Did success kill Heinlenville?

I’ve been guilty of repeating a particular story about Heinlenville (as perhaps others have) without checking the facts:

We hear it repeated that the fall of Heinlenville was due to John Heinlen becoming bankrupt during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, and that this was where the city of San Jose stepped in and took Heinlenville away.

This always seemed suspicious to me, since nearly everyone was bankrupted by the depression! So what are the facts?

First off, John Heinlen died in 1903, and his family took over the management of Heinlenville, which they did well and capably for many years.

In a history of San Jose created by the Anthropological Studies Center of Sonoma State University, we learn that any Chinese American children who grew up in Heinlenville would eventually find employment and housing opportunities elsewhere that would draw them away from this aging ghetto. Any new Chinese immigrants that might have replaced them were gradually shut out by different laws such as the Exclusion Act. This flight of tenants is what brought the Heinlen Company down and forced them to auction off the property. The Japanese and Filipinos and African Americans had also come to this area, but it looks like they lived mostly on the outskirts of Heinlenville.

Cities see plenty of change and movement throughout their history; we are seeing this today in San Jose of course. Words like white flight or gentrification are evidence of our emotional reactions to these changes, but it’s never likely that we can stop change. California, especially, has seen waves of different populations, each bringing permanent change to California, for better or worse: the Spanish missionaries, the 49ers of the Gold Rush, Chinese immigrants, “Okies” during the Dust Bowl, filmmakers invading southern California, hippies, high tech wizards like Charles Litton and Shockley … and the hipsters of today.

Shall we be open to embracing change, in the way that Johann Heinlen was open to accepting Chinese immigrants as tenants… and as friends.


One thought on “Did success kill Heinlenville?

  1. “The only thing that is constant is change” – Heraclitus – In just the last 20 years that I have lived in the Valley I have seen only change. I think that people are more accepting of it here because our city is made up of such a diverse population and of many transplants from all over the world. Embrace it and become part of it!

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