The Historic Almaden Winery


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August 20, 1989

Gerald DeYoung
Ruth And Going
2160 Lundy Ave.
San Jose, CA 95131

Subject: Almaden Winery Site

Dear Mr. DeYoung,

Urban Programmers has been asked by Ruth and Going to comment on the impact of the proposed development of 159 single family detached residences upon the historically significant buildings of the former Almaden Winery. The documents used by Urban Programmers to formulate the following comments are identified as Exhibit "C", General Development Plan, Almaden Winery Site, consisting of 6 sheets.

General Description

The winery site is 52.1 gross acres of land that generally slopes from Blossom Hill Road on the North to the lands of the Santa Clara Valley Water District that includes the Guadalupe River. The acreage has been visually divided, almost in half North to South', by a road lined with olive trees and other mature plantings. The area identified as containing the buildings and sites of the greatest historical significance is to the east of the road, while the area to the west was a large parking lot, the 1976 bottling plant and vineyards.

While it is obvious that any development changes the bucolic setting of vineyards and tree rows, the previous industrial buildings and industrial functions were apart of the winery and were located on the land across the road  from the area of historic significance where the 159 residences are proposed.

The building design shown on sheet 4 of the General Development Plan is a two-story residence with a maximum height of 28 feet. Then design shows a one story garage in the front with the two-story massing behind. The development plan shows a number of interior streets with one row of buildings along the western side of the street that divides the site. This row of buildings appears to shield the remaining development from the view lines of the historically significant area. The row is divided in the orientation of the buildings, with the northern 9 buildings facing into the development, the remaining 18 facing onto the road.

The Visual Impact of the Proposed Residential Development Upon the Area of Historic Significance

The visual impact to the area of historic significance appears from the General Development Plan to be minimal. There appears to be at least 300 feet and mature trees between the historic winery and the new development. The northern 9 buildings have  a  20  foot  rear  setback  from  the  property  line and there is a 20 foot wide planting- open space area that wraps from Blossom  Hill Road around behind these buildings. Planned to have mature trees, possibly the existing olive trees on the site, this is adjacent to the 52 foot wide street and creates a visual buffer between the regularity of the new development and the historic area.

The 18 residences that face onto the street create the greatest visual impact.  There are three factors that significantly lessen this impact.  The first is the mature planting around the historic buildings that consists of pepper trees, olive trees and tall hedges.  Secondly the land slopes down toward the river, with the historic buildings at the higher elevation and the 1976 Administration Building at the lower level, closest to the new development. A final consideration is that of street trees or other landscaping that will soften   and defuse the regularity of the new development.

In summary, the visual impact of the new development upon the historic buildings appears minimal. It is mitigated, to a great extent, by the distance of the development from the historic winery, 300-450 feet, mature trees and landscaping, the sloping of the land and the N/S orientation of the historic winery building.


Bonnie Bamburg,
Principal Consultant

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Prepared to:   Amend the 1988 Environmental Impact Report for the Almaden Winery Site prepared by Ruth and Going

Prepared for:  Ruth and Going

Prepared by:  Urban Programmers Bonnie Bamburg, Principal

Date:             August 25, 1989











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LOCATION DESCRIPTION;  The Almaden Winery property, 1530 Blossom Hill Road, located between Blossom Hill Road and the Santa Clara Valley Water conservation District; west of Beacon School, 1444 Blossom Hill Road; Assessors Parcel Number 567-34-1; 52.8 acres, a portion of the Rancho San Juan Bautista.


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The historic Almaden Winery, California State Historic Landmark #505 a property  listed in the National Register of Historic Places, occupied land along Blossom Hill Road, north of the Guadalupe River from 1850 until 1986 when the  property  was acquired for residential use. All salvageable wine marking equipment was sent to Almaden Winery operations in San Benito County or sold.  As part of the environmental review process, an Environmental Impact Report was prepared in 1988 (GP-88-10-1-EIR).

Through that report an area to the east of the center of the property was determined to be of the greatest historical significance.  This area contained the original 1852 winery, the 1876 Winery several historic trees and the site of the 1850 Charles Lefranc home.  The area also contained the Louis Benoist memorial garden c. 1942, the 1976 Administration Building, the California ranch style tack and stable building and a wood sheathed small residential building   known as the 1852 Club. Several historic trees and other plantings were identified in this area. Outside this central area are historic olive trees planted in rows and along the roadway.  These trees are distinct from the heritage trees which are identified by virtue of their size and age.  The Historic plantings are representative of historic events and associated with the agricultural patterns and people who are historically significant.


On JUNE 2, 1989 fire destroyed the 1876 sandstone winery and the wood building that surrounded it.  The 1876 winery was a significant element in the historic grouping.  Its destruction however, does not lessen the historical significance of the original winery c. 1852, historic trees or the site of the Lefranc house.

The 1876 winery, a building constructed of sandstone blocks and irregular shaped stones was rectangular in form with two stories, above a partial basement.     The configuration of the basement and building gave rise to speculation that a previous building had been located over the basement.  The building, possibly   the oldest sandstone structure in Santa Clara County, was designed by architect Theodore Lenzen" and was a historic resource of great significance. The building and its historical associations are fully described in the Environmental Impact Report referenced above.

Over a period of years, a large wood frame building had been constructed that completely enclosed the 1876 winery.  This wooden building and the 1876 winery were consumed by fire.  The heat caused the sandstone to loose its bond and all four walls collapsed forming a rectangle of rubble.  The lime based concrete stucco on the walls of the basement and interior was dissolved by a combination of the heat and the water used to fight the fire. Remnants of the large   redwood structural timbers and a 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.


The 1876 sandstone winery no longer exists.  Sandstone blocks have been stored on the site for future use.  The basement is to be filled and the area leveled. The area of historical significance is reduced in size to reflect the loss of the 1876 Winery, Exhibit C.

The original winery building, shown on Exhibit C, is of prime historical significance and the significance has not diminished as a result of the fire and loss of the 1876 winery. The original winery, as described in the 1988 Environmental Impact Report, is one of the most significant historic buildings in California. 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.


In the time since the Environmental Impact Report was prepared the general development plan for 29.1 acres of the site has been refined.  In this plan 159 single family detached houses are to be constructed in a traditional suburban street plan.  To reinforce the context of the historic area and Original Winery it is recommended that historic plant patterns, specifically the olive trees not within the area of the greatest historic significance (Exhibit C) be integrated in to the new development using the historic pattern of bordering the main street and where possible set in multiple rows, to communicate the historic orchard pattern. Vines and roses would also enhance the sense of the history and the viniculture heritage of the site.

When plans for the preservation of the Original Winery are considered, provision for displaying photographic documentation describing the 1876 Winery and the other buildings known to have existed on the property should be included.

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Entrance to 1876 Winery after June 2, 1989.
Photographer standing in former 1876 Winery facing south. Original winery in the upper left.

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Sandstone blocks as they fell, after the June 2, 1989 fire.

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1876 Winery Walls, collapsed into rubble.

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North/East corner of the 1876 Winery

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Basement of the 1876 Winery after the fire of June 2, 1989

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Photographer facing North/West, to show the basement of the 1876 Winery

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Site of the 1876 Winery Building

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Historic Pepper Tress that were in front of the 1876 Winery.

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