The Historic Almaden Winery
ANALYSIS OF THE
HISTORICAL & ARCHITECTURAL
ALMADEN WINERY SITE
for: Dividend Development Corporation
3600 Pruneridge Avenue
Santa Clara, California
Prepared by: Urban Programmers
247 N.Third Street
San Jose, California
OF HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE
II. HISTORY OF THE ALMADEN
III. DESCRIPTION OF THE
DESCRIPTION OF INDIVIDUAL BUILDINGS
A. Area Map
B. Historical Map
Plan - Almaden Winery
Site Plan - Historic Buildings
E. Historic Sketch
Top of Page
EXHIBIT A - AREA MAP
Top of Page
EXHIBIT B - HISTORICAL MAP
Top of Page
The subject of this
historical analysis is the Almaden Winery and vineyard, located at 1530
Blossom Hill Road, San Jose, California. The property is approximately
35 acres, and is extensively planted in varietal wine grape vines,
specimen trees, and flower gardens. Several industrial buildings of
various size and construction as well as industrial structures are on
the site. The development of the site has evolved from c. 1851 through
1985. The area is identified in Exhibit A
- Area Map, Exhibit B,
Historical Map, and Exhibit C - a site plan that shows the location
of existing buildings and landscaped areas.
PURPOSE OF THE ANALYSIS
purpose of this analysis is to determine if the site possesses
historical significance. This is accomplished by comparing historical
data collected through research and the historic integrity of existing
improvements, to criteria for determining historic significance that has
been adopted by the City of San Jose. The criteria for this evaluation
is found in Section 13.48., Part 2, Section H, of the Municipal Code.
The City of San Jose also observes the criteria of the National Register
of Historic Places – local level of significance, for environmental
consideration. The site has been registered as a State Landmark. State
Landmark criteria is not usually applied when determining local
significance since it requires significance that reflects a state-wide
importance. The analysis contained in the following report documents
comparison to the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places
- local level, and that of the City of San Jose. The state
registration indicates the historic significance to the heritage of the
State of California. This registration is in addition to local, regional
or national significance that may be determined appropriate.
DETERMINATION OF HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE
The Almaden Winery is
California Registered Landmark No. 505 in recognition of the beginning
of a new commercial industry - premium winemaking - established by
Charles Le Franc in the 1850's. The California Registered Landmark
VINEYARDS On this site, in 1852, Charles Le Franc made the first
commercial planting of fine 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.
While the date in the text
may not be quite accurate, it explains the significance and records the
importance of these events to the wine industry of California.
The Almaden Winery of 1988 is
a complex of buildings and landscaping features that include industrial
structures, two winery buildings that date from at least 1862 and 1876,
a residence c.1930, a multi-purpose bunk house/tack ranch building
c.1930, and a 1976 office building. The complex documents the growth of
one of the state's most important wine businesses and one of the largest
producers in the nation.
The documentation and
research defines the primary period of historical significance for the
winery to be to be 1856-1887. This is the period during which Charles
Le Franc; began farming and cultivating vines on the property, imported
varietal vines from France to begin the commercial wine industry in the
Santa Clara Valley, and 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 efforts, Charles Le Franc is considered
the "Father of Commercial Winemaking in the Santa Clara Valley".
Beyond the primary period of
historical significance, the Almaden Winery had achieved historical
significance as the second oldest commercial winery in the state, and
the oldest continuously operated winery in the Santa Clara Valley until
this site was closed in 1987.
During the entire history of
the vineyards, individuals associated with Almaden Vineyards have
contributed notably to the refinement and growth of the nation's wine
industry. Many wine industry innovations can be attributed to
individuals associated with the winery and vineyards. As an economic
entity, Almaden Vineyards Corporation, headquartered at the property on
Blossom Hill Road, was one of the largest producers of premium wine in
Comparing the primary period
of historical significance to the physical improvements on the property,
it is found that two buildings, although modified, were constructed
during this time. Further consideration of the historical achievements
attributed to the Almaden Winery, up until it was removed from this
location in 1987, shows that these two buildings were continuously used
and one, the original winery building, provided the site for planning
many of the later achievements.
The improvements of primary
significance are the original winery building, and the 1876 cellars.
Other improvements contribute to the overall history of the winery,
however, they do not appear to have individual significance and, in
fact, are often contiguous industrial buildings to expand the enclosed
space for winery operations or storage of glass, paper, and other
Landscaping and the vineyards
are very important in the history of the winery. While some trees are
from the primary period of significance, it is questionable that any
original Le Franc vines have survived, since a vine is generally
considered to have a 60-80 year life.
FEATURES OF SIGNIFICANCE
Original c.1850's Winery
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
As Le Franc's original
winery, this building is one of the most historically significant
buildings in the Santa Clara Valley.
Within the extensions and
additions of the largest building at the winery, is the 1876 cellar.
This building is significant as one of the oldest winery buildings in
the valley, and for its association with Le Franc in the expansion of
the winery. It is also significant as a representation of an
architectural design and methods of construction considered to be
This building has been
altered over the years to accommodate growth of the winery. Sections of
the masonry walls have been removed to create open spaces for large tank
and barrel storage. Acknowledging this alteration, the building retains
basic architectural integrity for the overall design. Particularly
important, the north sandstone wall with a rusticated sandstone surround
framing the door openings. It is believed the sandstone came from the
Goodrich Quarry on Almaden Road. If so, this would have been one of the
first instillations of cut sandstone from this quarry.
