The Historic Almaden Winery


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Analysis of the Historical & Architectural Significance of the Almaden Winery Site

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1.      SETTING

The site was reviewed for potential archaeological and historic/architectural significance as part of the 1988 General Plan Amendment EIR.  That documentation is included by reference and is on file in the City of San Jose Planning Department.  A summary of the information contained in the Archaeological report is summarized in this section.

As a result of the information contained  in  the  historic  report,  the Almaden Winery  site  was  given  a  Historic  District  Overlay  designation.  Since the certification of the 1988 General Plan Amendment EIR, the site has experienced significant changes due to a fire which occurred on June 2, 1989.  An updated report on the remaining historic and architectural resources was prepared by Urban Programmer Inc. for this project.  The consultant has also evaluated the impacts of the proposed project on the existing historic features of the site. Both documents are included in Appendix G.  The findings of these reports are summarized in the following text:

a.   Archaeological Resources

An Archaeology Report was prepared for this site.  No prehistoric deposits are known or suspected  to  exist  on  the  site,  although  it  is possible that buried prehistoric artifacts  could  exist  on  the  property. Other studies conducted in the vicinity have identified nine small cultural deposits or isolated artifacts within a one mile radius of the property.

A review of historic data indicates that  several  sets  of  buildings  have existed on the subject property in the past, and that the  winery  property used to include lands now occupied by the  Cinnabar  and  Vineland  Schools.  It is suspected that historic era trash deposits, foundation elements of former structures or outhouse shafts could be present on the site, particularly near the Original Winery Building (Bldg. 29, in Figure 12).

b.   Historical and Architectural Resources

Site Background and Resources 

The Almaden Winery site  is  a  designated  California  Registered  Landmark No. 505 in recognition of the premium  winemaking  industry  established  by Charles Le Franc in the 1850's. The Landmark plaque states:


On this site in 1852,  Charles  Le  Franc  made  the  first  commercial planting of  five  European  wine  grapes  in  Santa  Clara  County  to found Almaden Vineyard.  Le Franc imported cuttings from vines in the celebrated wine districts of his native France, shipping them by sailing ship around the Horn.”


The  State  Landmark  designation  does  not,  however,  specify  whether   a particular portion of the site, or the entire Almaden  parcel  is  considered under  the  Landmark  designation.  Therefore,  the  entire  site  has   been assumed to be  the  designated  landmark,  and  of  historical  significance.  The site is also  listed  in  the  Santa  Clara  County  Historical  Heritage Resource  Inventory  as  significant  by  the  County   Historical   Heritage Commission.

The  Almaden  Winery  is  the  second  oldest  winery   in   the   State   of California, and the  oldest,  continuously  operating  winery  in  the  Santa Clara Valley. The primary period of historical significance for the winery is considered to be 1856-1887.  It  is  during  this  period  that  Le  Franc began cultivating vines  on  the  site  and  importing  varietal  vines  from France to begin the commercial wine industry in  the Santa Clara Valley.  He increased the production of premium wines to make his New Almaden Vineyards one of the largest and most respected wineries in the state. For his contributions, Charles Le Franc is considered the "Father of Commercial Winemaking in the Santa Clara Valley."

Figure 12 presents an aerial view of the site taken in 1985.  The buildings on the west half of the site were utilitarian and of minor architectural or historical importance. They included industrial style metal shed buildings which housed the bottling and wine making activities.  They have been dismantled and this portion of the site is now vacant (Refer to Figure 2A).

Current Conditions of the Site:

On June 2, 1989, a fire destroyed the sandstone 1876 winery building, the wooden building that enclosed it and other small associated buildings and trees. The winery was considered possibly the oldest sandstone structure in Santa Clara County and was considered a historic resource of great significance.  Remnants of the large redwood structural timbers and metal hardware were virtually all that remained after the fire.  Also destroyed by the fire was the Centennial Cask of 1876 that had been stored in the 1876 winery building.

Remaining structures in the middle portion of the site are the Original 1850's Winery, the Ranch House and an administrative office building built in the 1970's. A description of the two remaining historic buildings is included in the following text.

Original 1850's Winery (Building 29 in Figure 12)

This linear building appears to have been constructed during the 1850's and was expanded by later development. Built into the knoll, the building is variously described in literature as having natural adobe, rubble, or brick walls. In different places and at different times, all may have been correct. At present, the building exhibits exterior walls, primarily of brick, with some wood sheathing.  Rehabilitated in 1985 to achieve a level of seismic stability and to provide the first public tasting and sales room, the building retains the architectural integrity of the original design. Constructed as Le Francis original winery, this building is one of the most historically significant buildings in the Santa Clara Valley.

Ranch House (Building 32 in Figure 12)

This structure is of a much later time period than the original 1850's Winery or 1876 Winery buildings, but it is a more handsome architectural example, as a whole. The building is a board batten structure, with a cross-gabled roof with a wooden tower.  A covered, recessed porch highlights one of the building wings. The building is almost an archetype of the western ranch style home. Although this building is of much less historic importance than the previous two buildings   discussed, the architectural purity of the Ranch House heightens its status.

