Historic Alviso, CA (a photo essay in San Jose!)

Foreword and update to the below blog post:

A few weeks after my original publication of the below blog post, it was noticed by some members of the Alviso community and became my most widely read post as of yet. (second place is the one about Neil Young’s ranch in the hills above Woodside).

I was invited to have a look inside the “mysterious” South Bay Yacht Club. Indeed it is active and well! On August 30th there was an “Open House” and an art exhibit by Emmett Dingle. Also, the bar was open and staffed by Diane, who also manages rentals of the SBYC for family and small corporate gatherings.

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The first floor has displays on the wall of the club’s history. The second floor (pictured below) has additional history displays, plus the art of Emmett Dingle.

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The view out the front of the second floor, about 2 hours before sunset was magnificent! I can imagine sitting up here with a rocking chair and a drink, either during a sunset or a rare rainstorm.

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If you’d like to see the inside of the building too, I encourage you to watch their website for public events. http://www.southbayyachtclub.org/ Also, consider renting their facility for your next event! http://www.southbayyachtclub.org/about.php

Many thanks to the club’s Commodore, Charles Taylor, as well as Diane, who was fascinating to talk to while she took good care of the bar. Additional thanks to Charles’s wife who was kind enough to pass around my blog post and suggest that I visit!

The following is the original post:

Since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1990, I have had an odd fascination with Alviso. Alviso is a neighborhood (town) at the southern edge of the bay that seems “frozen in time” …and I mean that in a good way!

I’ve always had a bit of a “history bug”, having grown-up near forts, battlefields, and skirmishes surrounding the American Revolution, as well as the French and Indian War prior to that. What else could capture a young boy’s imagination more than visiting a monument to Benedict Arnold’s leg, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boot_Monument, and vacationing on the beach near “Bloody Pond” where several hundred colonists were slaughtered? http://www.historiclakes.org/wm_henry/bloody.html

Anyway…one of the first fascinating historical sites that I fixed my interest on, after moving to Silicon Valley 20+ years ago was Alviso, California. That interest came about one day reading the San Jose Metro newspaper. Eric Carlson had a great series called “SJ Underbelly”. Alviso was his most extensively covered location. http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Alviso/alviso1.html

Eric Carlson’s old write-ups have been preserved, but Alviso has changed…just a little! Some of the messier storage yards and junked cars have been cleared and some bronze historical markers have been added. It still has all that “frozen in time” charm, however, that generally doesn’t exist elsewhere in Silicon Valley.

“Why Alviso?” Well, it was a historical port for goods and people to travel to and from San Francisco, before ground transportation up and down the Peninsula was easy. Alviso seems to have a sense of (underappreciated) history amidst all of the tear-it-down-and-rebuild-it of Silicon Valley. https://alpharoaming.com/2014/05/05/apple-spaceship/

My plan with this blog post is to both point out the interesting place that is Alviso, as well as draw attention to Eric Carlsen’s fine work and update it with a few photos of my own. Enjoy!

A mural at the main crossroads in town by Emmett Dingle:

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Let’s start our tour out near the former port, at the far end of town, and work our way back south.

This bronze marker is just a few years old. Note the elevated walkways out in the marsh. This used to be docks where steamships landed, including the “Jenny Lind” which has a new marker here as well. The Jenny Lind had a boiler explosion out in the bay, at a great loss of life.

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There are still a few permanently docked boats, though much closer to the Guadalupe River channel.

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…plus a very new boat launch for day use only

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On your approach to the Marina (which is also a great spot for hikes and bike rides on the levees, with parking, restrooms, and water) you may notice the “stranded” house boat. This has been here for 20 years that I know of… (Eric noticed Noah’s Ark too! http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Alviso/alviso9.html)

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To the west (left) of the Marina is the “South Bay Yacht Club”, which has a long and storied history (http://www.SouthBayYachtClub.org and http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Alviso/alviso10.html). This is a good place to notice that the Yacht Club is on the inland side of a high levee. The elevation of Alviso has been dropping over many decades. Strong winter storms used to occasionally cause the Guadalupe River to flood the town. (Despite the levees, this area does have flood potential. You may notice that the newer homes are built a bit higher than the street level. 1983 flood: http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Alviso/wet.html)

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Years ago, before the more prominent signs discouraging visitors from peeking in the windows, I caught a glimpse of the beautiful bar inside, as did Eric: http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Alviso/sybc3.html)

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Yes, “E. Clampus Vitus”! The source of many interesting markers in California, particularly in the Gold Country! (This marker being in the right side of the SBYC building)

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Between the SBYC and the Marina lies the shell of the former “Bayside Canning Company”. (Eric’s write-up: http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Alviso/alviso12.html)

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It’s noteworthy that it was the 3rd largest cannery in the U.S. at one point, as well as being owned by a Chinese-American.

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To the left (south) of the cannery is a large and odd brick building, marked as the “Union Docks and Warehouse”.

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It’s now a private residence, which you can look down upon from the public levee walkway.