The remnants of mounded earth
ramps are found on both the south and north sides of the cellar. Ramps
were essential to provide for second floor delivery, of grapes or
equipment. These openings are set at a height above the ramp to be even
with the bed of the wagons. Exhibit E shows an artists rendition-of the
winery some 15 years after construction of this building.
Several pepper trees, a
venerable fig, olive trees, vines and specimen plants appear to be from
the period of significance. These are primarily located just to the
west of the original winery in the area of the Le Franc house, which was
destroyed by fire in 1974. Rows of olive trees and the vineyards are at
a distance to the south, east and west. Rows of olive trees, once
prevalent in the valley to define boundaries or driveways, are now
Four areas are identified for
comparison to the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places
and the San Jose Landmark Ordinance. This comparison allows the value of
cultural resources to be evaluated. The three areas for comparison are
1. Integrity of site and buildings;
2. Association with an important industry;
3. Association with an important person.
evaluation, and assessment found in this report, conclude a high level
of historical significance for a unit of property that contains the two
buildings and plantings directly associated with Charles Le Franc. This
prime unit of significance appears eligible for nomination to
Register of Historic Places, designation as a City of San Jose Historic
Landmark, and as a California Registered Landmark.
Top of Page
EXIBIT C - SITE PLAN
Top of Page
II. HISTORY OF THE ALMADEN
The French had been
interested in California since the seafarers of the late 1600's.
However, it was in the 1840's, after the Seven Year War, that historian
Herbert Bancroft lists sixteen visits to Alta California between
1841-1848. Descriptions of California appear to have reached France at
the same time as the news that gold had been discovered. Gold fever
increased the few dozen Frenchmen in California to 32,000 by May 18,
1853. One of those to immigrate in the 1840's was Etienne Thee, a
Bordeaux farmer. Thee, if he mined, left the gold fields and moved to
the Santa Clara Valley, where he settled on Rancho San Juan Bautista,
acquiring half interest in a parcel of land from Jos6 Agustin Narvaez.
On 350 acres of land, Etienne Bernard Edmond Thee, with his wife and
daughter, constructed a fine house on a knoll, adjacent to the Arroyo de
los Capetancellos (Guadalupe River). The farmer had recognized that the
soil would support vines which he purchased from the Mission Santa Clara
in 1851. The "Mission grapes," a hardy stock introduced by the Padres,
were cultivated by several vintners to produce a sweet wine. The
quality of this wine was generally very poor by comparison to European
varietals which resulted in the large quantities of varietal wine and
brandy that were imported to the state.
Records indicate that Charles
Le Franc, a tailor, arrived in San Francisco from Passy, France in
1850. While residing in that city, Le Franc socialized with the French
community in San Jose, where he met Etienne Thee. The two became working
partners in the 350 acre farm, vineyard and winery. Little is recorded
about the farming, it is the 17 acres of vineyard that are of
importance. Le Franc appears to have been the one interested in wine
quality and strove to improve the quality of the wine produced. As
early as 1853, Le Franc expressed his displeasure with the Mission
grapes, and sought grafting stock to compete with the imported wines.
European stock (vitis vinefera) had been successfully imported to
California by Jean Louis Vignes, for his vineyard and winery in Los
Angeles in 1830. The Vitis Vinifera (varietal stock), ordered by Le
Franc, appears to have arrived from France in 1856. The twenty
varieties of cuttings included Pinots, Sauvignons, Semillon, Cabernet
Franc, Black Muskats, and Grenache. To gain the maximum number of,
vines, the individual buds were carefully grafted to the vitis
California stock growing by the Guadalupe. This was the origins for Le
Franc's "Sweet Grape Vineyard", and the beginning of premium commercial
wine making in Santa Clara Valley.
In 1857, Charles Le Franc
married Thee's daughter, Marie Adele, and they became half owners in the
vineyard. Le Franc added to his holdings by acquiring a neighboring,
well-developed parcel, with some 15,000 to 18,000 vines, at a public
sale for $250. The other half of the property was purchased at the same
price by San Francisco land speculator J. Mora Moss. Phillip T. McCabe
conducted the sale to satisfy a $1,737 judgment against Charles Banchard
and Leopold Perrot.
Le Franc's "Sweet Grape
Vineyard", as it was named, advertised varietal grapes for sale in
1858. It is generally acknowledged that it takes three years for the
vines to mature, hence we can assume 1859 would mark the beginning of
local premium wines, of sufficient quality to compete with the imported
products. Four million gallons of wine and three million gallons of
brandy had been imported to California in the years 1853-1856. It is
clear that the businessman Le Franc realized the opportunity to capture
a healthy share of the premium wine market.
Literature and records
indicate that Mission grape wine was produced at the vineyard as early
as 1853. The first winery building appears to have been in the same
location as the building shown in Exhibit E, as the original winery, and
it is believed to be a portion of this building. The existing
configuration of the building is documented to be the winery for the
vintage of 1862. The wine produced by Le Franc was sold by the barrel,
or half barrel, at the winery or through local stores. Customers
supplied their own bottles and filled them directly from the barrels.
