Central San Jose
San Jose has long been the local poster child for urban sprawl, generic housing tracts and declining downtowns. So why would you consider Central San Jose? For three compelling reasons.
First, it's different now. Downtown San Jose has been extensively redeveloped into a great place to live and play. When I went to school there thirty years ago I parked in a dirt lot that had once been one square block of downtown, and the blocks that hadn't been leveled hung on by their fingertips. Today that parking lot is new condos. Downtowns are back in style after years of flight and neglect, and San Jose's has a confidence and prosperity that's largely replaced the doldrums of the 1970s. Today downtown San Jose is sometimes impressive, often attractive and always interesting. A big city downtown is a valuable, irreplaceable resource, even more so than a suburban downtown because its greater scale has more impact, and it's far more of an asset than the generic shopping malls that make do for a downtown in some nearby cities. Dining, nightlife, entertainment and the arts are available in abundance, all within walking distance. See http://www.sjdowntown.com for an idea of what's going on there.
Second, the core of Central San Jose is old San Jose, a city that was vital and important to this area even before the tracts and sprawl. Before World War II, San Jose was a regional center while Palo Alto and Menlo Park were just wide places in the road. That history imparts a sense of tradition, permanence and scale unique in the South Bay and on the mid-Peninsula. There's nothing else like it. Central San Jose is a slice of California as it once was—classic Norman Rockwell neighborhoods, a vibrant downtown—and it's affordable. In fact, the low prices make it a great place to look even if you've never heard of Norman Rockwell.
Third, Central San Jose is just twenty to thirty minutes away from Palo Alto/Menlo Park in normal—but not commute—traffic, and Guadalupe Parkway has made downtown more accessible.
Bounded by Bayshore Freeway (101), Coyote Creek, Alma and Guadalupe Parkway (87), Central San Jose is a huge area that includes a number of distinct neighborhoods, some described below. Within these broad limits are three large sub-markets. First, there's the core downtown area, dating from the late 1800s to about World War I. Around that core are San Jose's earliest suburban neighborhoods from the 1920s. Beyond them are a small number of post-World War II housing tracts. But it's the pre-war neighborhoods that are Central San Jose's claim to fame.
pros and cons
· Several excellent pre-war neighborhoods, significantly more affordable than similar Palo Alto neighborhoods.
· The merely good pre-war neighborhoods offer some of that old Palo Alto feel at a condo price.
· And housing doesn’t get much cheaper than a marginal pre-war San Jose neighborhood, yet even these areas often have pockets of architecturally interesting, well-maintained homes.
· A superb market for affordable Craftsman and Revival-style bungalows.
· One of the very few large, consistent sources of affordable Victorians south of San Francisco.
· Revitalized big-city downtown retains its period charm.
· Improving downtown condo market, with much new construction.
· Post-war housing tracts are often appealing but quite reasonably priced.
· Excellent place to find small investment properties.
· For the connoisseur of contemporaries, Sherman Oaks has what must be the most affordable Eichler tract in the West Bay.
· Most San Jose Unified schools in this area have very low test scores.
· Some of the older neighborhoods are marginal and impacted by commercial traffic.
· Other people have had the same idea. During commute hours, freeways have heavy traffic in what would be your direction.
· Many homes were cheaply built, and eighty to a hundred years of hard wear hasn't improved them.
· Not a great area for Eichlers or other contemporaries. This is a very traditional market.
Interested in buying a home in Central San Jose? Please contact me at email@example.com.
Downtown: What makes downtown San Jose special? It's the oldest and largest downtown in this area, cleaned-up but not sanitized. It's an easy downtown to get into, with a decent and expanding selection of new and affordable condos. And finally, downtown San Jose is a rare source of affordable turn-of-the-century homes, although with the caveat that many are humble, tired and in transitional neighborhoods. Downtown suffered during the flight to suburbia and there’s still plenty of neglect, but also many bright spots.
Downtown San Jose saw the usual West Bay building cycles: mid-to-late 1920s, then a long pause for the Great Depression; late ‘30s, then a long pause for World War II; and then the headlong post-war boom from the late ‘40s to whenever each locale ran out of land, in this case the early ‘50s. But what differentiates downtown San Jose is an earlier building period, from the late 1890s to World War I (and a brief pause for the war, a deadly influenza epidemic and a quick depression in the early ‘20s). Many homes from that early period survive, from a handful of ornate Queen Anne Victorians to a multitude of humble cottages to a few old-timers with false fronts straight out of an Old West movie set. The Great Depression of the 1930s saw many of the larger homes, some well over 3000 sq.ft., converted to apartments, boarding houses, fraternity or sorority houses, or later, into residential care facilities. A look through the county assessor's records suggests that this downward trend started as early as the 1920s, indicating that even then downtown was losing ground to the new suburbs. It looks like downtown had plenty of vacant lots well into the early 1950s, because homes from all of downtown’s main building periods can appear on the same block.
