clara Valley in 1846. Listening to family stories about the Valley may have led to their interest in history. Both were active members of the California Pioneers of Santa Clara Valley.  Clyde Arbuckle, born in 1903, attended Santa Clara High School until he was 15. He quit school to help support his family, first by driving horses, and later as a deliveryman for the Railway Express Agency. Despite his lack of formal education, Arbuckle had a keen, almost photographic memory, and was widely considered an authority on local history. He shared San José’s history with humorous storytelling and was frequently asked to speak on the topic. In 1945, his passion for sharing local history led the Native Sons of the Golden West, the Native Daughters, the California Pioneers of Santa Clara Valley and the Historic Landmarks Committee to recommend him for the honorary position of City Historian. Just days after the San José City Council approved Arbuckle’s new position, he was flooded with phone calls offering historic letters, diaries, records, and objects.

Theron Fox
Theron Fox

Theron Fox, born in 1905, graduated from San Jose State with a teaching credential in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression. He became active in the printing business when he was 12 years old and began employment at the Rosicrucian Press, a position which lasted for 37 years. Fox’s interest in San José’s history propelled him to become a leader in preserving historic buildings and landmarks. He served as president of the Historic Landmarks Commission for eight years in the 1960s. In 1970, Clyde Arbuckle nominated and Fox received an American Association for State and Local History award for his efforts and achievements in historic preservation.

In 1949, a temporary replica of the State House, the meeting place of the first State Legislature (1849 – 1852), was built in City Hall Plaza opposite the original location of the 1849 building. The State House Replica and its history exhibit, curated by Arbuckle, were popular with the public and hence the Historic Landmarks Commission decided that it should be made permanent. The Chamber of Commerce paid for the 30 foot by 60 foot building to be moved to the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. While continuing his honorary position as City Historian, Arbuckle gained a paid position as director and curator of the new museum and had an office in the relocated building. In the 1950s, he was actively collecting historic books, documents, paintings, household objects, and photographs. Donations were so plentiful that a new building was added on to the State House Museum to store the ever growing collection. Thanks to Arbuckle’s dedication to preserving records and artifacts from Santa Clara Valley’s past, the Museum now holds the largest collection of regional history in the State of California.

History Park at Kelley Park – The Land

Mrs. Kelley
Mrs. Kelley

In 1861 Judge Lawrence Archer purchased 160 acres just outside of San José’s city limits. He named the property around Coyote Creek “Lone Oak.” Archer moved his family in 1869, from their downtown home to a two-story house surrounded by elaborate gardens and accessed by two avenues lined with pepper, cypress and eucalyptus trees. There he grew orchards of prunes, apricots, walnuts, and was especially proud of his cherries. A well respected resident and attorney, Archer came to California in 1852 and settled in San Jose in 1853. Active in community service, he was Mayor of San José in 1856 and 1878; a County Judge from 1867 – 71; and served at State Assemblyman from 1875 – 76. Archer left his “Lone Oak” property to his only daughter, Louise Archer Flavin Kelley. She inherited the land in 1910 and it became known as “Ar-Kel” an abbreviation of her maiden and married names. The 5,600 square foot Kelley House near what is now Happy Hollow Park & Zoo was built in 1912.

View the 1994 Kelley House Preliminary Historic Architectural Evaluation prepared at the request of the City of San Jose as part of a Master Plan EIR for a proposed expansion of Kelley Park.

In February, 2012, the Kelley House was badly damaged in a two-alarm fire and was scheduled for demolition by the City of San Jose.

Ernie and Emily Renzel
Ernie and Emily Renzel

There are few myths about where the name Kelley Park comes from and how it became a City park. The most common is that Louise Kelley donated her family’s land to the City of San José for parklands. However, in 1951 Alden Campen learned that Louise Kelley was in failing health and her family was going to put the orchard at the corner of Senter and Keyes up for sale as a subdivision. Campen thought the Kelley property should be preserved for public use. The City already owned the land on the opposite side of Coyote Creek and he thought the two pieces of land could be joined to create a municipal golf course. When Campen approached the City Manager and some Council Members about the purchase, he learned that the City didn’t have the funds for such a purchase. Determined to preserve the Kelley property, he contacted Ernie and Emily Renzel with the idea of purchasing the property. Campen and the Renzels suggested that they buy the land and sell it to the City on a yearly basis. The proposal was met with a positive response from city leaders. Campen and the Renzels purchased 63 acres from Louise Kelley for $142,000 for the purpose of a future City park. Later, using bond funds, the City purchased the remaining land that is today’s Kelley Park.

