Heinlenville Park opens in San Jose’s Japantown

Photo of a park with lots of trees.

HISTORY COMES TO LIFE — Heinlenville Park opened Oct. 10 in San Jose’s Japantown. It is named after John Heinlen, who helped Chinese immigrants rebuild a new Chinatown in 1887 after the ethnic enclave was destroyed in a fire. photo by Derek Tahara/Nichi Bei News

SAN JOSE, Calif. — About 150 community members and city leaders gathered on North Sixth Street in San Jose’s Japantown to commemorate Heinlenville Park’s opening on Oct. 10. The park has been in the making for more than two decades, Warren Hayashi, a community leader, said. The opening included several speakers, a lion dance performance and a religious blessing.

“It (was) a long struggle, but it got completed, so we have a beautiful park and I hope all of you are going to be able to take advantage of it…” Hayashi remarked.

John Heinlen, a German immigrant, helped Chinese immigrants by leasing five acres of his land for a new Chinatown after it was destroyed in a Market Street fire, Connie Young Yu, a Heinlenville descendant and author, said. She added that Heinlen constructed an eight-foot high fence to protect the property and its people. The original Heinlenville ended after 44 years because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, she said. Heinlen founded it in 1887, according to the Los Altos Town Crier.

The park includes a history panel filled with historical images, facts and dates. The park also has medallions on the ground labeled with historic dates.

“It was the greatest thrill of my life after decades of … being an activist and writing about Asian American history, trying to get it out there. I mean to find it written on the walls in this park, the history wall, the pathway with medallions … and this was designed by a fantastic collaborator …” Yu said.

Jason Victor, KayVictor principal and president, helped design the landscape of the park. Shea Properties Development Vice President Sean McEachern, who helped develop the adjacent apartment project called Sixth and Jackson, said “this park is a testament to the collective efforts of so many people.”

Pam Yoshida, the Japantown Community Congress of San Jose president, spoke of Heinlenville’s history and credited Heinlen for providing a space for Chinese and Japanese immigrants. She added that people should take care of the new park.

photo by Derek Tahara/Nichi Bei News

Tamiko Rast, Japantown Business Association president, explained how the park “filled a significant gap in the storytelling of our neighborhood’s history, since few monuments described our Chinatown in depth,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei News. Rast added that “visitors can have a complete view of how Chinatown began and how Japantown grew around it, so it shows how entwined the histories are for Asian Americans in San Jose.”

In addition to community leaders and members of the ethnic enclave, city of San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan shared that the community is “passionate about remembering and celebrating and living the culture of our Japanese American community, while also welcoming change and newcomers.” He believes it’s so “beautiful that we’re naming this park after John Heinlen because…parks are one of these places that give us the opportunity to take a…more expansive view of what our community is.”

Roy Hirabayashi, a co-founder of San Jose Taiko, explained how he dreamt of building a home for San Jose Taiko on the property. He hopes there will be something there soon.

“For me, it’s we cannot forget history, but let’s also bring traditions and culture for our future here, so thank you very much,” Hirabayashi said.

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