Trees and Landscaping

Most of the mature vegetation that was installed during the operation of the winery still remains in the central historic core area. This includes a Fig, a Pepper, and five Olive trees which have been designated Heritage Trees by the City of San Jose. The  Mission  Fig,  located  adjacent  to  the Ranch House, may have been  planted  by  Etienne  Thee,  Charles  Le  Franc's partner, in the  early  years  of  the  site's  occupation.  Other landscape features include large mature Oaks, hedges, lawns and an extensive rose garden.  All of the vineyards have been removed.  Two rows of mature Cedars exist along the southern perimeter of the site, to the south and east of the office building (Refer to Figure 12). Two rows of Olive trees exist along the west side of the existing main driveway, extending to the south boundary.  While  these  Olives  are  not  designated  heritage  trees, they are distinctive in that they reflect a historic planting  pattern  which is associated with the development of the Winery.

Review Criteria

The Almaden Winery has been reviewed  to  determine  if  the  site  possesses historical significance based on the criteria of the City  of  San  Jose  and the  National  Register  of  Historic  Places.  The site has already been registered as a State Landmark.  As  discussed  previously,   the   State Landmark  designation  does  not  specify  whether  part  or   all   of   the Almaden property is considered  under  the  landmark  designation.  The full discussion of the historic analysis is included in the 1988 General Plan EIR; its findings are summarized in the following text.

The City's criteria for designating an historic landmark require that a property exhibit:

Special historical, architectural,  cultural,   aesthetic   or   engineering      interest or value of  an  historical  nature,  and  that  its  designation  as      a landmark  conforms  with  the  goals  and  policies  of  the  General  Plan.

In order to be  evaluated  for  listing  on  the  National  Register,  buildings  or areas must be significant for their historical, architectural, archaeological,   engineering,   or   cultural   values    that    maintain    their integrity   through   location,    design,    setting,    materials,    workmanship, feeling, and association and:

-                   are   associated    with    events    that    have    made    a    significant      contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or 

-                   are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or

-                   embody  the  distinctive  characteristics  of  a  type,  period,   or   method of  construction,  or  that  represent  the  work  of  a   master,   or   that possess  high  artistic  values,  or   that   represent   a   significant   or distinguishable  entity  whose   components   lack   individual   distinction; or 

-                   have yielded,  or  may  be  likely  to  yield,   information   important   in prehistory or history.

In reviewing the Almaden Winery against City and Federal criteria for evaluation, three issues must be addressed:

·                    Identification of the period and unit of significance; and 

·                    The quantity and quality of contemporary buildings and structures in relationship to those older than 50 years; and

·                    Alterations to the historic buildings older than 50 years.

The first consideration relates to defining a period of significance.  If the winery    consists primarily of contemporary buildings, that lack significance, and if the site, by virtue of associations is considered important, the period of significance would be that time during which the most important events or associations occurred.  As stated in the State Historic Landmark plaque, the prime   significance is attributed to the activities of Charles Le Franc.  The most important period is defined as the initial operation and its relationship with founder Charles Le Franc.  Therefore, the prime period of historical significance is the time associated with Le Franc, between 1852 and 1887.

Buildings, trees, vines, and other features associated with Le Franc during this period are considered to be of prime significance. The central historic unit of significance would include the 1850's winery building, pepper and olive trees, vines and the spatial relationship of the area which connects these features (Figure13). The 1850's original winery building which still remains, is considered one of the most significant historic buildings in California. The effect of the fire did not diminish the historical significance of the site; it only changed the context. With the loss of the 1876 winery building, it becomes more important to consider the supporting historic trees, plantings and topography, as significant contributors to the sense of history communicated by the remaining winery features.

The second consideration relates to the number of contemporary buildings, landscaping features, and industrial structures that dominate the buildings over 50 years old.  The impact of the newer buildings is lessened only by the mature trees and remaining vineyards that provide a level of historic identification.  The contemporary buildings and structures do not meet the criteria of the historic designation. Therefore, it is appropriate to consider a smaller unit, where the historic buildings are separated from the contemporary industrial development to determine if they retain both historic and architectural context and integrity. While all of the designated heritage trees are located near the historic buildings, it is important to consider the trees, plantings and topography contained throughout the site in that they communicate a sense of the historic planting pattern.

The third area for consideration is the alterations to the historic buildings.  The original winery has been extensively altered.  The original winery appears to have had four enlargements, the last as recent as the 1930's.  In addition, it has been structurally upgraded within the past 8 years, and this work was sensitive to the historic fabric and character of the building.  The concern for architectural integrity can be overcome by noting that additions of the 1930's, while they are outside the period of significance as it relates to Charles Le Franc, were accomplished over 50 years ago and can be considered to show the buildings evolution.  Removing the additions would make a stronger case for integrity of the historic structure, but is not essential to determine significance.

c.   Summary

As discussed previously, the site is a designated California Registered Landmark, although it is not clear whether that designation applies to all, or a portion of the Almaden property. Therefore, the entire  site  is assumed  as  historically  significant,  since  the  winery  has  been  in continuous operation since its inception.

