Chiechi House at History Park, San Jose, CA
Chiechi House at History Park

The House

This two-story Italianate was originally built in 1876 for Jane and John Campbell, at 820 Northrup Avenue in Willow Glen. Michael Chiechi, a building contractor, purchased the home in 1911 and subsequently remodeled the house. Miss Grace Chiechi, his daughter who died in 1984, donated the house to the museum in 1973.

Features to note:

  • An original door and some windows are on the house.
  • The house originally had hardwood floors throughout, which were destroyed by bad weather and removed. Polyurethane finished sub-floor can be seen today.
  • A water-circulating pump was located on the second floor. It was kept warm by the wood burning stove in the kitchen, heating the house in the winter season.
  • The decoration over the stairway opening is described as garland leaf design with animal heads; the stairway had two handrails, one on either side of the stair.
  • The pointed arches at the doorway openings were made by Nicola (Nick) Chiechi.
  • There was a pond at the original location that held goldfish, lilies and frogs.
  • The cellar, which had a slanted exterior entrance door, was used for wine and cheese storage.
  • The current dining room may have been a bedroom in the original use of the house. This would explain the door, as it was common practice to have an outside entry to bedrooms.
  • The chandelier is original to the house.
  • The living room was originally two rooms, remodeled around the 1920s. Indoor plumbing and electricity were added at the same time. A partition was added to form a bathroom.
  • The back porch had painted wainscoting with curtained windows above and linoleum on the floor. It contained a stove, piano, laundry and electricity meter.

The Family

Michael Chiechi came to the U.S. in the 1890s from Italy, leaving his family behind. He returned for visits every two years – the cost of a boat crossing at the time was $40. In 1913, he brought over his wife and five children: four boys and one girl. In the 1920s, he worked on the railroad, returning home on Saturdays. Friends and relatives used the house as a place to stay while waiting for immigration papers to be processed. It was also the site of many family gatherings.

Grace Chiechi, Michael’s only daughter, worked in Palo Alto selling corsets. Later she owned a lingerie shop on Post Street, before moving the shop into a large department store on First Street, run as a concession.

Nicola Chiechi, son of Michael and born in Italy, came to America as a child in 1913. He attended Horace Mann Elementary School. As employee #5038, he began work in 1917 as a rivet catcher in the shipyard, quickly rising to supervisor. In 1920, he left the shipyard. Later he owned his own plastering business and operated an apricot orchard. On weekends he wrestled, meeting such people as Jack Dempsey. His family consists of three sons and a daughter. Nick Chiechi celebrated his 90th birthday in February 1992, and passed away late that same year.

Marge Chiechi, Nicola’s daughter, remembered growing up in the house, with its three acres of apricots and walnuts. She was the source of much of the current information on the family.

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