San Jose names J-Town Park

courtesy of the City of San Jose Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Service

The San Jose City Council voted unanimously Sept. 1 to name a new park in San Jose’s Japantown Heinlenville Park, after John Heinlen, a German immigrant who opposed the anti-Asian racism Chinese immigrants suffered in the late 19th century. Heinlen went on to become a key contributor in establishing the ethnic enclave’s Chinatown.

Nicolle Burnham, the deputy director of capital and planning for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services said during the virtual meeting that the staff recommended the name “Heinlenville Park,” while the Parks and Recreation Commission recommended “Sakura Park.” Burnham said the commission had issued two community surveys regarding the park’s naming.

Members of the public shared their thoughts on naming the park — which would be located on sixth street between Taylor and Jackson street — either Heinlenville Park or Sakura Park. The park would be located on the Japantown Square’s current construction site.

According to Preserving California’s Japantowns, in the 1890s, Japanese immigrants settled in San Jose east of Sixth Street between Jackson and Taylor streets, near Heinlenville Chinatown. The ethnic enclave was named after Heinlen, who — despite public opposition — offered his property to Chinese community members to rebuild after a fire destroyed San Jose’s second Chinatown in 1887.

Jim McClure, a former San Jose Obon chair and active participant in the ethnic enclave, said during the meeting, “without Mr. Heinlen, there would be no Chinatown. Without Chinatown, there would be no Japantown.”

Ryan Kawamoto, co-president of the Japantown Community Congress of San Jose and former executive director of Yu Ai-Kai Japanese American Community Senior Service, expressed his “deep support of option two in naming the park within the San Jose Japantown neighborhood as Heinlenville Park.”

Brenda Wong, a member of the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project’s board of directors, said “the name ‘Heinlenville Park’ for the new Japantown public park will be an opportunity to link history, heritage and brotherhood.” Wong said the park would also honor Heinlen and his family, “who befriended the Asian American community, countering anti-Asian sentiment and as a result, were extensively ostracized.”

Following the public comment period, the city council decided to name the park “Heinlenville Park.”

Kawamoto said in an e-mail the Japantown Community Congress of San Jose was “elated that the park naming a unanimous vote in support of Heinlenville by the entire city council” because Heinlen braved “death threats to help rebuild one of six Chinatowns in San Jose that was destroyed by a suspicious fire in 1887.”

Wong echoed similar sentiments to the naming of the park, saying she was “gratified, elated and thankful” since there are no “remaining remnants of the Heinlenville Chinatown at the new development area.”

Burnham expects the park to be open in 2023.

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