Updated: Sep 11, 2018
It’s easy to go into a museum and learn about a place, but it’s not the same as talking to the people who have lived there for their whole lives. There was a time when Almaden Valley was nothing but orchards and Kimberly Starr Young-Jolly remembers it well. Growing up here from the time she was 5 years old, she recalled the time when parts of Cambrian subdivisions were the original Almaden and it were known by the name of Almaden Oaks. Over time the area has grown so much and many areas around the valley have merged. Now parts are called Willow Glen and the Rose Garden, but the name “Almaden” is still part of many store names. Originally, much of the area was owned by a resort company called Del Webb, named after the entrepreneur who started it. The Almaden Country Club golf course was built, along with many custom homes and subdivision housing. Kimberly’s childhood home was one of them. Eventually, Del Webb started selling off pieces of property, about 2 ½ acres of land each, and contractors came in to build custom homes and the area developed into what it is today. Of course, in her memories, the nostalgia of what Almaden Valley used to be will never fade.
Kimberly graduated from Pioneer High School in 1973, it had been the only school in the area at first until Leland High was built to catch the overflow of students moving into the new subdivisions. Before that, the walk to school was along the dirt path, through plum, apricot, plum, cherry and grape orchards where she worked as a teenager. There were no fences between the backyards or the orchards behind the houses for the first 15 years and as kids they would play among the trees and the vineyards. “We would pick grapes and have grape fights, catch lizards.” She said as she spoke of the past. “Everyone thought my parents were crazy for moving out to the “boondocks” because there was nothing out here until they put in a PW market, Thrifty Drug Store and a Mervyns’s Department Store. They finally started putting some support systems in place, but there was nothing else. There was a Wimpey’s hamburger stand in a dirt lot on the corner of what is now Almaden Expressway and Branham Lane, when you went out for dinner this was where you went.”
Most people living in Almaden Valley at the time were either in the military, like Kimberly’s dad, farmers, or worked at the IBM Research Plant. If there was shopping to be done, you either took the public bus, or if you were fortunate enough, you had to drive a car to Downtown San Jose. Even then, there wasn’t much of a downtown at the time. There were several major stores, ‘Harts”, “Hales” ‘JCPenny”, “Woolworth”, and a “Sears”. A trip downtown would always end for her family with a shared 10-cent banana split at the Woolworth soda fountain counter, then a long bus ride home. There was no mall to hang out in, and the closest highway was about 15 miles away. The Almaden Expressway was a dirt and gravel road. It had no speed limit and you could take it to get just about anywhere, driving past the horses and cattle, orchards and yellow mustard fields. Her family would go for Sunday drives down the old expressway. She still has pictures of the places she would visit, and holds onto them dearly.
Kimberly’s parents were very religious, so when she was a teenager and wanted to get a job, she wasn’t allowed to work at the winery like most of the other kids her age. They didn’t want her around the alcohol, so she worked in the fields cutting apricots in the hot sun. “You had to put them on a huge wooden trays, approximately 20’ x 8’, in the sun to dry out and you only got 6 dollars a tray. It would take many hours to “fill a tray” and her mom, sister Janice, and Kimberly would finish about 5 or 6 trays per day. This was what her summers were all about. She also picked cherries and plums and laughed when talking about the experience. “You were only allowed to eat so many in a day, if you ate more you would be in trouble”.
Kimberly also continued to speak of the dirt roads from the area that needed to be taken to get to school. “Everything was all dirt roads, they paved part of the road when they put in the school, but you still had to go through the orchards to get to school”. Kimberly, her sister Janice and her friend Debra were hired to pump gas, check oil, and wash windows at the Mobile Gas Station on the corner of Branham Lane and Cherry Avenue. They had to wear a tiger miniskirt and a Mobile work shirt, which said “Put a tiger in your tank”.