An unusual local wine glut was created when sailors jumped ship for the
gold fields, leaving full cargos of wine in San Francisco harbor. The
low prices that resulted form this glut were disappearing by the end of
the 1862, when Le Franc would produce his largest vintage, to that
The decade of 1860 was one of
growth for Le Franc's vineyard. Named New Almaden Vineyard, after the
well known quicksilver mining operations in the hills just south of the
vineyard, the vineyard was increased in size and production. By 1862,
the vineyard had grown to 40,000 vines on 75 acres, with a production
capacity of 100,000 gallons. The 1860's brought awards to Le Franc's
wines at county fairs, and competitions throughout the state. In
recognition for his stature in the industry, Le Franc was selected as
the Santa Clara County representative to the 1862 California Wine
Convention in San Francisco.
The success of Le Franc's
vineyard inspired others to enter the field of viniculture. In a short
span of years, the wine industry became one of the most important
economic industries in the state.
When Frank Stock discontinued
his vineyard at Eighth and William Streets in 1869, Le Franc acquired
his vines. They included Johannesburg Reisling, Tramina, and Zinfandel.
These vines, in the ground since 1859, were uprooted and transplanted to
the New Almaden Vineyard to form the initial stock for the excellent
Reislings that would win Le Franc high praise and awards.
The skills that won praise
for Le Franc were those of a master vintner, winemaker, and businessman.
Through the 1860's, 70's, and 80's, Le Franc innovated with planting,
like setting the vines on close centers to increase the intensity of
flavors. This was particularly noted by both Charles Wetmore, the
viticultural commissioner, and the noted Professor Eugene Hilgard of the
University of California, about the Malbec vines that produced an
extraordinary Malvoisie wine. The ports and angelica wine produced by
Le Franc were known for their longevity, as well as excellence, however,
it was his claret that brought the highest praise from these two
experts. Into the 1880's, Le Franc's Malbec vines were the only large
plantation of fine red Bordeaux vines in California.
Charles Le Franc considered
winemaking a serious commercial enterprise. His innovation resulted in
wines that sold well and at a profit. It was this ability that brought
New Almaden Vineyards through the economic depression of the 1870's. His
belief in the commercial success of the local industry led to an
expansion of the winery in 1876, when many of the other wineries were
going out of business. The 1876 masonry winery remaining on the site
was part of this expansion.
The outbreak of phylloxera in
France during the late 1870’s, resulted in two important opportunities
for Le Franc. First, the French wine production was off by 59%, opening
markets for California wine. Secondly, a young Frenchman from Burgundy,
Paul Masson, arrived in San Jose to study business at the University of
the Pacific, and became a friend of Le Franc's. After a trip to Europe
where he witnessed the devastation of the epidemic, Masson returned to
California to work with Charles Le Franc at New Almaden.
New Almaden was a lovely
setting for the gardens and handsome home occupied by the Le Franc
family. Pepper trees, several varieties of fruit trees, and splendid
flower beds were surrounded by the rows of vines and beyond to other
farm land. The Le Franc family included three children, Louise, Marie,
During the 1870's, the
business address for Le Franc was 379-381 Market Street, while the
wine-grower resided at New Almaden Vineyards. In 1878, young Henry Le
Franc was listed in the city directory as a bookkeeper for the
business. His early training in the business was fortuitous, since it
would not be long before he would have the full responsibility.
Vineyards and wineries began
to proliferate in the early 1870's. With the Depression of the 1870's
and export of California wine, it became clear to many farmers that
vines and wine were a quick cash crop. The quality of wine, during this
boom was low, as most of the new producers were not interested in
quality only the quick sale. As the decade progressed, the industry was
condemned for not making better wine, and for not cellaring what was
made. Poor quality and young wines was the majority of what was
sold. During this time, Le Franc continued to receive awards for his
wine and his winery flourished. Charles Le Franc worked within the
industry as one of eleven directors of the California State Viticultural
Society. This was one of the few offices Le Franc held, as he believed
his best contribution was by example, and by his example, the Santa
Clara Valley was recognized throughout the world, as a region where
premium wine could be produced.
Le Franc shipped wine to
exhibitions throughout the nation. In 1876, a great oval cask, 10 1/2
feet high, 9 feet wide, and 8 feet deep with a capacity of 3447 gallons,
was shipped to Philadelphia for the nation's centennial celebration.
The same cask was again exhibited in Philadelphia, in 1976, for the
The winery was proposed for
expansion again in 1887, under the direction of architect, Theodore
Lenzen. At this time, additions were to be made to the wine cellar. The
California Architect and Builder News describes the location as
"7 miles south of town" in the notice printed October 15, 1887, one week
after the death of Charles Le Franc. It appears that this work was not
Crushed to death while trying
to stop a team of stampeding horses on October 9, 1887, Charles Le Franc
left the winery, vineyards, and a business building at 163-169 Santa
Clara Street (now the location of D. B. Cooper's) to his children.
As the winery grew to be the
third largest in the nation, there would be many awards for New Almaden
wines, however, the significance of Charles Le Franc's contribution to
the economic history of California would never be surpassed.
Very soon after the death of
Le Franc, Paul Masson and Louise Le Franc were married. On an extended
honeymoon to France, Masson began purchasing equipment to make a
sparkling wine in the method of champagne. Upon their return, Masson
formed a partnership with Henry Le Franc to produce a sparkling wine.
This new business did not alter the arrangement with New Almaden
Vineyards, where Masson held a business position (not ownership) to
market New Almaden products. Masson released his first champagne in
1892. Made from New Almaden wine, in the cellars beneath the Le Franc
Building on Santa Clara Street, the new product could generate
additional capital for continuing production, allowing the original
champagne production partnership with Henry Le Franc to be terminated.
