St. James Park and its environs were the heart of nineteenth century San Jose. While the Plaza has been the center of the older Hispanic settlement, St. James Park and its surrounding buildings reflect the aspirations of an emerging American city. Platted by Chester Lyman in his 1848 survey, the park evolved over the next half century as the focus of many of San Jose's most important civic and religious buildings. It remains even today the city's most significant urban open space.
While the site had been considered as a possible future plaza by Spanish and Mexican authorities, it was not formally developed until after the U.S. takeover. In the years following the official survey, the park served a variety of purposed but remained unlandscaped until 1868. With the building of what is now the Santa Clara County Courthouse, the park came of age. This elegant structure was designed to attract the State Capital back to San Jose and the park which it fronted, was envisioned as a grand public open space. A major landscaping plan initiated and the square became known as St. James Park.
Throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century, the park took on increasing importance. Major public and private buildings - the Post Office, several churches, club and lodge headquarters - were built along its perimeter, and it became a site for public gatherings and demonstrations. Major labor rallies took place in the park in 1931 and 1933, California's last lynching occurred here in 1933: John Holmes and Thomas Thurmond, accused of kidnapping and killing the son of Hart Department Store president, were taken from the county jail by a mob and hanged. Monuments commemorate speeches make here by President McKinley and Senator Robert Kennedy, both assassinated coincidentally, shortly after their visits to San Jose.
In 1955, the character of the park was significantly altered when it was bisected by North Second Street. The gracious scale of the surrounding buildings remains intact. And the park is a welcome counterpoint to San Jose's busy downtown.