As a rule, homes near the main drag, Santa Clara Street, date from 1900 to the teens. Away from Santa Clara, 1920s cottages and bungalows start appearing, although you'll still find the occasional Victorian, perhaps a farmhouse once on the outskirts of town.
Downtown neighborhood quality varies greatly and seemingly randomly, but here are a few more rules of thumb.
First, the blocks between Taylor and Keyes are the most consistently pre-World War I.
Second, the neighborhoods north of Santa Clara get better and more consistently pre-World War I as the numbers of the streets descend, particularly from 6th down. The Hensley Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the Victorian heart of this prime downtown area; its boundaries are roughly 2nd, 6th, Julian and Empire. (Check with the city for exact boundaries and for any building restrictions.)
The reverse is true from Santa Clara Street to 280: beautiful Naglee Park, a living museum of Craftsman-style homes, occupies the higher-numbered streets, although the lower-numbered streets near San Jose State are still attractive despite the many businesses and apartment buildings.
The third east-west belt is south of 280. Here neighborhood quality can get pretty rugged, except for a few pockets including an attractive bungalow tract east of 6th and north of Keyes.
Uninspiring ‘50s and ‘60s apartment buildings are plentiful throughout most neighborhoods, as they are in every local downtown, but San Jose adds an old-fashioned touch, the corner grocery. Broad north-south streets are another distinctive characteristic.
Downtown home prices are rock bottom, especially in the marginal areas, where they're comparable to those of East Palo Alto, and even the better neighborhoods don't cost much more. Naglee Park is the exception, but even in this extremely attractive neighborhood prices are a good 25% below entry-level South Palo Alto and as little as one-third those of Palo Alto's most comparable area, Professorville.
Japantown: One of three remaining in the country, San Jose's is apparently the most original and least changed by redevelopment. The business district is small, approximately three blocks, surrounded by residential properties and a scattering of cultural sites. Architecturally, Japantown is low-key about its Japanese heritage and in some ways resembles any mid-century shopping district, but has a relaxed charm and traces of an earlier history dating back to about 1890. Aside from its long-time Japanese-American owned businesses, the district is known for its restaurants, not all of them Japanese. The neighborhoods surrounding the commercial core show a Japanese influence primarily in their landscaping.
Naglee Park: East of San Jose State University, this appealing neighborhood was developed in 1902 on the former estate of local character and one-time Union general Henry Naglee. Naglee Park reminds me of Palo Alto’s Professorville, and that's not a coincidence considering its proximity to San Jose State. The neighborhood is a showcase of early-20th century middle-class architecture, set on beautiful tree-lined streets. Most homes were built prior to World War I, and if you like Craftsmen you'll think you’ve died and gone to heaven. The Revival styles popular through the 1920s are also well-represented. Homes are larger than average for downtown San Jose, usually at least 1400-1500 sq.ft., often in the 2000s and sometimes well into the 4000 sq.ft. range. Lots are ample but tend to be a bit smaller than Professorville or Old Palo Alto. Like the rest of downtown, some of the larger homes have been divided into apartments and boarding houses, or are now used by sororities or fraternities. There are a few commercial buildings and post-war apartment buildings, particularly on 11th and 12th Streets. Traffic-calming measures indicate that cut-through traffic is a concern and, like other downtown San Jose neighborhoods, Naglee Park is recovering from a long period of neglect. But all in all this is a very compelling neighborhood, not the least because prices are quite reasonable by Palo Alto standards, perhaps 40% less than even entry-level Professorville. Bounded by Santa Clara St., Coyote Creek, Sinclair Freeway (280) and 12th Street.