All of the parents of the kids of Almaden Valley were either farmer, military, worked at the IBM research plant or at United Technology in Coyote. The IBM Research Facility and United Technologies were hidden off of the Monterey Highway. Back then it was called the Highway 101. Bailey Road also was a dirt road. Kimberly explained how a person needed a Jeep to get through to the IBM Research Facility.
It became impossible to find an affordable home in downtown San Jose, so people began moving to Almaden Valley because they could afford a brand new place there comfortably. There was only one elementary school, Washington Elementary School and the community was mostly first and second-generation Italian immigrants. Kimberly’s parents bought the house for 14,600 dollars cash and now the property is worth 1.2 million dollars. “It wasn’t Silicon Valley, you moved there for work or military purposes, everyone was very equal economically”.
Kimberly’s daughter Breanna experienced a lot of the wonderful cultural and demographic changes when going to school as more and more people from all over the world immigrated to Almaden Valley for the excellent schooling and housing. Her favorite thing about Almaden Valley is its community, “The areas are not just neighborhoods.” She loves the open spaces as there are very few opportunities anywhere in the Bay Area to buy a home with multiple acres. It is zoned so no one can build, and the wilderness and wildlife is stunning. A half a mile from Safeway but still in the mountains.
Her backyard is Almaden Quicksilver park, where a person can just go out back and there is a trail right there. However, living directly on the edge of the park has had its troubles, though minor in nature. They had to put up a 10-foot deer fence with gates that lock because people would get lost in the park late at night and come banging on their door. “Drunks, drug addicts, lost kids. Rangers have found pot fields back there in Almaden Quicksilver Park. Everywhere has its little quirks, even in Almaden Valley. That doesn’t cause Kimberly any reason to worry though, there are far more pros than cons about living where she has lived her whole life. The road to her home is an interesting one as well, they’ve had to put up warning signs because people seem to think it is a road to the park and would come on up and park in her driveway to hike in Quicksilver Park.
Overall, the neighborhood is a fantastic place, which holds many enjoyable aspects for Kimberly and her family. The people she has met while living in Almaden Valley are by far her favorite part. She and her husband enjoy going for drives down Leland Park and noticing how many people they will see out or walking their dogs. They love to go out and meet the neighbors.
Another activity Kimberly enjoys is being a part of an informal ladies group that meets at a restaurant or the country club where they can get to know one another. She grew up in Almaden Valley, it’s home to her and her husband has fallen in love with it too. Though Kimberly’s daughter is in college, she loves to come home and it gives her a chance to regroup and relax. She is an editor for an online collage magazine and wrote an article called. “Twenty Things You Know if You Grew Up In The Almaden Valley”, as well as an article on growing up as a Millennial in the Bay Area, it is called “Avocado Toast”.
Kimberly likes that it’s an easy commute to the city, but you can also be out in the country in 20 minutes and the beach is a short drive away as well. But when you get back to Almaden Valley it’s like the world outside doesn’t bother to find its way in, leaving everything at peace. But of course, places do change over time. The landscape has changed from what it once was, the people have changed and become more diverse, and the housing market is a fast moving one. A house can be put for sale one day and sold the next. These days in the school systems, they also encourage college far more than Kimberly remembers from when she was in high school. “There was a lot more recruiting in schools than when I was growing up here. Schools here try to encourage college now whereas back in my day it was all military.” Almaden Valley schools have been widely known for their incredible curriculum. Kimberly’s daughter has found college so much easier than many of her friends have, simply because they haven’t been taught a lot of the things included in Almaden Valley’s schools.
As a kid, Kimberly was a good but also somewhat nerdy student, coming from a very disciplined family of Scottish and Scandinavian descent. Every year she went to summer school and a lot of Bible camps one of which was Camp Campbell. Her daughter attended Camp Campbell in Boulder Creek and then became a counselor at Camp Campbell for many years.
