Our History


Founded in 1996 through the merger of two organizations, the Guadalupe Gardens Corporation and the Friends of the Guadalupe River Park, the Conservancy has continually been involved in completing the master plans for both the park and gardens, promoting park access through educational programs, increasing awareness of the Park & Gardens, and developing membership and volunteer opportunities to increase public support and involvement.

Historic Flooding of the Guadalupe River

Historically important as the river on which el Pueblo de San José was founded in 1777, the Guadalupe River was neglected for many years. Our modern city was developed with its back turned to the river, reminded of its presence only when the river swelled with winter rains and spilled over its banks. Many times in the past century the river has flooded adjacent homes and businesses, causing human suffering and economic loss. The most recent of these floods occurred in the winter of 1995 and created an estimated $6 million in damage. The first effort to provide flood protection began in 1941 when a study was authorized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Stopped and started many times over the next four decades, the flood control plans were finally linked to the dream for an urban river park in the 1960s.

The Not-so-distant Past

Today the Guadalupe River Park is being developed by the City of San Jose and the Redevelopment Agency of the City of San Jose in cooperation with the flood control efforts of the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The area known as Guadalupe Gardens lies south of the San Jose Airport and immediately west of the river park. Beginning in 1975, over 630 homes were removed from this 240-acre area because of airport noise and safety concerns. Funding was provided by the Federal Aviation Agency. In 1986, Mayor Tom McEnery proposed the creation of an open space and recreation area within this airport approach zone. A Citizens Task Force formed in 1990 developed a Master Plan for the land that calls for extensive gardens that reflect the history of San Jose as the Garden City, promotes environmentally-sensitive gardening, and recognizes the need for low density, passive development.



1941 Study authorized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide flood protection along the Guadalupe River.
1963 Voters in San Jose pass a $12.75 million Santa Clara Valley Water District bond to fund flood protection in the downtown San Jose area.
1960’s – 1980’s During this period, four master plans are developed for the GRP that gradually expand the scope from just urban design elements to park design within a flood-control project.
1974 – 1975 City Council and FAA approve implementation of Airport Approach Zone Land Acquisition Program to remove incompatible land use from Coleman Loop area and to restrict use of acquired property to compatible open space or agriculture.
1986 U.S. Congress authorizes flood protection of the Guadalupe River as part of its Water Resources Development Act.
September 1987 City Council approves Planning Department recommendation that Coleman Loop be reused as a citywide urban park and directs that a master plan process be initiated.
January 1989 City Council establishes the Guadalupe Gardens Task Force to oversee reuse planning of the Coleman Loop area.
March 1989 City Council approves Guadalupe Gardens Task Force recommendation to designate Coleman Loop/Airport Approach Zone as the “Guadalupe Gardens”.
June 1990 Courtyard Garden completed.
1991 General Design Memorandum signed by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, Santa Clara Valley Water District, and City of San Jose becomes the basis for the preparation of final construction plans for the Guadalupe River Project.
1992 Construction begins on the Guadalupe River Park.
September 1992 Taylor Street rock garden completed.
January 1994 Site preparation for Historic Orchard completed. Planting initiated.
March 1995 Site preparation for Heritage Rose Garden completed. Planting initiated.
August 1995 Non-profit Guadalupe River Park & Gardens Corporation formed through merger of the Guadalupe Gardens Corporation and the Friends of the Guadalupe River Park.
1996 Construction of the Guadalupe River Park halted in response to concerns about threatened and endangered species in the project area.
1997 Guadalupe River Flood Control Project Collaborative formed to address environmental concerns.
1999 Construction on the Guadalupe River Park resumes.
1999 Courtyard Garden becomes Recycled Water Demonstration Garden.
April 2002 City Council approves Guadalupe Gardens Master Plan.
May 2002 Non-profit Guadalupe River Park & Gardens Corporation renamed as Friends of Guadalupe River Park & Gardens.
August 2002 FAA approves Guadalupe Gardens Master Plan with minor revisions. Airport and PRNS establish Guadalupe Gardens Technical Committee.
December 2002 City Council approves final Guadalupe River Park Plan
2004 In December 2004, flood protection was achieved within the Downtown Guadalupe Flood Control Project.
2005 Grand Opening. Guadalupe River Park and major infrastructure work in Guadalupe Gardens was completed in Summer 2005.
2010 Non-profit Friends of Guadalupe River Park & Gardens renamed as Guadalupe River Park Conservancy.
May 2015 Rotary PlayGarden Grand Opening.
Woolen Mills Historic Site

In May 1999, a special team of archaeologists, coordinated by Caltrans archaeologist Mark Hylkema, led an excavation of a locally-important historic site along the Guadalupe River at Taylor Street. The occasion for doing the excavation at this time was the construction of the new Taylor Street bridge and a three-mile extension of the Guadalupe Parkway from downtown to the airport and Highway 101. The excavation was timed so as not to interfere with the construction schedule. Local historians have always been aware that a settlement known as the Woolen Mills Chinatown was located near Taylor Street between 1887 and 1902. The local Chinese population was burned out of their home on the site of the present-day Fairmont Hotel in 1887 and many of the people, mostly single men, moved to this location by the Guadalupe River where they were employed at the Woolen Mills. The archaeological team did months of careful planning and research, prior to actually working on the site, as a guide to where they were most likely to find evidence of the settlement. During the excavation itself, remnants of building foundations, front porch piers, redwood water pipes, and streets, confirmed the layout of the town. Artifacts discovered in the excavation, together with
what can be found in historical records, will tell the experts much about the life of the residents.

During the excavation, volunteers from the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy had the unique experience of working with the archaeological staff in sifting dirt to discover small objects (mostly ceramics, household utensils, shells and animal bones) and in carefully sorting these objects for future study and documentation.

Excavations such as this are tightly controlled to preserve the context or setting for the artifacts that are found. “Provenience”, knowing the exact location of where an object comes from, is essential to an archaeologist’s work. Without direct associations to historic events or people, objects from the past have a limited story to tell.