Overfelt Gardens Park: A Place of Relaxation in the Middle of Bustling San Jose
Overfelt Gardens in East San Jose is a large, beautiful park designed for peace and relaxation. The 33 acres of land for the park was gifted to the City of San Jose in 1959 by Mildred Overfelt in memory of her parents, William and Mary Overfelt. The community park opened in 1966 to the public, after many years of planning and construction.
The Overfelts were one of San Jose’s early pioneer families; they purchased their ranch land in the 1850’s and ran a successful grain and dairy farm on the property for many decades. Mildred was born on the ranch and lived there her whole life, in a historical house that still stands in the park. When she gifted the land for a community park, Mildred was very specific in her view for the park; It was to be a place for relaxation and leisure, not a park filled with sports fields and games like other parks that were popular at the time. She said, “It will be a place of beauty with trees, lawns, shrubbery and other facilities and improvements designed… to provide a place of rest, relaxation, aesthetic, and other enjoyment for the people of San Jose.”
The vision Mildred Overfelt had for the land was realized in the park’s design and contents. There are large botanical areas, rolling hills, sweeping trails, and man-made lakes that serve as percolation ponds. Areas in the gardens have been designated as California Wildlife Sanctuaries. The vast variety of native and exotic wildflowers, grasses, trees, and brush provide food and shelter to a multitude of wildlife species in the middle of the bustling city of San Jose.
One of the early unique features of Overfelt Gardens was the Fragrance Garden for the Blind. The Fragrance Garden plot had over 50 carefully chosen plants, picked for their fragrance and texture, and opened in November of 1971. Signs with Braille that identified the names and characteristics of the plants were put in place to allow vision-impaired citizens to enjoy the park as well. It was really a unique project in San Jose at the time, and some of the plants are still there today, though there are no longer Braille markers for them.
Another unique component of Overfelt Gardens is the Chinese Cultural Garden that spans five acres in the park. The Chinese Cultural Garden was made possible through a partnership between the park planners and San Jose resident Frank Lowe and his family. Lowe was an immigrant who was inspired by his heritage and his new home; he wanted to foster an understanding between Eastern and Western societies, and thought the peaceful setting of Overfelt Gardens was the perfect place to do that. The Cultural Garden has numerous large and impressive statues honoring influential people and principles of ancient Eastern culture. The picture above is of the Friendship Gate, dedicated in July of 1977. This gate, measuring 50 feet wide and 40 feet tall, was made out of stone, marble, ceramic tiles, and 500-year-old Juniper wood; all of these materials were shipped over from China in pieces and assembled here in San Jose.
As with many parks in San Jose, years of drought and low funds have impacted the park. Visitors will notice some dried plants and greenery, as well as no water in the fountains, but with how much beauty and space there is to be explored in Overfelt Gardens, those factors are easy to overlook.