Kimberly started her career with the goal of working in the parks as a park ranger and wanted to become an interpreter for the parks. She was the first full-time female park ranger hired for the County of Santa Clara. However, a bad experience in which she was tied up and had her truck stolen at gunpoint in Coyote Hellyer Park made her decide that she would rather just be able to enjoy the parks instead of getting caught up in the employment side. So, she went back to school and ended up working in the contracting and law field.
Kimberly was a Girl Scout and still has all her patches and pictures that she holds dear. Her mom, Martha Young, was one of the original people who started the Girl Scouts in Almaden Valley. She kept lots of notes on what she did to earn her badges. She recalls it being a lot harder to earn a badge than it is today. She has a 1928 story of the woman who started the Girl Scouts (Juliette Low) that she wanted to donate and so she has, just proving how dedicated she still is to the Scouts and demonstrating the passion a person can have for where they came from. She still has all her notes on when she earned badges and what she did for them in detail. There was a ceremony when you got a badge, cake, punch and a party. She was Girl Scout until she started working with Youth Conservation Corps in King City, at Indian Ranch.
As mentioned, Almaden Valley was largely military, farmers and tech workers. Her father was both military and worked as a rocket propulsion engineer with United Technologies in Coyote Valley. Kimberly had always thought that her father worked for the FBI because he was never able to tell them in detail what exactly he was working on. He would mysteriously say, “be sure to look to the sky around ten p.m. because we’re going see something really special.” They were testing the Titan Boosters for the shuttle missions.
Her mother was a writer, she wrote memoirs, and she put together a book as a tribute to her father, and wrote many articles for the local newspapers and magazines. There was one article about the dump. It was funny article describing all manner of hilarious fun facts about the dump and how much of an event it would be to take the kids to the dump for a Sunday trip. “Oh goodie, we’re going to the dump!” Kimberly used to say enthusiastically. The article explained why anyone would want to take their kids to the dump. They had live racoons, billy goats and a clown. “What a fun trip it was to go to the dump.” Just one more thing to add to the list of unique things about Almaden Valley.
The articles Kimberly’s mother wrote were always interesting, one even crossing over a little into what her father did with the rocket propulsion. People were confused sometimes about the ground shaking from the testing. She wrote an article about the ground shaking, explaining that it was not the end of the world, just the rocket propulsion testing, making people freak out about not knowing what it was as the ground shook below them and a huge plume of smoke rose in the sky above.
Kimberly provided all kinds of historical paper clippings about the county parks. There was a County trust fund that cost the residents only ten cents when Almaden Quicksilver Park was first created. It’s strange to think about how much has changed, but how much is also still the same.
Another random but fun fact Kimberly shared was about the balloon parade. Back in 1967 they used to participate in the annual balloon parade, always the day after Thanksgiving and everyone got dressed up in homemade costumes and there would be a contest, whoever won would get the biggest stocking of candy and toys you have ever seen. And the San Jose police used to provide bikes for the kids. “They had all new bikes, they’d fit you for a bike and it was $1.75.”
Between the orchards and the high school job at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour, summer school, summer camps, and making tiny outfits for the lizards they would catch, being a kid in Almaden meant you had to find things to do. There were no cell phones, the only phone was a rotary phone which was a party line in the kitchen and whatever you had to say you said in front of the family and the whole neighborhood. For kids nowadays to see what kids did back then, it’s hard to imagine life without cell phones and the internet. But by the sounds of it, and the happy memories, it sounds like an amazing time to be growing up in such a beautiful place. It was the time when the kids were always outside and the parents never worried. “If the streetlights came on and you weren’t home you were in trouble.” Kimberly said. “Parents aren’t like they were back then. We would go by ourselves or with a group of friends on deserted streets, and into the orchards, there was no one around, the only thing you would worry about were stray mutts.”
There is something so wonderful in that, something that needs to be remembered. A time when you could walk down the street, play all day without supervision as a kid, and have nothing to worry about other than making it back home before the streetlights came on.