When evaluated against the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places and the City of San Jose Historic Landmark program, the site's historic association and unit of significance (the portion of the site containing the 1850's winery, Heritage Fig, Pepper and Olive trees) render the historic unit a significant cultural resource. The unit of significance would also be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

The more modern office building and ranch house exhibit distinctive characteristics, however, the 1850's winery is an example of archaic construction that  embody  methods  and  materials  no  longer  in  common use. When taken as a unit, the original winery, and the plantings remaining from the early years of the winery, establish a distinguishable entity of greater distinction than any of the individual components.

When the City of San Jose Historic Landmark Criteria  is  applied,  it  is found that Almaden Winery, by  virtue  of  the  association  with  Charles Le Franc and the importance of the  winery  in  the  local  economy  would qualify the site for designation.  Further consideration of the importance of the c. 1850's winery building shows that this building would individually qualify for designation.

The original winery building is of prime historical significance and the significance has not diminished as a result of the loss of the 1876 winery. The effect of the fire on the historic winery is in the change to the context of the site. With the loss of the 1876 winery, it becomes even more important to consider the supporting historic trees, plantings and topography as significant contributors to the sense of history communicated by the remaining winery building.

To reinforce the context of the historic area and Original Winery, historic plant patterns, specifically the olive trees not within the area of greatest   significance should be integrated into the new development. Using the historic pattern  of  bordering  the  main  street, and where possible set  in  multiple  rows,  would  help communicate the historic orchard pattern. Vines and roses would also enhance the sense of the history and the viniculture heritage of the site.  However, it is important to note, that the use of Olive trees in public-rights-of way is discouraged because the fruit droppings result in maintenance problems (Phone conversation with Marc Bodoin, City Arborist,   August   29, 1989). Olive trees can be sprayed to eliminate fruit production, but this is also considered a high maintenance effort which is currently not considered under the street maintenance budget. The designated street tree on Blossom Hill Road is the Chinese Pistache.


a.   Archaeological Resources

While no archaeological resources are known to exist on the site, it is possible that historic or prehistoric artifacts are buried on the property. Project excavation could disturb such resources.  This would be a significant impact which can be reduced to an non-significant level with mitigation.

b.   Historical and Architectural Resources

Since the existing  winery  facility  had  been  in  continuous  operation from the 1800's, any disturbance of the site would result  in  significant historic impacts which could not be mitigated to a less  than  significant level. This would be an unavoidable Significant Impact

The proposed single-family project does not involve the removal of historic buildings, and is located outside the Central Historic Unit or Area of Historic Significance around the original winery. However, the development will involve removal or disturbance of the historic unit, consisting of trees and selected plantings such as the removal of two rows of Olive trees. The historic unit is considered worthy of protection based on its historical merits and relation to City, State and Federal Criteria. The loss and/or disturbance to these historic resources would be a significant impact which could be reduced to a non-significant level with mitigation.

The development of two-story residential units may visually impact the area of historic significant. This represents a potentially significant impact which would be reduced to a non-significant level with mitigations.


The following mitigation measures, as proposed by the project, would reduce the adverse impacts.

a.        Archaeological

An archaeological monitor shall be present during any excavation activity that is conducted east of the existing chain link fence.  Standard archaeological monitoring procedures shall be followed as described in the 1988 General Plan EIR (incorporated by reference).

b.        Historic/Architectural

The landscape and perimeter/entry along Blossom Hill Road will incorporate a historic planting pattern of Olive trees and rose vines.  While most of the Olive trees will be removed, the tree mitigation  proposes  to  replace  them  in accordance with  City of  San  Jose  tree  mitigation guidelines (See Biotics Section for a description of condition of trees). The entry monument will incorporate remnants of historic sandstone taken from the 1876 ruins and other historic details from the site, including the Historic Landmark plaque.

The project will retain all the existing vegetation within the area of historic significance. This helps provide a natural  buffer  between  that  area  and  the new two-story residences fronting  onto  the  southerly  extension  of  Dartmouth Way, which will mitigate the potential visual impacts to  the  area  of  historic significance. The added distance of the 60 ft. street and front yard setbacks provide an additional buffer and mitigation.  The landscape plan for this buffer will incorporate plant materials  and  a  design  approach  compatible  to the existing  landscaping  found  in  the  area  of  historic  significance.  The landscaping to be included within the 60 ft. street right-of-way will increase the visual buffer for the historic buildings. The building which will be closest to the new homes is the administration building which is not considered as historically significant as the other two buildings.

The project will maintain the two rows of mature Cedar which border the south property line, south and east of the administration building.

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