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Just before the active railroad tracks leave town to the north, there’s an easily overlooked old place on the left. Eric Carlsen refers to it as “Laine’s Grocery”, though it had several incarnations before that, as well as a newer, yet faded, “tattoo parlor” sign since Laine’s closed around 1960. http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Alviso/structure.html

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To the right of Laine’s Grocery, the trains zip northward from Alviso, through the mysterious “Drawbridge” (http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Draw/draw1.html). To the left of Laine’s lie a few stately old homes. The large yellow one has a marker out front. (Eric’s write-up: http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Alviso/structur3.html)

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The other two homes of note, on the same block, are the very stately and tall 1887 Italianate “Tilden-Laine” home http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Alviso/structur2.html

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(You can see a bit of “Laine’s Grocery” on the right side of this photo.)

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…plus a cute gray cottage. (Perhaps you like it better in “hot pink”? http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Alviso/marthouse.html )

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A bit south, along the eastern side of the tracks, lies the historical “Vahl’s Restaurant”. http://www.yelp.com/biz/vahls-restaurant-and-cocktail-lounge-alviso (Eric Carlsen’s write-up: http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Alviso/vahls.html)

The whole building is a time warp from the 1950’s, even including one of the bartenders (“Frank”) and the “piano man” who plays once or twice a week.

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The back door, on your way to the restrooms, has a “classic” padded and patterned vinyl door!

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In addition to Vahl’s quaint bar (and Vahl’s restaurant, which I can’t rave about), Alviso has the very popular Maria Elena’s Restaurant. http://www.yelp.com/biz/maria-elenas-restaurant-alviso (Eric’s write-up: http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Alviso/alviso7.html)

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…as well as the now closed “Marina Restaurant”. It used to be called the “Marina Seafood Grotto”, then turned into a Korean Restaurant shortly before it closed around 2010. http://www.yelp.com/biz/marina-restaurant-and-bar-alviso (Eric’s write-up: http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Alviso/grotto.html)

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..a photo thru the glass door of the Marina, frozen in time, 4 years without a customer except the “Ghosts of Alviso”!

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Last, but not least, along the eastern edge of the tracks, a bit south of Vahls, lies the crumbling H.G. Wade warehouse and the neglected home next door. You may have already spotted the warehouse, depending which way you entered town. Several “Western” movies were said to have been partly filmed at this warehouse. (The house is behind the green tarp. It used to be more visible, including when Eric took photos: http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Alviso/hornhouse.html )

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That’s it! Enjoy your visit to Alviso! Be sure to read-up on the SJ Underbelly links before you go, as well as look for the painted mural map at the main crossroad in town, near Maria Elena’s Restaurant.

If you have any interesting stories or pictures, please be sure to leave a comment!

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About AlphaRoaming

Random outdoor roaming: hiking, cycling, camping, backpacking & plotting more of the above Grew up on the edges of the Adirondack mountains of New York, just a bit west of Vermont. Now living in Silicon Valley and venturing out when and where I can!
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10 Responses to Historic Alviso, CA (a photo essay in San Jose!)

  1. Jill Smith says:

    Great article! Thanks for taking the time to discover Alviso and not portray us as some shanty town. The local artist, Emmett Dingle, painted the ‘Historic Alviso’ map. This work, and many other works of his can be seen throughout the town. The South Bay Yacht Club is proud to be presenting some of Mr. Dingle’s pieces over the summer. As a member of the SBYC my husband and I would like to extend an invitation for you to come visit us and get a guided tour of the club.

    As for securing mortgages or insurance – I’m not sure where that rumor came from. Maybe the older homes that aren’t elevated might have issues. The newer homes are required by the City of San Jose to be elevated approx. 9′ (at sea level) and finding someone to insure has never been an issue (as far as I know).

    • AlphaRoaming says:

      Thank you for the kind words Jill! I’ll modify my blog a bit to include the name of Emmett Dingle and delete the part about flood insurance! I’ll contact you via Yahoo e-mail about a SBYC tour. That sounds great!

  2. Shirley Hampton says:

    Very nice story on my home town, thank you !

  3. Becky Finley says:

    I lived in the Bay Area for about 20 years and I worked in Alviso, and this site brought back SO MANY FOND MEMORIES! I too have always been fascinated with the town, I’ve been to Vahl’s and I used to eat at Rosarita’s back when it was just a counter and a few tables, and I loved to explore the town and eat my lunch at the “marina” and then walk the paths of the nice new habitat center they built there. I found this web page when I was doing a search for the old sjunderbelly website. This pays a great homage to Eric Carlson and the SJ Underbelly! I sat next to Eric on a plane from Dallas to Florida WAY back in about 1995 and we chatted the entire trip, he is such a great guy! Then I became hooked on the sjunderbelly and so did my Dad. I hope Eric is doing well and still exploring, wherever he is!

    Thank you so much for posting these pictures and notes, it really captures Alviso and its haunting and beautiful history!

  4. Joe Holt says:

    Has everyone forgotten the Alviso Raceway? Dirt track, and the most spartan “restrooms” imaginable. In the sixties it was the place to be on Friday night. Today we might describe it as “colorful”. Great memories.

  5. William Crane says:

    I attended the old Alviso School around 1950. I was a “one room schoolhouse” with kids of various ages and grades in the same classroom – I was in the second or third grade at the time. The school yard was under water for most of the winter, then flaky clay in the late spring – smooth enough for paying marbles.

  6. Becky Finley says:

    what happened to Eric Carlson?

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