Masson and Le Franc continued
to operate the New Almaden Vineyards, in addition to Masson's
involvement with champagne. Henry's sister, Marie, appears to have been
a close companion of both her siblings and brother-in-law, as she did
The New Almaden Winery
continued to prosper during the turbulent 1890's, and into the new
century. In 1909, Henry Le Franc and his wife were tragically killed
when the auto containing Henry, his wife Louise, and their daughter
Nelty, was struck by an inter-urban electric trolley. Nelty was thrown
from the auto and survived. Orphaned, Nelty was raised by her aunt,
Celine Delmas, and her grandmother, Mrs. Joseph Delmas, at their home on
Vine Street. This tragedy resulted in the property going into a trust
to be managed by Masson. As the manager of New Almaden and owner of
his own champagne winery, Masson was faced with a double burden as
prohibition approached. Both vineyards sold grapes and grape juice
during the years of prohibition, and thanks to Masson, each had
certificates for sacramental and medicinal wine sales.
In 1930, the New Almaden
Winery and vineyards was traded for the 26,000 acre Orestimba Ranch,
east of Gilroy. A second transaction saw the New Almaden Winery and 350
acres of vineyards sold to the Almaden Vineyard Corporation, headed by
Charles M. Jones. Jones stock-piled the wine left by Masson and
continued to produce additional supplies. As prohibition ended, the New
Almaden Winery had about 1,000,000 gallons of dry red wine, the largest
supply of wine in California and was ready for full production, with
winemaker, Jack Wetmore, son of the late, great Charles A. Wetmore.
The immediate production of
Maison Rouge and Maison Blanc, table wines, proved very popular. They
were featured at fine restaurants and the Fairmont and Palace Hotels, in
San Francisco. A new organization, the Wine Institute, was formed in
1934 and Charles Jones was a director. The purpose of the organization
was to promote the industry and improve wine quality. Death again
interrupted the operations at the winery when Charles Jones died in 1940
leaving the vineyard and winery-to his estate.
In 1941, the dormant
vineyards and winery were purchased by two San Francisco-businessmen,
Louis Benoist, and Brayton Wilber. A revitalization plan included new
plantings in the original vineyards, purchasing new vineyards outside
Santa Clara Valley and introducing Almaden's first champagne.
Benoist moved into the Le
Franc ranch house after the interior designer, Michael Taylor, restored
the home in the mood of French Victorian. The New Almaden winery was
once again a thriving business and a center for social gatherings.
The winemaker engaged by
Benoist was well known for his skill, a former Brother and winemaker for
the Novitiate, Oliver Goulet became known world-wide for possessing a
great sensitive palate. Accepting the encouragement of Benoist, Goulet
created many distinguished wines for Almaden, including the instantly
popular Grenache Rose in 1945.
The third member of the
leadership team brought to Almaden was Frank Schoonmaker, connoisseur
and wine author. After careful study and consultation with
viticulturists at the University of California, the leaders of Almade"n
Vineyards expanded the vineyards into an area south of Hollister, in the
foothills of the Gavilan Mountains. This was an unprecedented move that
represented great risk to the company. Under Benoist's leadership,
Almaden continued to expand. Schoonmaker wrote informative
newsletters to increase the public awareness about Almaden's wine, and
Goulet increased the varieties produced by the winery. At the 1947
State Fair, Almaden won top awards for its Cabernet Sauvignon. The next
year, it took top awards for Pinot Blanc, White Reisling, Semillon,
Sylvanor and Tramener. This was repeated in 1950 and 1951. Almaden
continued in the leading role of bringing world wide recognition to the
fine varietals of the Santa Clara Valley. Wine consumption was up,
quality was good, but a major problem loomed. Benoist recognizing the
encroachment of suburban development, realized the need for winery
expansion to occur outside the valley. To this end, Almaden leased the
Valliant/Palmtag Winery in the Cienega Valley in San Benito County. The
area had produced good white wines in the past years and a winery with
675,000 gallon capacity was included in the lease. The next year,
1956, Almaden acquired George Syke',s ranch at Paicines adding 2200
acres. The other large valley wineries, Masson, and Mirassou followed
suit in selecting vineyards and wineries beyond the Santa Clara Valley.
consumption continued to increase through the 1960's, foretelling a
second wine boom. Louis Benoist known for his lavish personal expenses,
as well as for industry innovations, sold Almaden Vineyards and Winery
to National Distillers in 1967. The industry growth continued. Almaden
became the third largest wine company in the United States and the
largest producer of premium wines in 1980. In 1987, the Almaden Winery
was sold to Heublein Inc. At that time, the buildings and features
remaining from the Le Franc era were: portions of the 1876 winery, the
structurally rehabilitated winery from the 1850-60's, pepper, olive, and
fig trees, and possibly some vines. The barns, winery buildings and
even Le Franc's ranch house had been destroyed and in their place,
landscaping or industrial winery buildings have been constructed
creating an exceptionally beautiful industrial facility.
Top of Page
EXIBIT D - SITE
PLAN HISTORIC BUILDINGS
Top of Page
III. DESCRIPTION OF THE
The Almaden Winery is a
roughly rectangular parcel of land, historically much larger than the
present 35 acres, located on gently sloping terrain along the banks of
the Guadalupe Rive just north of the Gavilan foot hills. The land is
bordered on the north by Blossom Hill Road, on the south by the
Guadalupe River, and on the east and west by neighborhood development.
