Update – October 10, 2023

Celebration opens new Heinlenville Park in San Jose’s Japantown – Space honors German immigrant John Heinlen, who created a safe haven for the city’s Chinese residents in the 19th century.

German Pioneer John Heinlen Honored with New San Jose Park

California pioneer John Heinlen (1815-1903) will be permanently honored for his generous contributions to San Jose and its residents with a new San Jose City Park located in the Japantown neighborhood. Groundbreaking for the Heinlenville Park took place on May 19 and the site is now under construction. The park is located on Sixth Street between Jackson and East Taylor Street. At this time both ends of the block, formerly the manufacturing site of the Garden City Pottery Company, are also under construction for multi-story apartments. The Heinlenville Park will provide a pleasant green area between the two apartment developments.

John Heinlen was born in Württemberg, Germany, and came to America with his family at age two. The family first lived in Pennsylvania and then moved to Ohio, settling in Bucyrus. John was married to Jane Rogers in Ohio, but decided to travel to California with a group in 1852. He returned to Ohio and brought his family West in 1854. It was noted that he made his first fortune in the grocery business in Ohio. There were seven children born to John and Jane Heinlen. The oldest daughter, Alice, died at age two. The Heinlen sons, John and Goethe, were born in Ohio. Four more children were born in California; Angelo, Anne and twins Marion and Mary were all born in California.

John Heinlen also did well in California; the census describes his occupation as farmer. He was careful to acquire valuable water rights for the property he owned, and owned considerable acreage in King’s and Fresno counties as well as Santa Clara County. Heinlen owned 1100 acres near Coyote and property in central San Jose. But it would be his real estate investment on behalf of the local Chinese community that caused the greatest comment and make him worthy of commemoration.

The California census of 1852 reveals that Santa Clara County’s three largest immigrant groups were; the Chinese, the Irish and the Germans. All three were discriminated against but persevered, despite local adversity. The Chinese suffered the most and were subjected to personal abuse and restrictive laws. The Heinlen’s witnessed the burning of their church, the San Jose Methodist Episcopal Church in 1869, torched by arsonists because the church held a Sunday school for the Chinese.

In 1887, at the age of 71, John Heinlen decided to build a secure home for San Jose’s Chinese community. Known derisively as Heinlenville, the enclave would be surrounded by a wall with a watchman on the gate to prevent disturbance. Heinlen was harassed and many local residents signed a petition and pursued legal action to prevent construction. Heinlen hired prominent German architect Theodore Lenzen to design and build the Chinatown, which was located between Fifth and Seventh Streets, and between Jackson and Taylor.

Today John Heinlen is honored for his generosity and his courage. He died in 1903 at the age of eighty-eight. Germania Verein president Carl Schmidt observed in a message to the San Jose Parks Department,

“We come to honor what Heinlenville represents, immigrants helping immigrants, Americans helping Americans, the Spirit of Neighborly Affection which makes San Jose a great city. It represents the triumph of cooperation, inclusion and mutual respect over separation, exclusion and bigotry.”

There will be a dedication ceremony when the Heinlenville Park is completed.

April Halberstadt
(September 2022)