Rose Garden: With Willow Glen one of San Jose’s most desirable pre-war neighborhoods. "Rose Garden" is a powerful brand name that's sometimes applied to neighborhoods that aren't, strictly speaking, Rose Garden. There's basically three variations on the Rose Garden theme: first "adjacent to Rose Garden", then Greater Rose Garden and, at the top, Rose Garden! Rose Garden! is just 37 acres sub-divided in 1937, bounded by Bascom, Alameda, Naglee and Hedding. The Rose Garden Neighborhood Preservation Association stretches these boundaries several blocks to the north, west and south to create Greater Rose Garden. "Adjacent to Rose Garden" basks in the reflected glory of the first two areas and includes a number of tracts dating from the very early 1900s. Another way to slice and dice Rose Garden is to put Rose Garden! and the blocks of imposing homes on large lots just to the east of it along University into what might be called “prime Rose Garden”, although you'll find many outstanding neighborhoods outside these boundaries. Named after the 5.5-acre San Jose Municipal Rose Garden, it features a striking Egyptian Museum modeled after the Temple of Amon. Greater Rose Garden reminds me of Palo Alto’s Crescent Park and Old Palo Alto. All three neighborhoods have a small core area of impressive, mostly pre-war homes on large lots. All three have a mid-range comprised of everything from the odd Victorian, to a multitude of pre-World War I Craftsman bungalows and revival styles of the 1920s and 1930s, to a few handsome rancher neighborhoods from the late ’40s. All have a lower tier of modest old homes, bungalow courts and a few post-war apartment buildings on the fringes. Greater Rose Garden doesn’t have Crescent Park’s walk-to-downtown convenience, although there's shopping along lower Alameda and an excellent downtown just a short drive away. Tree-lined Alameda, Rose Garden's imposing main street, has grand old homes converted to offices, graceful pre-war apartment buildings and a few medium-rise office buildings for impact. Park Avenue also has many commercial and apartment buildings but with just two lanes has less impact on the area. Greater Rose Garden bumps up against some intrusive neighbors: 880 to the north, light industry along Stockton to the east, and low-rent Burbank to the south. Prices are all over the map, depending on the neighborhood, but most homes sell for far less than a South Palo Alto rancher, let alone the north Palo Alto neighborhoods they resemble. Even the best areas, while far from cheap, go for perhaps 40% less than similar Palo Alto neighborhoods.
Hanchett Residence Park: This beautiful neighborhood is a living plan book of early 20th century homes. First developed around 1910 but built mostly between 1920 and 1927, Hanchett Park offers endless variations on the architectural styles popular during those years. The result is a very attractive and entertaining neighborhood much like the lower and middle tiers of Crescent Park or Old Palo Alto, but slightly older and substantially more affordable. Just south of Greater Rose Garden, Hanchett Park isn’t part of that neighborhood according to the Rose Garden Neighborhood Preservation Association, but differences can be subtle. Hanchett is more middle class than prime Rose Garden but indistinguishable from the “lesser” Rose Garden neighborhoods. Houses are generally small, often around 1500 sq.ft. or less, although 2000-plus is common and a few cross 3000. This core area of Hanchett Park sells for about 15% less than the typical South Palo Alto rancher. Just past Hanchett’s western boundary, Park, appealing tracts share the core area's street names but were built a little latter, from the late ‘20s into the mid-‘30s. Still further west, past Dana, bungalows give way to attractive ranchers from the early ‘50s. These two newer areas cost about 25% less than South Palo Alto. Bounded by Hester, Alameda, Race and Park.
Vendome Park: Named after the Hotel Vendome which once dominated this part of downtown, Vendome Park is a series of tidy, often charming bungalow tracts on the blocks paralleling 1st Street from the County Civic Center south to the railroad tracks (west of 1st) and Empire (east of 1st). Here you’ll find neighborhoods that are much more consistently appealing than the usual downtown fare, and have fewer apartment buildings. Typical 1920s suburbia, Vendome Park at its best can hold its own with the more modest parts of Palo Alto’s Community Center, Old Palo Alto and Crescent Park—and it sells at condo prices. Pick the right block and drive a little, save a lot. Convenient to downtown, Japantown and Guadalupe River Park.
St. Leo’s: A collection of quaint bungalow neighborhoods between The Alameda, Park, the Caltrain station and Race. You’re just a short drive to one of the best downtowns in the West Bay. Bordered on three sides by light industrial, St. Leo’s is a segue from downtown’s commercial district to the middle-class Hanchett Residence Park to the west. Homes are small but interesting and generally well-maintained. Apartment buildings are also well-maintained, and relatively scarce. Most homes were built between 1900 and 1914 or during the 1920s, typical of downtown, but have more style than many of downtown's neighborhoods. Redevelopment has come here in a big way, with a new upscale apartment community on Bush, an imposing townhouse development just behind it and an old Del Monte cannery that's been converted to lofts. The stretches of The Alameda and San Fernando that run through this area are pleasant but Park is hard on the eyes and the neighborhood gets a bit marginal near the church this neighborhood is named for. Prices are dirt cheap, about like the better East Palo Alto areas, as they are in many of downtown’s more modest pre-war neighborhoods.
Neighborhoods between Keyes and 280: A downtown surprise: small, handsome bungalows on tree-lined streets. Most are Craftsmen dating from 1900-1910, although the ‘20s and ‘30s Revival styles are also plentiful. Multi-family is at a minimum here, aside from a large handsome Spanish-style condo building on 12th converted from commercial in 1992 and a new modernistic apartment complex on 6th. Keyes, 7th and 10th are highly-trafficked streets but the others are suitable to a residential neighborhood. The downside is 280 background noise and a stretch of Keyes that's badly in need of its proposed beautification. But this is another of downtown’s bargains and well worth a look if you’re priced out of the mid-Peninsula’s pre-war neighborhoods. Reminiscent of north Palo Alto's bungalow neighborhoods, yet priced like East Palo Alto. Bounded by Keyes, 280, 6th and 12th.