Prior to 1850 the land was
undisturbed although it was part of the Rancho San Benito. After 1850
Etienne Thee began to cultivate the land and build a house and winery.
By 1890 the area around the knoll would was developed with at least
eight substantial buildings, rows of trees and landscaping, vineyards
extended in all directions.
The winery, at its close in
1987, consisted of an irregularly placed cluster of buildings of various
sizes, stories and uses which are historically and aesthetically tied
together by the magnificently landscaped grounds and vineyards
The entire compound consists
of 10 buildings in a wide variety of architectural styles, groupings of
large vats and other industrial structures. Taken as a whole, the site
exhibits the development of commercial winemaking that spans 137 years
of industrial changes.
The majority of the buildings
are constructed of wood, using a board and batten exterior sheathing.
Most have been constructed over time and thus exhibit irregular floor
plans. The buildings each contain multi-planar hipped and gabled roofs
with shed roof additions. The roofs are themselves sheathed in
composition shingles. A few of the minor roofs, as well as the 1976
office/administration building are covered in red clay tiles in the
Spanish tradition. The roofs each exhibit very pronounced eaves with
repeated wooden rafters. Exhibit C shows the placement of the buildings
and landscape areas.
The majority of the buildings
are utilitarian and of minor architectural and/or historical importance,
save for the industrial history of such a facility. However, three of
the structures should be noted separately, albeit for different reasons.
Top of Page
OF INDIVIDUAL BUILDINGS
The largest industrial
building contains with in its wal1s the most architecturally important
structure in the complex. In a rectangular wing facing the central
parking area, there exists the sandstone exterior shell of one of the
original major winery buildings. This building is two storied with a
basement that extends to the front to form what is believed to have been
the foundation for a ramp, it is constructed on a rectangular plan. The
original roof appears from drawings to have been gabled. The current
roof is hipped with twin rectangular dormers which are centered and used
as vents, plus two gablets which are also centered. The most
distinctive characteristic, other than the massive sandstone walls, is
the unique window forms. The symmetrically spaced square shaped
apertures are exhibit an extended wood at the top. Many of these
windows have been bricked over as the building has been added onto. Two
large double door opening on the north and south facades add the other
visual interest. It is the opening on the north that exhibits a
refinement of a cut and rusticated sandstone block frame. The opening
has been heightened with wood spacers to meet the plate line. A
segmented arch of finished block spans the double door opening on the
ground level. Repairs have been made to the stone walls, including one
in the west wall of the second floor where bricks replace the stone.
The majority of the original south wall has been removed on all levels.
The present south facade has been extended several feet to create
additional interior space. The configuration of elements, ramp and
openings, approximates what appears to have been original, however,
the material of the original would have been stone, rather than board
and batten and stucco. The structure's interior consists of simple
wooden plank floors and squared wooden supports. An unusual detail is
found in the basement, where significantly spaced square openings have
been framed into the concrete. Extending, into the earth 18 or more
inches; their purpose is yet to be understood. A unique form of
insulation is found in this building. To insulate the ceiling, grape
vine shredding was spread between the ceiling joist. The interior is
primarily one large open room on each floor.
The second building of
particular interest is the two story, with full basement, brick building
which is identified in the 1891 Lithograph (Exhibit E) as the "Original
Cellars", as shown by #12 on Exhibit D. The building does not exhibit
the architectural quality of the sandstone structure mentioned above,
but it does contain some excellent elements of mid-19th
century brickwork. The style is a somewhat Spartan Creek Revival design
with a rectangular plan that has had two wooden additions added onto the
east and west-facing elevations. The most distinctive feature is the
very low-angled gable roof with its massive brick exterior walls which
are punctuated by very simple rectangular shaped doors and multi-light
rectangular-shaped windows. The building is sited on a slope with the
two story section on the northern half and the one story section on the
southern half. The basement runs the full length of the building and
was entered via descending steps from the north or south-facing facade.
In 1985, a ramp connected allowed the east entry to be accessible.
The original portion of the
winery is the two story section, although this may be an 1862
enlargement of an 1850's building. Modifications to the functional
design have occurred over time, however, window frames and side
extensions indicate the late 1920's-30's were the time of many changes.
The exact dates for the southernly extensions are known, however the
brick and cornice design of the southern most extension indicate it was
constructed about the turn of the century. This area was repaired in
1985. The brick was sand blasted, repainted, and many brick sections
were replaced. An entrance colored glass with a paneled door was
installed for the public tasting room. A simple overhang protects the
recessed entrance with pergolas on each side. The area in front of the
entrance, the stairs and low walls, are all executed in re-used brick.
Mature trees, ivy on the walls and half barrel planters enhance the
depiction of an old winery.
A recent wood ramp along the
west elevation has been adorned with turned balustra that, while
handsome, is out of place on the functional building.
The southern-facing elevation
has been most recently remodeled. The colored brick facade has been
sandblasted and some new brick has been added. Stylistic doors and
windows have also been added to what would have been a wide industrial
opening. In spite of these conspicuous changes, the original simplicity
of the building form remains intact.
