History of delmas park

1869 Bird's eye view of the "French Gardens", the current site of the Lakehouse Historic District.  The Lake House is shown at center.  San Fernando Street does not yet exist west of the Guadalupe River.

General History

The Delmas Park area was settled in the 1850s and is named for Antoine Delmas, the leader of the "French Gardener" community on the west bank of the Guadalupe River.  During the early days of San Jose, French horticulturalists were brought here to plant the apricots, grapes, and prunes that made Santa Clara Valley the "Valley of the Heart's Delight" in the days before silicon.  Delmas built a municipal rose garden in the 1860s in the area now bordered by Delmas Avenue, San Fernando Street, and Los Gatos Creek.  This French heritage is reflected in local street names such as Delmas, Auzerais, and Lorraine.

Steve Bjerklie wrote in Metro weekly, "The first "noble" grape varietals--cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, primitivo (now called zinfandel)--were brought to Santa Clara County by Pierre Pellier, who founded what eventually became Mirassou Vineyards in 1854, and by horticulturists Charles LeFranc [who took control of the Almaden winery from his father-in-law in 1857], Louis Provost, and Antoine Delmas.  By 1858 Delmas owned 350,000 vines of some 105 varieties, and his wine took first prize at the state fair in 1859.  Delmas also grew fruit trees and ornamental plants, and contributed greatly to the Santa Clara Valley's reputation as the "Garden Spot of the World," although he is perhaps best remembered, and cursed, nowadays as the man who introduced to California the Helix aspersa, our all-too-common garden snail."

April Halberstad wrote about Delmas Park and other nearby neighborhoods:

  • One of the earliest emigrant groups in San Jose were people from northern Italy.  Another major influence on the neighborhood was Notre Dame, established in 1851 and occupying 14 acres on Santa Clara Street (including the area around the current SAP Center).  The nuns were from Belgium and the schools they ran at this site attracted students from around the Pacific Rim.  Their boarding students came from as far away as Japan.
  • There was a chapel at the school, and French immigrants in the neighborhood could go to daily mass at the school.  Since there were no automobiles, devout Catholics wanted to live within walking distance of this important resource.
  • The neighborhood also featured LaMolle House, a wonderful restaurant, and the LaMolle Grill, a couple of French bakeries, and the French language newspaper.
  • This group of immigrants was not strictly French or Italian.  A . P. Gianinni, who is claimed by the Italians, had parents who owned the "Swiss Hotel".  At the time, there was no country we know today as Italy; there were simply a large group of people who came from the area we now know as Provence.
  • After Notre Dame, the next largest community influence was the church that was built on South River Street in 1905.  Shaped like a basilica, Holy Family offered services in the Italian language.  It was the heart of the Italian community until after World War II.  It was torn down in the 1970s to make room for the Guadalupe Freeway.
  • So we have a predominantly French influence from 1851 to about 1900, replaced by the northern Italians after that time.  The southern Italians, i.e. Sicilians, had their own church on 12th Street near Backesto Park.

 Lakehouse Historic District

The Lakehouse Historic District, City Landmark District HD07-158, is generally bounded on the north by W. San Fernando Street, on the east by State Highway 87 and the VTA Light Rail right-of-way, on the west by Los Gatos Creek, and on the south by the rear property lines of lots on the north side of Park Avenue, and on the southeast by Sonoma Street and Lakehouse Avenue. This City District consists of mostly single family residential properties constructed from 1885-1925. The district includes a unique concentration of single story, Queen Anne Style houses, along with some Craftsman and Period Revival houses, through in and surrounding the 1891 Lake House Tract. No theme or period is listed for this City District. 

The term "Lakehouse" refers to the time in the 1800s and early 1900s when the Guadalupe River was dammed, forming a lake generally in the area between the river and Los Gatos Creek.  It was a recreational site for San Jose residents and visitors for many years.  A hotel existed at the current location of the Delmas Market, on the corner of W. San Fernando St. and Delmas Ave., known as the "Lake House Hotel".  It was later relocated as the "New Lake House" to what is now a small apartment building at 426 W. San Fernando St.

As part of the historic district designation, all of the structures in the district were cataloged by the California State Department of Parks and Recreation.  The description, location, background, and historic significance of each structure were recorded (see the report in the Document Library).  Among the houses included in the district is the Dalis House, the childhood home of Irene Dalis, a mezzo-soprano opera singer who founded Opera San Jose.

The Delmas Park Neighborhood Association recently celebrated the Lakehouse district by installing light pole banners throughout the district.  The banners were funded by a grant from the SJBeautify program and a generous donation from Google.

Lakehouse District Map, Banner, and Dalis House