History of Alviso

(Note: The content on this page was formerly part of the HSJ website, “Neighborhoods of San Jose,” created circa 2007, and now inactive.)

Alviso is located at the south end of the San Francisco Bay and the northern most point of the City of San Jose. The Guadalupe River (which drains the Santa Cruz Mountains), and Coyote Creek (which drains the Diablo Range), both travel north through Santa Clara Valley were they meet the San Francisco Bay at Alviso Slough. The marsh lands around Alviso are home to many species of birds and fish. This resource rich area provided excellent hunting and fishing for the indiginous Tamien people.

Ygnacio Alviso, son of Corporal Domingo Alviso, was a child when he traveled to Alta California as part of the De Anza Party. In 1775 Juan Bautista de Anza led 300 people from Tubac, in what is today Arizona, to the presidio at Monterey, to establish civil settlements in Alta California. During the Spanish and Mexican periods in California, tracts of land were granted to deserving citizens for settlement. In 1838 Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado granted Ygnacio Alviso an area of land called Rincón de los Esteros (Estuaries Corner or Estuaries Bend). This tract encompassed almost 6,353 acres of what is now known as Alviso. Founded in 1845 and incorporated in 1852, Alviso was one of the oldest towns in Santa Clara County until it was annexed by the City of San Jose in 1968.

In the mid 19th century Alviso served as the Port of San Jose and the transportation hub for the Santa Clara Valley. With access to the San Francisco Bay, steamboats traveled regularly between San Francisco and Alviso. During a tragic crossing on April 11, 1853, a boiler on the steamboat, The Jenny Lind exploded, killing 31 passengers. Until the 1890s the steamboat The Alviso started the daily trip to San Francisco at 7:30 pm and returned to Alviso the following morning at 10:00 am. In 1864 the San Francisco-San Jose Railroad, later part of the Southern Pacific Railroad, was completed, bypassing Alviso in favor of a direct line between San José and San Francisco. In the 1880s Alviso was a stop on the Newark line of Southern Pacific Railroad between San José and Oakland.

Alviso was home to several successful business ventures. Alviso Mills, founded in 1853, at its peak produced up to 300 barrels of flour a day. As wheat production in the San Joaquín Valley grew, production in the Santa Clara Valley waned in favor of fruit production, and the Alviso Mills closed in 1885. In 1906, Sai Yin Chew opened the Bayside Canning Company in Alviso. Chew and his son, Thomas Foon Chew, operated the Chinese run cannery which was known for paying generous wages and employing exclusively Chinese and Chinese Americans until the 1920s. Products canned in Alviso included spinach, asparagus, cherries, apricots, plums, peaches, pears, tomatoes, catsup, tomato sauce, hot sauce, tomato puree, fish sauce, and fruit cocktail. At its peak the Bayside Canning Company was the 3rd largest cannery in the United States. Thomas Foon Chew died in 1931 and the cannery was sold in 1936. During The Depression Alviso was uncivil and became well known for its dance halls and gambling establishments. In the 1960s and 70s a small independent boat building community called Alviso home. Later, the marshes around Alviso began being used for salt production. In a unique private and public venture, many of the salt ponds will be returned to marshes. TiVo, one of the leading digital video recorder companies, has its corporate headquarters in Alviso.

The rapid growth of the Santa Clara Valley directly contributed to the many floods in Alviso. The Guadalupe River had significant floods in 1862, 1895, 1911, 1955, 1958, 1963, 1969, 1982, 1986 and 1995. The severity and frequency of these floods led to plans and advancements in water control and treatment. In 1956 the Santa Clara County Water Pollution Control Plant was built just east of Alviso on Los Esteros Road. Upgraded in 1964 and 1979, today the plant treats up to 167,000,000 gallons of wastewater. Since 1990, Federal, State, County and City agencies have been working to control flooding along the Guadalupe River.

In 1961 and 1962 Alviso residents voted against consolidation with San Jose. Concerns about Alviso’s ability to prosper in the rapidly growing Silicon Valley and the lack of modern services supported efforts to make it part of the City of San Jose. In 1968, after over 100 years as an independent city, the residents of Alviso voted 189 to 180 to become part of San José. In exchange for consolidation, residents were to receive fire and police protection, drinking water, a library, community center, pool, park, storm drains and street paving. San Jose gained access to the shoreline, garbage dumps, and the ability to expand the sewage treatment plant. The promised municipal services were slow to arrive and led to a few lawsuits regarding services. Alviso maintains some of its 19th century way of life in Silicon Valley; for example, residents still pick up their mail at the post office on Gold Street.

Did You Know?

  • A. P. Giannini, the founder of Bank of America (originally the Bank of Italy), grew up on a family farm and attended the one-room schoolhouse in Alviso.
  • In 1891 the San Jose Watch Company opened in Alviso and closed the same day. The equipment and supplies were sold to a company in Japan that continued to make watches with the mark, “Made in San Jose.”
  • In 1956, The Zanker family sold their 1868 house to the City of San Jose to make way for the Santa Clara County Water Pollution Control Plant. In 1987 the Zanker House was moved to History Park in Kelley Park.
  • Alviso is listed as a National Historic District on the National Historic Register.

San Jose City Landmarks

  • Bayside Canning Company (1906) on Hope Street
  • Wade House (c. 1855) & H.G. Wade Warehouse (c. 1860) on El Dorado Street
  • Old City Hall & Firehouse (c. 1933) on Taylor Street
  • Tilden Residence (1860) & Grocery Store (c. 1887) on Elizabeth Street

%d bloggers like this: