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Street Sign Gives Family Name ImmortalityItalian Memories
By Cookie Curci
Stevens Creek Boulevard was named for Captain Elisha Stephens the first man to lead a wagon train through the Sierra Nevada in 1844. McKee Road was named for Henry Mckee, who along with his son, Joseph, ferried Santa Clara Valley's first shipment of fruit from the port of Alviso to the bustling little town of San Francisco. Willow Glen's Coe Avenue, bares the name of the man who created the invaluable process of dehydrating fresh fruit. Henry Willard Coe's innovative process brought a great economic boom to our valley's fruit industry.
Some streets, such as Race Street, were named for an event rather than a person. This original 76 acre plot of land was the scene of highly competitive bicycle and horse races, ergo the name. It is said the race track was a favorite racing spot for Leyland Stanford's prize stead "Palo Alto".
In addition to these famous names, there are those who may not be so readily recognized, but whose contributions were equally important. They were the farmers and ranchers who successfully worked their little plots of land. They produced the labor, fruit and vegetables that contributed to our Valley's early success.
This all took place around the turn of the century when San Jose's population was a mere 29,300. There was seven banking institutions, forty church organizations, 627 acres of public parks and numerous fruit canning companies, among them The San Jose Fruit Packing Company, at that time, the largest cannery in the world.
San Jose has the climate of Italy and the latitude of Washington making it ideal for the growing of grapes, olives, and fruit trees. The rich soil was exactly what the young immigrants needed to shape their new lives.
Of these early immigrants, many were young Italians who came to this country during the great European migration. Numerous streets bear their names- among them: Albanese Cr., Azzorello CT, Bruno Dr., Brunetti Ct., Campisi Ct., Cheichi Ave., Di Napoli Drive, Di Solvo Dr., Geovani Ct., Cribari Ln, Ferrari Ave., Rubino Way, Speciale Way and Teresi Ct.
As I drive along the outer perimeters of Willow Glen proper, I can see these names dotted on road signs along Almaden expressway and on the quiet side streets of town.
After the gold rush, San Jose became a place known for its remarkable "Sunshine, Fruit, and Flowers". It was this popular description of our valley that reached the ears of a generation of Europeans and enticed them to leave their homeland and make the journey of a lifetime.
Long time valley residents, like myself, recall with a certain reverence, those more simple days in our valley, when Almaden's back roads were lined with fruit orchards, fields and livestock. It was a time when most of our families and friends worked these thriving fruit and nut orchards, a time when a "chip" was something the cow left behind, a "window" was for looking through, a "menu" was something you ordered from in a restaurant, and a "mouse", well, a mouse was something the cat dragged home.
The unique history of these early ranching families is preserved today in the street signs bearing their name.
Most of my own family, including aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins were among the people who owned and worked these valley fruit ranches. However, few of them have had streets named for them, due to the fact they sold most of their property prior to urban sprawl.
When my Aunt Rose came to this country from Tricarico Italy at the turn of the century, she brought with her the same desires shared by all of her generation- to marry, raise a family and to prosper in their new land. Like most of her generation, her dreams were eventually realized. She married Rocco Mazzone, they purchased a small Almaden prune ranch and together raised five children. Her children, Jimmy, Louie, Ben, Theresa and Nick, like most of their peers, dedicated their lives to ranching in the Almaden area. Much of the original Mazzone properties have been sold or parceled out now to accommodate new multi-home projects.
But as their land becomes more scarce, their name will always remain behind in the form of a street sign ,"Mazzone Drive", a kind reminder of a by-gone day and a family's contribution.
As young Italian immigrants, my Uncle Vincenzo (Jim) Curci and his wife Anne began their life together on a cherry ranch on Meridian Avenue. They planted and nurtured rows of Bing cherry trees which, year after year produced the valley's richest, reddest, cherries. (My mouth still waters for the taste of that superb fruit.)
Today, the Curci cherry orchard has long since given way to city growth. However, in recent years, when the city cut through the land to create a new roadway the street was judiciously named for Uncle Jim and his family, who, for so many years, worked that bountiful ranch land. And, yes, I must admit to feeling a sense of pride each time I drive past the sign and the old ranch sight.
"Curci Drive", like other street signs that bear the names of our early settlers, is a reminder of the early immigrants who so generously dedicated their lives to our valley's days of "Sunshine Fruit and Flowers".
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