The third building is #19 on
Exhibit D. This structure is of a much later time period than either of
the previous two, but it is of a handsomer architectural composition, as
a whole. This structure is constructed on an irregular plan, is
sheathed in board and batten; and exhibits a cross gabled roof (one side
simple gable and the other side in a curious salt box form) with a
square wooden tower with a low-angled, pyramidal-shaped roof. The most
distinctive feature, other than the roof shapes, is the long covered and
recessed porch highlighting the north-facing wing. The building is
almost an archetype of the western ranch style home. It harkens to
elements of the famous Gregory Farmhouse designed by William Wurster in
the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. Although the building is of much less
historic importance, its architectural purity raises it up to the
highest standards of the entire site.
Trees and Landscaping
Between the 10 buildings are
an incredible variety of landscaping, both natural and planted. Grand
old trees (including massive oaks, a spectacular Mission fig, pepper and
ironwood) dominate the setting. Huge olive trees, as well as smaller
rows of olives, form handsome boarders and windbreaks. Notable also are
the remnant plots of vineyards which place the entire compound into its
Other landscape features
include manicured hedges and lawns and an extensive rose garden. Ivy has
been allowed to cover some of the exterior walls and creepers add much
beauty to otherwise nondescript architectural buildings. Additionally,
a massive old Mission fig possibly planted by Thee, adjacent to the
Ranch House, is remarkable in its girth and age.
The otherwise nondescript
wooden house (Building #14 of Exhibit D) is distinguished solely for its
beautiful front and patio landscape. A simple one story residence with
pitched roof and covered in horizontal clapboard, the building has been
enlarged in a hap hazard fashion. Most recently used for
administration offices, and to entertain visitors, the modifications
responded to the use. A very pleasant patio is behind the building.
This area has a large stone barbecue and is surrounded by a wood wall.
Planting inside the patio is extensive along the wall and in half
1976 Bottling House
This is the epitome of a
recent functional industrial building. Rectangular in form, the two
story building is devoid of any decoration. The significant feature of
this building is not the shell, but was the high speed bottling line
inside. At installation, this line of machinery performed all functions
of packaging wine. Entering the south end through a tunnel pipe, wine
was bottled, corked, labeled, put in cartons, and the case banded
together before being deposited on the loading dock at the north end of
the building. The capacity of this line was ten thousand cases per 8
The most recent addition to
the complex is this wood frame two story structure, sheathed in brick
and stucco. Architecturally reflecting a Spanish influence, the
building is rectangular in form with a tile covered hipped roof. The
elevator housing, off centered to the east on the front facade has a
logo "A" - metal weather vane on top. Heavy timber detailing is found
in porch supports and window frames. A two story narrow, cut glass
window is al so a part of the front facade. The building is not
architecturally significant, however, as is true throughout the site,
extensive landscaping gives the building a very pleasant presence.
Numerous small buildings
exist on the site. Examples are the lath garden houses behind the Ranch
House, observation and pump shacks.
of the buildings have been altered over time. The loss of the original
farmhouse greatly lessens the mise-en-scene of the complex as a whole.
The metal light standards with their vine motif, barrel press sculpture,
and terra cotta fountain are also noteworthy.
Top of Page
EXHIBIT E - HISTORIC SKETCH
Top of Page
The Almaden Winery, taken as
a whole, is an in tact example of a winery which has expanded to meet
the growing consumer market. The vineyards have been reduced to those
lands adjoining the winery, however, the winery operations have
increased production by importing grapes and juice from other locations.
The pre-1900 buildings have
remained active components of the expanded facilities. Newer industrial
design additions have been constructed as individual buildings or to
enlarge existing buildings, thus creating an eclectic composition. As
production techniques changed, fields of metal storage tanks were
added. Even a heliport is integrated in the context of the winery.
The site is unique in San
Jose, exhibiting extensive landscaping, heritage trees, historic
buildings, and contemporary industrial structures and buildings, all in
context and functional relationships to the Corporate Headquarters and
winery operations of the Almaden Winery, the third largest winery in the
While the complex of
buildings and structures, in contemporary idiom, may lack a heritage
value, the remaining historic buildings, vines, features, and heritage
trees convey a sense of time and place. The features, which include the
ranch house, fountains, Benoist memorial garden, street lights with
grape designs, and landscaping, while not historically significant, add
a quality of understanding and sense of the "heritage" of the wine
Separating the pre-1900
elements from the whole complex, allows for a better evaluation. The
original winery, cited in the research data to have been constructed
between 1856 and 1862, is one of the older buildings in the area and the
oldest winery. The significance associated with this building, does not
rely upon its exact age but on the association with Charles Le Franc,
and as the winery that was used to make the varietal wines from his
imported stock, thus beginning the commercial wine industry in this
region. The building shows evidence of several expansions, however, the
has been retained.
Literature describes the winery as dug into the hillside, with the adobe
clay soil forming the floor and walls. This would be the northerly third
of the building. Now lined in pre-1900 cold joint, poured in place
concrete, with brick exterior walls, the building was expanded to the
south at least twice. In the second expansion the cellar foundation
walls are rubble and mortar construction with brick exterior walls above
grade. The third expansion - pre-1900 - extended the building, again
keeping the same form. Circa 1930, wood frame, board and batten
additions were joined to the second floor of the winery. Although
expansions have been made to the original winery, most occur before the
turn of the century and the building continues to exhibit the materials
and workmanship of that period.
The 1876 winery has been
enclosed on three and one half sides by newer additions to the winery.
