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Willow Glen residents think of their community, rather than their history, on Founders Day 1998
By Cecily Barnes

When the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, our country's founding fathers were officially stating that America was breaking free of England's rule. July 4 has since become a day to celebrate the founding of America.

On Sept. 20, when every other American is doing who-knows-what, Willow Glen residents will proudly celebrate their short period of independence from the city of San Jose. And while most Glenites know that Founders Day celebrates the years when Willow Glen was its own city, few seem to know the details of the founding.

"I know that Willow Glen used to be its own city," offers David Citarrella, manager of Manhattan Bagels on Lincoln Avenue. "I think most people locally still refer to it that way."

Really, however, Founders Day for Citarrella is an exhilarating and chaotic rush to slice, toast, butter and serve hundreds more bagels than usual while getting to know the community. "That was a great day for us last year; it was a big introduction to the town," he says, remembering Manhattan's first day of business one week before Founders Day '97.

Other merchants and employees also view Founders Day from a behind-the-counter perspective. Leaning against the espresso machine at Willow Glen Coffee Roasting Company, Ben Danielson can't say what Founders Day celebrates, but he can describe the view from where he stands. "I'd say we probably get two to three times the customers that we would normally have," Danielson says.

Sixteen-year-old Janie Demkowski and her friends have lived in Willow Glen their entire lives. Each year they excitedly await Founders Day, but they bashfully admit that they're not exactly sure when Willow Glen was founded. What Demkowski can say is that the annual celebration makes its own history. "Founders Day is a time when everyone gets together; there are not very many communities that do that."

Emily Taylor, seated on a bench on Lincoln Avenue, explains that Willow Glen and Founders Day reflect the area's unique small-town atmosphere. Last year Taylor's daughter marched in the parade with her preschool, making the day a thrilling memory. "Willow Glen is so family-oriented; I think Founders Day is a good way of joining the community," says Taylor, who attended Willow Glen Elementary School and Willow Glen High School.

In 1925, in an attempt to decrease traffic congestion downtown, the San Jose City Council ordered Southern Pacific Railroad to move its train tracks off Fourth Street. In response, the railroad company proposed laying tracks from Coe Avenue to Almaden Road, through the middle of Willow Glen. To fight the proposition, Willow Glen residents voted in 1927 to end their unincorporated status and become a city.

Paul Adkins, who works at Willow Glen Books, knows a little of Willow Glen's history. "I think it used to be a separate city, but I'm not sure when it started," he says.

Winifred Cooper, a 61-year-old native of Willow Glen, easily recalls the story her parents told her as a child about Willow Glen's incorporation: "It became a city because they were wanting to put a railroad down Lincoln Avenue."

Bingo. Now for a brief history lesson.

Since Willow Glen established its own school district in 1863, residents have identified themselves as distinct from San Jose. According to Clyde Arbuckle's The History of San Jose, Willow Glen had its own church and local businesses in the early 1890s. And in 1895, the small post office at Minnesota and Cherry avenues changed its name from the Kensington Post Office to Willow Glen, Arbuckle writes. Incorporation seemed to be on the minds of Willow Glen residents, but nothing much happened until 1925, when the San Jose City Council ordered the Southern Pacific Railroad to get off Fourth Street and find a new route. The chosen route, of course, went straight through Willow Glen. The idea of a huffing train bellowing by their homes every day was enough to rally residents, who on Sept. 8, 1927, voted 686-364 to incorporate.

Nine years later, on Sept. 4, 1936, the substantially larger Willow Glen community voted 978-871 to be annexed back into San Jose.

Founders Day in Willow Glen celebrates these nine years of independence and the unique quality of what many residents still consider their own little town.

From the September 16, 1998 issue of the Willow Glen Resident. Copyright 1998 Metro Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

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