Louise Kelley continued to live in the house on the property until her death in the mid 1950s. Mrs. Kelley and her four sons were pleased that their family home would be a recreation area for the public. In tribute to her father’s service to San José, Kelley wanted the park to be named Archer Park, but it instead became Kelley Park.

History San José
Organizational History, Programs and Services

History San José’s (HSJ) activities began in 1949 following the centennial celebration of the California Gold Rush and statehood. Known initially as the Historical Museum of San José and managed by the City of San José, History San José was incorporated with its current name as an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in 1998. Over the decades, History San José has grown to include three sites: History Park, the Peralta Adobe-Fallon House Historic Site, and the Collection Center/Research Library & Archives that houses the largest collection of regional artifacts in California. Over 120,000 visitors attend exhibits and events at these sites each year.

History Park, in Kelley Park, is a 14 acre town-like assemblage of 32 original and reconstructed homes, businesses, and landmarks highlighting the culture and history of San José and Santa Clara Valley. History Park is also home to 19 community partner organizations who each provide exhibits and programming that showcase their constituencies and contributions to the Valley.

The Peralta Adobe-Fallon House Historic Site is located in historic San Pedro Square. The 1855 Victorian Fallon House showcases 15 furnished period rooms. Across the street, the Peralta Adobe, built in 1797, is San José’s oldest surviving address, and is the only structure remaining from El Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe. Each November, History San José offers Founder’s Day programs celebrating the Pueblo’s founding settlers from the De Anza Trail expedition and the native  Ohlone people. The programs recreate the lives, celebrations, music, dance, art and stories of this period in an interactive way that engages the entire family.

History San José manages one of the largest collections of regional history artifacts in California. Housed at the Collection Center, a state-of-the-art facility near History Park, the artifact collection includes objects that represent the Valley’s past, from Native American baskets and tools, to agricultural equipment, to pre-silicon chip technologies that were pioneered locally. The Museum continues to collect contemporary history documenting the social and political happenings in the Valley. The research collection includes photographs, personal papers, manuscripts, maps, films, oral histories and published works. Staff and volunteers care for, catalog, and provide access to City of San José and Santa Clara County historical records. Students, educators, historians and other community members seeking primary sources make use of HSJ’s Research Library & Archives by meeting with staff to discuss their research project and receive assistance in identifying relevant materials. Researchers throughout the state, nation, and from at least 28 countries use the Research Library & Archives, further promoting the importance of San José and the Santa Clara Valley.

HSJ engages the community by offering free and low-cost family festivals such as the Antique Autos event and Heritage Holiday celebration, as well as cultural festivals like El Dia de Portugal and Kwanzaa. HSJ is very proud of its standards-based school programs that have offered award-winning hands-on educational opportunities for more than 20 years. Students visit historical buildings and exhibits and participate in hands-on activities that meet the History-Social Science and Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools. These programs take place at both History Park and at the Peralta Adobe-Fallon House Historic Site. Over 25,000 students and teachers from more than 200 schools, take part in these educational programs each year. History San José has also formed partnerships with local businesses to present on-line exhibits and cell phone audio tours that provide another way to access the collections and stories of the Valley. Users of these services number more then 400,000 annually.

Museum Volunteers

Volunteers secured the land to create Kelley Park; volunteers started the San José Historical Museum; and volunteers continue to be the backbone of History San José. In 1971, the San José Historical Museum Association, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, was founded to raise funds to support Museum projects. During years of reduced funding and staffing the Museum relied heavily on volunteers. From 1995 to 2000, volunteers were essential in planning and persevering through the transition from the City-operated San José Historical Museum to the non-profit managed History San José. Each year approximately 20,000 of volunteer hours are contributed to History San José.

The Museum has been fortunate to have the talents of artists, architects, engineers, historians and history enthusiasts, reporters, community leaders and political activists who donate their time and expertise to the Museum. History San José wishes to thank all those who have contributed.