Bungalow neighborhoods at the east end of Newhall: Very small, cute homes built from just before World War I into the late 1930s, almost always on sub-standard lots of less than 4000 sq.ft. Unlike most sub-standard lots, these are reasonably wide but so shallow they don’t allow a back yard. It’s safe to say that no one rich and famous has ever lived here, but these humble neighborhoods have an engaging personality and they're relatively convenient to Palo Alto and Menlo Park via 880 and 280. On the other hand, they’re next to Interstate 880, an industrial area, the railroad tracks and San Jose International Airport, so despite the old-fashioned charm, prices are rock bottom.
Chapman & Davis: An extensive tract that covers two cities, crosses a freeway and represents a variety of eras. Chapman & Davis starts in Santa Clara south of the University, enters San Jose, crosses 880 and then runs along Chapman and Morse Streets into what is usually called Rose Garden. There’s a little of everything here. North of 880 there’s the occasional Victorian and many bungalows on tiny lots. South of 880 you’ll find impressive homes on half-acre lots.
Pocket Victorian neighborhoods: Sometimes you find presentable Victorian neighborhoods in unexpected places, often surrounded by gritty light industrial or marginal residential areas. Here are two: Pierce and William west of Market; and Gifford, Lakehouse and Sonoma just west of 87, in the Delmas Park area.
Reed Addition: Between Reed and Martha and 1st and 9th, this tract is notable for large Victorians on 3rd that look a little like haunted houses with their faded white paint and air of neglect. Many have been divided into apartments. This area also has plenty of light industrial but the effect is impressive, like many such areas downtown, with old brick warehouses reminding us that San Jose was a local economic powerhouse back when its neighboring cities were still sleepy farm towns.
University neighborhoods: Between San Jose State and 280, the many apartment buildings here aren’t a surprise given the large student population they serve, nor is the cluster of university-related small businesses. So like any downtown locale there are plenty of people and traffic, but this neighborhood still manages to be pleasant, greatly helped by turn-of-the-century bungalows.
Burbank: An interesting and very affordable but challenging neighborhood that, when I first drove through it, instinctively made me check my car's doors to make sure they were locked (and I've lived in East Oakland). With time I've relaxed—I don't know whether this is good or bad—but one client recently called the neighborhood "insalubrious" (a nice way of saying "this place gives me the creeps") and an agent who just showed a home there for the first time in his career looked a little pale when told me about it (and the home was on the one of the better streets). Fortunately there’s an active homeowner’s association but it has its work cut out for it. Located between Bascom and Meridian, Forest and Scott, Burbank is just south of one of San Jose’s best neighborhoods, Rose Garden, and the contrast as you cross Forest is piquant. Named after the horticulturalist Luther Burbank, this area has a few homes dating from the late 1890s but most were built in the 1920s. Surrounding this core are a number of small rancher tracts. Virtually all the housing stock is very small and plain and maintenance is sometimes conspicuous by its absence, although once in a while there's something of interest. The biggest drawback to core Burbank is the many marginal apartment buildings, which affect neighborhoods not only visually but through higher density (more people and cars). Some blocks are less impacted than others and can be pleasant, and prices are certainly rock bottom, but Burbank is for the hardy pioneer on a very limited budget. The main drag is San Carlos Street and although the used-car lots I remember from thirty years ago are still there, this street will interest anyone who likes vintage commercial buildings, just another reminder of San Jose's long history.
Beverley Place: Often lumped in with Burbank, neither area is exactly upscale but Beverley Place is much better maintained. Small, tidy tract cottages line broad, attractive streets. Homes are 2- or 3-bedroom/1-bath, built between 1938 and the late ‘40s, and they’re genuinely cute, not a word I use liberally. Beverley’s landmark is the 1940s Burbank Theatre, a tidy deco building that may be rescued from long decline by its new owners. As usual, home prices are extremely reasonable, roughly similar to East Palo Alto. Its location, just across 880 from Santa Clara and north of 280, puts Beverley Place within striking distance of the mid-Peninsula. Boundaries are Scott, Parkmoor, Bascom and Richard.
Here’s how central San Jose has performed over the past two years. Prices are for Single-family Residences (SFRs) only. This graph is based on data from the Multiple Listing Service that's been corrected to eliminate the extremes at both ends of the price range that skew average price.
TOP copyright © John Fyten 2004.