New Neighborhood Voice

The East Highlands Neighborhood

by Judy Thompson

Sunset from East Highlands  (Photo by Sonja Troncoso)

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The East Highlands development is a neighborhood that spun off from two of East San Jose's prime attractions, the San Jose Country Club and Alum Rock Park. The park was established in 1872 and the club around the turn of the century. It's no surprise that someone was inspired to subdivide the beautiful, steep, rolling hillside above the south rim of the park to make way for what, today, are about 160 custom-built homes ranging from cottages to mansions.

In 1917 "Observatory Tract" was designated as the name of the unincorporated County area defined by Crothers Road on the north, Alum Rock Avenue on the west, Alta Vista Way on the east and a natural canyon on the south. By 1928 the south half of this tract was renamed East Highlands and the north half was called Alum Rock Terrace. The two tracts are contiguous and the name Alum Rock Terrace today exists only on old platte maps.

The enormous concrete "East Highlands" sign erected at the Y of Brundage Way at Alum Rock welcomed the first potential homeowners to the neighborhood. The massive structure suggested the bedrock stability of the hillside as well as the quality of the development. Early on, the big sign supported three electric light fixtures which illuminated the young palm trees which now tower over the intersection.

The tract was subdivided into one-quarter acre lots. Some of the larger homes were built on parcels of two or three lots. With a few exceptions, the earliest homes were built in the 1930's and are reflected by Spanish and Tudor styling. The south end of the neighborhood filled in first. The wonderful cantilevered houses on the downhill side of Alta Vista Way appear to be solidly built on the grade from the street, but when viewed from the back, the creativity of their architects and builders is something to behold. Many are multi-storied with walls of windows facing the breathtaking views of the valley sparkling below. Elevations in the highlands range from about 500 to 600 feet above sea level so the views are comparable to those from the observation deck of a 50-story building. Nearly every home has a special view. Some see the peaceful golden slopes of Alum Rock Park, some can see San Francisco Bay, some see the West Valley, some see the South Valley. Some homes have magnificent views of the entire panorama!

The first lots sold for as little as a thousand dollars. Three contiguous lots on one bend of Highland Drive went for the bargain sum of $2,000 in 1933. The name "Mary C. Brundage" is penciled in the margin of the East Highlands platte map (in the archives of the San Jose Historical Museum) so we have an idea of the origin of the street name even though we don't know her role. Early lot buyers included the Singletons, Grays, Bariteaus, Millers, Lorrys, Buchmans, Roens, Flahertys, Perrys, and Rampes. An "A.R.Thompson" bought two of the lots on Brundage where the large, beautiful Spanish-style Piazza house sits today, just to the south of the big sign, where it sets the tone for the neighborhood.

The 1950's were the real boom years for the north half of the highlands. Most of the houses in the Alum Rock Terrace portion are fifties style single-story "ranchers" although many have rooms below grade to conform to the steepness of the lots. Until the 50's, the eastern boundary was Alta Vista Way. The "top" of the neighborhood ended in a traffic circle at Park Way. This was a big draw for young lovers from far and near to come and take in the view (and just maybe a little necking) from their cars. East Alta Vista and Miradero were subdivided and built in the 50's and Miradero became the eastern edge of the neighborhood.

Neighbors on Highland Drive who bought their one-year-old house in 1956 paid $37,000 for their large, multilevel "ranch." Houses today bring anywhere from $325,000* to $1,000,000+ reflecting the diversity of the homes. East Highlanders are great supporters of Alum Rock Park where they jog and walk and court Mother Nature. Many support the guilds of the Youth Science Institute in the park and they staff the YSI Thrift and Gift shop on Alum Rock Avenue near White Road. 1999 brought a large group of neighbors together to lobby City and County officials to address a landslide in the area which is threatening the park's entrance and the northern-most part of the neighborhood.

* 1999 prices

Copyrightę 2002, 2003 by Judy Thompson.  All rights reserved.  An edited version of this article was published in East - The Neighborhood Voice.  Updated 5/2/03.

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