San Jose’s Park within a Park

During the 1860s, in the legendary Valley of Heart’s Delight, William and Mary Overfelt began a grain and dairy farm on a large plot of land not far from the East Foothills. The farm expanded to a total of 33 acres, and they were able to prosper and remain in business for decades.

In 1959, Mildred Overfelt, daughter of these San Jose farmers, wanted to preserve the farm in one piece as a garden park in memory of her parents. She made a donation of this property to the city of San Jose with the proviso that it be a public park.

The result was Overfelt Gardens Park. It featured a section designated as California Native Plant and Wildlife Sanctuary, a fountain dedicated to Mildred, picnic areas, and three interconnected percolation ponds. It fulfilled Mildred’s desire that the park become “a place where people can find quiet contemplation in nature and beauty.”

So it remains today, sitting along McKee Road, adjacent to Independence High School and the Educational Park Library Branch. In keeping with the contemplation imperative, bicycles and skateboards are prohibited in the park. It is a walking-only park (strollers and wheel chairs excepted). The array of trees and flora add to this peaceful, quiet atmosphere.

In 1971, a neighborhood couple created a six-acre garden within Overfelt Gardens Park. Frank and Pauline Lowe sought to add a special dimension to this beautiful verdant expanse by honoring the Lowe’s Chinese Cultural background. Through a partnership with the city of San Jose, these visionary citizens created the Chinese Cultural Gardens, starting with native Chinese plants and trees that were also ideally suited to San Jose.

San Jose has a checkered history of Chinese settlement. But in the late 20th Century, under the leadership of the Lowes—with substantial support of Taiwan-born Dr. Chen Li-Fu and others—the value of creating a cultural enclave that would promote harmony and understanding was realized.

The Taiwanese government made gifts to the Chinese Cultural Gardens, which were substantial. I recommend that you visit to see the enormity of the statues and buildings. One is a very large statue of Confucius, which sits atop a pedestal amid a serene pond.

Another is the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, built mainly of marble, bronze and mahogany wood. This structure was built in Taiwan. It was then disassembled, put into three large cargo containers and shipped to the United States, where the architect oversaw its re-assemblage. The traditional slanted roof is made of ceramic tile and weighs nearly 20 tons.

The Black Stone is a gift from San Jose’s Taiwanese Sister City: Tainan, Taiwan. It is more than 1 million years old and represents the ties of friendship between these cities. The stone was placed in Overfelt Gardens on Oct. 10, 1980.

The current custodian of the Chinese Cultural Gardens is the indefatigable Sylvia Lowe, daughter of the gardens’ founders. I highly recommend the very interesting tour of the gardens she provides.

James P. Reber is the executive director of San Jose Parks Foundation, a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at [email protected] or 408.893.PARK.

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