Lisa Liddane walks past the “Sheltering Wing” sculpture by artist Roger Stoller in Heinlenville Park on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in San Jose, Calif. Community members held a ceremony to celebrate the opening of the new park which is named after John Heinlen, a German immigrant who rented to Chinese residents after the Chinatown neighborhood was burned in the late 1800s. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
The following is an excerpt from the 10/11/23 San Jose Mercury News:
By Sal Pizarro, Bay Area News Group
Heinlenville Park may be San Jose’s newest open urban space, but it comes with more than a century of history to its name, befitting its location in the city’s historic Japantown neighborhood. A few hundred people attended the grand opening ceremony Tuesday afternoon, which opened with a blessing and ended with a celebratory lion dance and a sake toast.
“It’s not every day we get to open a new public space, certainly not one so beautiful. This park is exceptional,” said Mayor Matt Mahan, who called Japantown a “community that is passionate about celebrating, commemorating and living the culture of our Japanese community while also welcoming change and newcomers.”
Visitors stroll through Heinlenville Park on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in San Jose, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
After a suspected arson fire in 1887 destroyed the Chinatown on Market Street downtown, John Heinlen — a German immigrant farmer and businessman who owned property just north of downtown — answered an act of bigotry with one of acceptance. He provided inexpensive leases to the local Chinese community and endured condemnation from the city’s white community.
The area became a hub of Chinese cultural activities in San Jose for the next five decades, centered around the ornate Ng Shing Gung temple (of which the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project built at History Park). The success of Heinlenville encouraged Japanese residents to settle in the area, and that gave birth to San Jose’s Japantown, which is now one of just three remaining in the United States.
Historian Connie Young Yu, right, was among the visitors looking over interpretive signage in Heinlenville Park on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in San Jose, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
Historian Connie Young Yu said Heinlenville ended after 44 years largely because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the area became the city’s corporation yard for many decades with Japantown next to it. She heard stories of Heinlen’s generosity from her grandfather, who fled the Market Street fire, and her father, who was born in Heinlenville.
“You will not read about the legacy of John Heinlen in history, but you will experience it here,” she said. “This park embodies a story San Jose should be proud of, one that should inspire us all and generations to come.”
Shea Properties built the park to complement its Sixth and Jackson apartments and plans to grant it to the city. Features within the park reflect its history, too.
“Sheltering Wing,” a 19-foot-tall metal sculpture created by Stoller Studios in San Jose, tells the story of the evolving and inclusive community through images of “Asian positivity” in the metal-lace artwork representing bamboo, peaches, koi, origami cranes, butterflies and chrysanthemums, among others. There’s an interpretive sign exploring the history of the area and a paved “history path” that recounts the Chinese American experience. Japantown sculptor Ken Matsumoto created the stonework in the north garden, part of the landscape designed by Jason Victor.
Notably, the park is mostly hardscape with raised gardens and trees, along with tables with built-in checkers/chessboards and a children’s play space. But there’s no grass, and that’s intentional because the community asked for space that could accommodate events like flea markets and public gatherings for the multicultural area, which includes the Filipino Community Center right across the street.
“This park is a testament to the collective efforts of so many people,” said Sean McEachern of Shea Properties. “Everyone on the team knew the importance of what we needed to deliver.”