San Jose Celebrates Alum Rock Park’s 150th Anniversary

It’s amazing to think that in Alum Rock Park’s progress toward its 150th anniversary — celebrated with a major public event on May 14 — the state’s oldest municipal park has managed to retain much of its natural beauty.

Today’s 720 acres of open space are a far cry from the wilderness that occupied the foothills east of San Jose in the 18th century, but there isn’t a hotel, a huge indoor pool, a zoo or a carousel – all of which were features of the park during its heyday in the early 20th century. And it even has its own Instagram-ready spot thanks to a white “ALUM ROCK” sign that’s been set up – Hollywood style – in the rocks near the entrance.

A group walks a trail at Alum Rock Park Friday, May 6, 2022. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group)

Alum Rock Park’s real birthday was March 13, when the city kicked off an entire year of events that includes the May 14 celebration with music, food trucks and speakers from the city, county and from the state wishing the park a happy birthday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Other events like history and nature walks, overnight camping, and an outdoor movie night will take place throughout the year. You can get the schedule at bit.ly/ARP150.

If you live in San Jose and have never been to Alum Rock Park, shame on you. It’s the kind of place that will make you doubt that you are still within the city limits. There are hiking trails everywhere and countless children have played on both the model playground and the older play structures of a stone eagle and a huge tarantula. 100-year-old stone bridges span Penitencia Creek, and there’s even a 1916 log cabin that was built to give visitors a sense of how pioneers lived “back then.” The hut, a landmark in the city, is currently fenced off and clearly in need of restoration.

This log cabin was built from 1914-16 at Alum Rock Park in San Jose as an example of how previous generations lived.  (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group)
This log cabin was built from 1914-16 at Alum Rock Park in San Jose as an example of how previous generations lived. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group)

Some go there for daily walks on the flat trails or hikes on the rock climbing trails. Others hold family events in the picnic areas or toss horseshoes along the creek under the shade of holm oaks. The Youth Science Institute has a facility where children learn about nature on field trips – YSI’s presence in the park dates back to the 1950s – and you can still see the stone caves built by artisans along the trail that are remnants of the park’s days as a popular health spa with mineral springs. (True fact: there is no alum in Alum Rock Park, but it was misnamed by a farmer who assumed the white sulfur gypsum residue on the rocks was alum.)

There was even once a railroad that ran steam locomotives from downtown San Jose up the hills, through tunnels to enter the park to visit the Natatorium – the “pool” was apparently only not sophisticated enough – or see a giant meteorite (it was really just manganese rock, but everyone thought it came from space until it was examined by scientists. Remember you children, facts can ruin a good story).

A mineral spring cave on the Penitencia Creek Trail is a remnant of the history of Alum Rock Park in San Jose.  Its 150th anniversary is celebrated with a public event on May 14, 2022. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group)
A mineral spring cave on the Penitencia Creek Trail is a remnant of the history of Alum Rock Park in San Jose. Its 150th anniversary is celebrated with a public event on May 14, 2022. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group)

The train lasted about 30 years until the automobile ousted it. Alum Rock Park has remained extremely popular, perhaps even too popular. Mut’s maintenance could not cope with the wear and tear caused by visitors and eventually the attractions were removed. The train station and Natatorium were demolished, the carousel went to Happy Hollow, and the park was allowed to return, somewhat, to nature.

“Alum Rock Park is a historic and natural destination in San Jose,” said Jon Cicirelli, director of the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, “and it’s important to us that it stays healthy, safe and fun for everyone.”

RAISING THEIR VOICES AGAIN: The Orchard City Community Chorus began rehearsing for their spring concert, “The British Invasion”, in January 2020. And then COVID-19 kicked in. But two years later, the musical group Campbell has picked up where they left off and will present their concert on May 20 at 7:30 p.m. The date may have changed, but the location has not: United Methodist Church, 1675 Winchester Blvd . Get tickets at www.orchardcitychorus.org.

Meanwhile, the South Bay Military Veterans Chorus is also holding its spring concert on May 14 at the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Saratoga. Get tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show at www.southbaymilvetschorus.com.

TEAMWORK CREATES A DREAMWORK: San Jose’s craft cocktail haven, Paper Plane, continues to fly high on the national stage. Once again, it was among the top 10 nominees for Best American Bar Team Spirited Awards in the Western Region by Tales of the Cocktail, and all who enjoyed Paper Plane’s exceptional service and creative drinks. would certainly agree. We will find out if they won in July.

Incidentally, the owners of Paper Plane – George Lahlouh, Dan Phan and Johnny Wang – have just signed on to open a new restaurant, Eos & Nyx, at Urban Catalyst’s Paseo project at the old Camera 12.

STILL FAST: We barely had time to upload photos from last weekend’s Viva CalleSJ event before the next one was announced. Ed Solis, the city of San Jose superintendent of recreation who has been a driving force behind “open streets” efforts since 2017, said he marks June 12 on the “Parks to Roses” calendar. The 5-mile route will include activity centers at Backesto Park in San Jose’s Northside neighborhood, downtown Arena Green and the Municipal Rose Garden – with streets connecting the three sites closed to vehicular traffic from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

TIME DIFFERENCE: I won’t get any merit badges for accuracy from Jason Stein, the outgoing Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council CEO of the Boy Scouts of America. My article on the group’s community breakfast on Thursday said he was stepping down in June after 18 months on the job. It’s been 18 years, not that the last 18 months haven’t been stressful enough!

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