This historic winery, in rectangle form is two stories over a basement.
A large section of the south wall has been removed, a situation that
raises concern for the structural, as well as the architectural
integrity. The building is oriented towards the north, Blossom Hill
Road. A fine entrance of cut/rusticated sandstone, probably from the
Goodrich Quarry, forms that element, while the remaining walls are
irregular shape sandstone and heavy mortar in a type of solid rubble
construction. Northerly of the original winery, the proximity of the
two buildings, maintains the relationship that together with the
heritage trees and vines composes a historically significant unit.
The unit is all that remains
from the era associated with Charles Le Franc and the initial commercial
wine venture in Santa Clara Valley. The continued association with New
Almaden, later Almaden Winery only adds to this representation of local
Top of Page
The assessment of cultural
resources is based upon defined criteria. When properties display
characteristics that are measurable to criteria A, Determination of
Significance can be achieved.
The Criteria for Assessing
Cultural Resource Significance, as prescribed by the City of San Jose's
Historic Preservation Officer, is that of the National Register of
Historic Places and the criteria found in the Municipal Code, as
1. National Register
Standards for Evaluating Significance
The quality of significance in American history,
architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture is present in
districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects the possess
integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship,
feeling, and association, and:
A. that are associated with events that have made a
the broad patterns of our history; or
B. that are associated with the lives of persons significant
our past; or
C. that 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
D. that have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information
important in prehistory or history.
2. Criteria for
Designating a City of San Jose Historic Landmark
A property that
exhibits the following.
historical, architectural, cultural, aesthetic or
interest or value of an historical nature, and hat its designation
as a landmark conforms with the goals and policies of the general plan.
Registered Landmark Designation
Winery is Registered California Landmark No.505.
state criteria has already been acknowledged.
In assessing the Almaden
Winery, vis-a-vis city and Federal criteria for evaluation, three issues
must be addressed:
1. Identification of the
period and unit of significance; and
2. The quantity and quality
of contemporary buildings and structures in
relationship to those
older than 50 years; and
3. Alterations to the
historic buildings older than 50 years.
The first consideration
relates to defining a period of significance. If the winery is
primarily 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.
Charles Le Franc introduced
French varietal grapes, which began the commercial wine industry in
Santa Clara Valley, c.1856. For 31 years, he continued to lead the
industry with innovations in viniculture and winemaking. Therefore,
although strong arguments could be waged that 137 years of Almaden's
Association with the site constitute historic importance, when the most
important event is defined as the initial operation and its founder
Charles Le Franc, then the prime period of historical significance is
that time associated with Le Franc, 1852-1887. Buildings, trees, vines,
and other features associated with Le Franc during this period are
considered to be of prime significance. The unit of significance would
include the 1850's winery, the 1876 winery, pepper and olive trees,
vines (some may remain) and the spatial relationship of the area
connecting these features.
Second, the number of
contemporary buildings, landscaping features, and industrial structures
that dominate the historical (over 50 years old) buildings. The impact
of the newer buildings is lessened only by the mature trees and
remaining vineyards that provide a level of historic identification.
In the case of the 1876 winery, the building has all but been encased by
the numerous additions that abut the stone walls. 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.
If the additions to the 1876
winery were removed, the spatial relationship between it and the
original winery would be recreated. This would establish the continuity
of the unit, and together with plantings of the period would convey the
"sense of time and place" that is necessary for establishing historic
context. Thus a unit of property containing the 1876 winery, the
original winery and heritage trees, would meet the criteria for
The third area for
consideration are the alterations to the historic buildings, the
original winery and the 1876 winery, which have been extensive. The
older building appears to have had four enlargements, the last as recent
as the 1930's. 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
building's evolution. Removing the additions would make a stronger case
for integrity of the historic 'structure, but is not essential to
The 1876 winery, although
more intact as a winery building, has had a large section of the
perimeter wall removed. The roof shape has been changed and several
openings have been altered. Still, the winery retains a level of
architectural integrity that could be greatly enhanced by restoring the
missing wall with a compatible design. Restoring the original design may
be desirable is not necessary. When coupled with the great historical
significance, the remaining building could be considered for nomination
to the City Landmark program. If grouped with the other historic
buildings and features, and compatibly repaired, the issue of integrity
would be satisfied and the winery could be nominated to the National
Register of Historic Places. The historical documentation, together
with the integrity of the unit of prime significance, when compared to
the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places and that
the city of San Jose Historic Landmark program, establishes the
conclusion that the Almaden Winery site and the historic winery
buildings are a significant cultural resource eligible designation as
City Landmark and for listing in the National Register of Historic
The comparison to the
Criteria A: .... Associated with events that have made a significant
contribution to the broad patterns of our history; ...
The direct association with
Charles Le Franc and the initiation of an important industry are of
prime historical significance. In addition to this prime association,
is the 137 year history of industrial innovation, economic importance,
and cultural identity Almaden Winery has achieved in the Santa Clara
Valley, California, and the nation.
Criteria B: ... That are associated with the lives of persons
significant in our past; ...
