During a marathon meeting on Tuesday night, the San Jose City Council unanimously voted to designate a park proposed for new development in Japantown to honor John Heinlen, the 19th century German immigrant who named land for a Chinatown Heinlenville made available.
From the beginning of the discussion it was clear that Heinlenville Park would prevail against Sakura Park, which the San Jose Parks Commission recommended in March. This decision sparked a huge surge in support for Heinlenville Park, which was originally chosen by the city’s staff. Both Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilor Raul Peralez said they spoke with residents of Japantown about the problem.
Both names come from a list of nearly four dozen community-nominated choices that was narrowed down to eight choices presented in a community poll. About 350 people voted in the poll, and the top voter in the poll, Yujo Park, was not suggested after finding that he might have an offensive interpretation. The votes for two options – Heinlen Park and Heinlenville Park – were combined and resulted in the staff recommendation.
However, the citizen-led park commission chose Sakura Park out of concern that too many parks in the city were named after white men and too few reflected the city’s multicultural diversity. Sakura Park had also received a large number of votes, responding to a public desire that the name of the park should reflect Japanese culture.
During the council’s discussion, city councilor Maya Esparza pointed out that the citizen-led parking commission had come under fire for its well-intentioned recommendation.
“They based their decision on the best available information and community input they had at the time,” she said, noting that support for Heinlenville Park came after her decision. “They never tried to overthrow the will of the community. Their goal was to determine the will of the community. “
A fire in 1887 destroyed Chinatown on Market Street, where the Fairmont Hotel is now. Heinlen, a German farmer and immigrant businessman who owned property north of downtown, provided cheap leases to the local Chinese community and opposed condemnation by the city’s white community.
Heinlenville’s success in the place where the development of Japantown Square is increasing encouraged Japanese residents to settle in the area. And that led to San Joses Japantown, which is now one of only three left in the United States.