Willow Glen is a neighborhood of San Jose, California, in Santa Clara County. The neighborhood has walkable tree-lined streets, diverse architecture, specialty shops, and independent businesses. The historic downtown on Lincoln Avenue between Willow Street and Minnesota Avenue is a well-known downtown community, with a variety of restaurants and shops.
The neighborhood began in the mid-1800s as an unincorporated community adjacent to San Jose, California. By the 1860s the small unincorporated community needed its first school, and Willow Glen Elementary School was founded in 1863. Willow Glen continued as an unincorporated community until the 1920s, when the City of San Jose ordered the Southern Pacific Railroad to re-route the Southern Pacific Railroad trunk line which at that time was going down Fourth Street. The Southern Pacific then proposed to re-route down Lincoln Avenue. In order to forestall that attempt, Willow Glen was incorporated as a city in 1927. The railroad was instead re-routed to its current route through a then-unincorporated area now known as North Willow Glen, where its principal user is now Caltrain.
Being a city, however, required thinking about issues such as sewage. Willow Glen had no sewer system – individual homes had their own cesspools or septic systems. Because the area was marshy before being drained for Willow Glen, the high water table resulted in raw sewage often spilling above-ground from flooded cesspools. Rather than build their own very expensive sewage treatment system, in 1936 Willow Glen’s residents opted to be annexed to San Jose and be linked to San Jose’s sewage system, the measure passing by a vote of 978 to 871.
Lincoln Avenue was renamed from “Willow Glen Road” in 1865, shortly after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
Geography and Environment
Willow Glen is located within zip code 95125, though not all of the zip code area can actually be considered to be part of the Willow Glen neighborhood.
Willow Glen neighborhoods are almost exclusively composed of custom or semi-custom homes in a diverse range of architectural styles. Many architect-commissioned houses can be seen in the neighborhood, including Victorian, Neoclassical (Queen Anne Cottage and Neocolonial), Colonial Revival, Craftsman, Mission, Prairie, Spanish Eclectic, and Tudor. In recent years larger homes have been built.
Trails and Bikeways
The two sections of the Los Gatos Creek Trail terminate in Willow Glen. The connection requires on-street travel through much of Willow Glen.
One section of the Guadalupe River Trail terminates near the far north east edge of Willow Glen but otherwise does not run through it.
The Highway 87 Bikeway runs along the eastern edge of Willow Glen but terminates at Willow Street at its most northern point.
The Three Creeks Trail runs diagonally through Willow Glen and passes close to downtown.
Dancin’ On The Avenue
Dancin’ On The Avenue (DOTA) is Willow Glen’s annual street party that occurs on one day in summer. It is celebrated along Lincoln Avenue, between Willow Street and Minnesota Avenue. The event is organized by the Willow Glen Business Association.
Founders’ Day occurs in September although it has not been celebrated every year. The event celebrates the rich history, cultural heritage, and progressive present of the neighborhoods, homes, and community of Willow Glen. The highlight is a festive parade that proceeds down Lincoln Avenue. The origins of Founders’ Day are not known. Archives of the Willow Glen Resident newspaper indicate it originates from the area’s nine years of independence from San Jose between September 8, 1927 and September 4, 1936. Another view is that it celebrates the work of Antonio Maria Sunol who built Laura Ville adjoining the Roberto Adobe at 770 Lincoln Avenue in 1847.
Christmas Tree Lights
Example Willow Glen Christmas Decorations.
Willow Glen residents have a distinct Christmas tree decoration tradition. This tradition involves buying similar, very small, Christmas Trees and placing them in the front yard 10 feet from the sidewalk with multicolored lights. The uniform look is striking. People and businesses in the neighborhood generally make significant decorations every year, both within the neighborhood and in the Lincoln Avenue business district, drawing visitors from all around the area and increasing traffic on neighborhood streets ten-fold.
The tradition of a Christmas tree on each residence’s lawn was started in 1950 by Robert and Arlene Cimino at 1099 Glen Echo Ave. Trees were purchased in bulk from the Knights of Columbus and delivered to participating homes. The Ciminos moved from the area in 1956 and the tradition was continued by Frank Badagliacca Jr. on the 1000 block of Camino Ramon. He was often called “Mr. Rebar” for using a stake made of construction rebar to hold up each tree. Dolores Badagliacca, his wife, came up with the idea of putting a single white light on the top of each tree. The tradition now stretches to over 200 streets in the greater San Jose area.