Charles Le Franc is
documented to have been the pioneer of the commercial varietal (premium)
wine industry in the Santa Clara Valley. His accomplishments, and those
of a few others in the state during the 1850's, resulted in both
economic and cultural identification for California, in the world wine
Criteria C: ... That embodies the distinctive characteristics of a
type, period, or method of construction or that represents the work of
a master or that possesses high artistic values or that represent a
significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack
Many of the buildings and
industrial structures exhibit distinctive characteristics, however, the
1876 winery and 1850's winery are examples of archaic construction that
embodying methods and materials no longer in common use. When taken as a
unit, the original winery, the 1876 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 1876 and the c.1850's
winery buildings show that these buildings would individually qualify
Top of Page
The proposed development
concept is to terminate the winery operations and introduce residential
development that may include public, quasi-public, and/or commercial
While the proposed General
Plan change does not propose a specific development plan, generalization
may be inferred.
The proposed development will
alter the site from its present configuration and use. Thus impacting a
significant historic site Plantings, trees, features and buildings will
be removed to accommodate a new use.
The historic unit, consisting
of the original winery, 1876 winery, heritage trees, and selected
plantings, may be considered for removal.
Removal or alteration of this
unit would create a serious impact to the cultural and economic heritage
of the region.
Top of Page
The following recommendations
are made from the point of view of historic preservation, without taking
into account any other considerations.
On its historical merits and
in relation to the criteria for the National Register of Historic
Places, the California Registered Historic Landmark, and San Jose's
Historic Landmark Ordinance, the unit containing the original New
Almaden Winery, the 1876 winery, and heritage trees, and vines, is
clearly worthy of protection.
The historic 1876 Winery,
should be stablized by bracing the walls in preparation for removing the
newer additions. Care must be taken not to adversely affect this masonry
building, as the industrial structures surrounding it are removed. The
structure to the south is protecting the winery. A conservation plan
should be prepared prior to removing this structure.
The highest priority should
be given to preserving the winery buildings intact in their present
locations. Since it appears that the winery uses will no longer be
continued, uses compatible with the setting, character, and
architectural capacity of the buildings should be sought. Uses that
further the relationship of the historic environmental quality of this
unit, should be of high priority. Commercial, light industrial, public
or quasi-public facilities are possible uses.
To strengthen the historical
context of the historic unit, the setting should retain the heritage
trees and incorporate features and landscaping that enhance the
understanding of the unit.
modifications to the historic buildings should be consistent with the
intent of the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for historic
To mitigate any alterations
to the general site, or buildings, documentation consisting of
photographs and measured drawings should be undertaken.
Any remnants of historic
winemaking equipment, photographs, documents, or other memorabilia not
retained by Almaden Vineyards or planned for interpretive display in
conjunction with the preservation of the historic unit, should be
transferred to the San Jose Historical Museum, Friends of the Winemaker,
or similar public organizations, whose purpose is to preserve the
heritage of winemaking in the Santa Clara Valley.
The Old Ranch building has
not been determined to have individual historic significance, nor does
it relate to the pre 1880 buildings. It is however, worthy of
preservation consideration because of its architectural design quality.
Re-using and/or relocating the building should be evaluated. If the
building can not be preserved on the site, then it should be offered for
relocation to another site.
Top of Page
HISTORY OF SAN JOSE, graphic design by Paul Yoshikawa, Smith and
McKay Printing Co., San Jose, 1985, pp.176-181.
SANTA CLARA COUNTY RANCHOS, cartography and illustrations by
Ralph Rambo, The Rosicrucian Press, Ltd., San Jose, 1968.
THE TREASURY OF AMERICAN WINES, Crown Publishers, New York, 1973.
HANDLIN, DAVID P.,
AMERICAN ARCHITECTURE, Thames & Hudson,Ltd., 1985, pp. 122, 134,
135-6, 144, 147-9.
PAYNE, STEPHEN M., PH.D.,
SANTA CLARA COUNTY HARVEST OF CHANGE, Windsor Publications, Inc.,
Northridge, CA 1987, pp. 77, 81, 84.
SULLIVAN, CHARLES L.,
LIKE MODERN EDENS, California History Center, 1982.
NEWSPAPERS AND PERIODICALS
McKee, Ph.D., "Historic Wine Growers of Santa Clara County", Magazine of
the Pacific, Sept. 1950.
California Architecture & Building News,
October 15, 1887
San Jose Daily Mercury,
"Fatal Accident, Chas. LeFranc, the Viticulturist, the Victim , Monday
Morning, October 10, 1887, pg. 3.
San Jose Mercury,
"Winemaking in Valley Boasts Colorful History", October 19, 1962, pg.
San Jose Mercury News,
Marjorie Pierce, "Some Historical Notes on County's Wine Heritage”, July
7, 1974, pp. 4-5.
San Jose Mercury News,
Marion Bailey Kaufman, "Masson 'Showed American How'” July 2, 1965, pg.
San Jose Mercury News,
Dick Barrett's Column, October 23, 1963
Sun Times, David
Brancoli, "Quietly Ages the Wine Beneath Majestic Oaks", August 16,
1966, pg. 9
San Francisco Chronicle,
Nes Young, "Gallic Tradition at a California Vineyard Estate”, Sunday
Supplement, October 18, 1959, pp.18-19.
MAPS & DIRECTORIES
Clara County and San Jose City Directories 1870, 1871-72, 1874,
1875, 1876, 1878, 1881-82, 1889, 1895, 1910, 1920
Top of Page
EXHIBIT F - PHOTOGRAPHS
Top of Page
Top of Page
Top of Page
Top of Page
Top of Page
Top of Page
Top of Page
Top of Page
Top of Page
Top of Page
Top of Page