The Shoulders of San Pedro Square

We all stand on the shoulders of others in the building of a family, a city or a nation. Nowhere is that simple fact more true than in this valley and in one small part of San Jose called San Pedro Square. In the late eighteenth century, a boy named Luis Peralta traveled north from Tubac, in what was then Mexico, fully one thousand miles in torturous conditions, and he settled with his family right there. This De Anza Party — the vanguard Oa great empire’s attempt to extend its boundaries north —founded our city. This expedition followed native people, the Ohlones, already established on the banks of the Guadalupe who led a simple life and valued the hummingbird, the water-kisser, umunhum in their language. These new ‘conquistadors’ carried the cross and sword forward in their version of a brave new world. When Captain Thomas Fallon raised the American flag down the street on Market at the old ‘jusgado’ in 1846 — what inexplicably became a controversial event in recent times — he and his wife, Carmel Castro, became neighbors of the Peraltas and followed Luis Maria’s lead in many endeavors becoming fast friends. Fallon learned to be a premier orchardist and his pears were the pride of San Jose. His marriage into one of the original Californio families with vast land holdings from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the sea secured his position and he became a prominent capitalist and Mayor. By the time Fallon died in 1885, Paul Masson and his in-laws, the LeFranc family, were building a “liquid empire” right on that same block — and had pioneered the commercial wine business of the State. Masson would remain there with his Champagne Cellars and the new “Vineyard in the Sky” at Saratoga, until the advent of World War Two. One Flock north, Louis Peltier, ‘the Prune Man’, introduced the “petite d’agen” to our State, part of the foundation of the vaunted Valley of Heart’s Delight, the fruit basket of the world.

Next to Masson’s start-up venture, the Publisher of the original San Jose Mercury, J.J. Owens, printed his paper and indulged in amazing ventures of daring, like the Electric Light Tower — a 288-foot extravaganza that preceded the Eiffel Tower by over a decade.
 It dominated the corner of Market and Santa Clara Streets shedding powerful rays on our pivotal block. 

Next to him also, right on the corner of San Pedro and Santa Clara Streets, the Farmers Union Bank, Growers’ Cooperative and Mill financed much of this great and entrepreneurial area of blossoms and fruit and the rest —as they say, is history. It surely contained a full measure of vision. From 1874 onward, leaders of this pioneer business were also leaders of the City, from noted philanthropist Robert Benson to John P. McEnery. The Farmers Union was the western linchpin of the vital commercial and cultural hub of the Valley of Heart’s Delight — few farms, orchards or homes were complete without a monthly visit to the historic store on the corner of San Pedro Square. It would continue its evolution into San Pedro Square and the popular San Pedro Square Market under the inspiration of John P. and four continuing generations of the McEnery family.

Yet in all that first amazing century and the great accomplishments of those mentioned, the past was only a fascinating prologue to what would follow. There is one thing that would come closest to an electric connection to that first period of progress in an entrepreneurial six-degrees of separation to those of us today in Silicon Valley. We can get to Steve Jobs and the new, new world of information and technology and social interaction by invoking the name of the man born right across the street from the San Pedro Square Market, A.P. Giannini, the founder of the Bank of Italy, soon to be the Bank of America. He helped build much of the great economic engine of California and then re-build the Golden State again after the Great Quake of 1906. Giannini was unique and he spotted an opportunity quickly. He had that clarity when he helped finance a man named Walt Disney who had his own dream: a magnificent world of celluloid images and unimaginable dreams. It was a gamble for Giannini, but he believed character and dreams mattered. Later Disney played that philosophy forward and gave a big contract to two men named Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett, who sold him their first product called oscillators for the ground-breaking movie, Fantasia. They began their business in a small garage. It was a seminal venture and a magnificent investment. One day as the business and cultural behemoth, Hewlett Packard, or simply “HP” in Valley parlance, Bill Hewlett gave some old parts and equipment to two young fellows named “Steve” from Cupertino who were also working in a garage. One of them, Steve Wozniak, the “Woz”, often frequents this block still. Down the street, above O’Flaherty’s Pub, is the San Pedro Square Theatre where Nolan Bushnell, the founder of meteoric Atari, the Facebook of its day, had his club — named obviously, The Farmers Union – in the old Mill Building, with headliners like Jimmy Buffet and Ricky Nelson. He also had the sense to give Steve Jobs employment in the nascent years of the seventies in the emerging first chapter of that tale.

So there is the simple story of one block, one tiny part of a remarkable City in a world famous valley, and how in the flickering of an eye, we can move swiftly from Peralta to Fallon, Masson, Giannini, Disney, Hewlett and Packard, and on to Steve Jobs in just a few short steps and over two hundred years of San Jose history. And it all happened right on San Pedro Square. One might ask what all these various fascinating soldiers of fortune, visionaries, captains of industry and dreamers have in common and the answer would echo out loudly: simply everything.

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