Alviso, California, is a town of roughly 2000 inhabitants at the southern tip of the San Francisco Bay in Santa Clara County. Once a thriving port, Alviso reached the peak of commerce during the late 19th century. Businesses looking for easier access to shipping routes located there. It was the location for some of California's first tract housing, with lots selling from between $5 and $200 in the late 1800's. Many of those houses are renovated and still occupied today.
The Silicon Valley boom that started in the late 70's changed Alviso's geography. With industry and housing development accelerating, so increased the demand for fresh water. In Santa Clara County most of the fresh water is pumped from underground aquifers. Over usage lowered the water table and the land under most of Alviso dropped 15 feet.
The settling ground put many homes and businesses in the flood plain. A system of levees was built, but this didn't stop the exodus that eventually took all industrial activity out of the town. That changed the economic base of the city, and growth came to a standstill.
There are still several marinas in the town. However, lack of support caused a suspension of dredging operations and many of the channels through the slough have silted over and are impassable. One can travel to the water's edge in Alviso and see abandoned 40-year old pleasure craft high and dry atop a layer of fine brown silt amid the reeds and sea birds.
The retreat of industry and boating has had one positive effect on the city, and that is the return of the wildlife. Alviso is home to the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory. Visitors can walk an elevated 9 mile trail through the slough through the restored areas. The park services has a number of programs for the public.
Alviso is an anachronism at the northern edge of the Silicon Valley. A visitor won't find computer stores or Sushi restaurants or multi-storied glass office buildings. The residences are single story bungalows, flat roofed, small fenced in lots, homes either white or the joyful colors of a Mexican mountain town. Seventy-four percent of the residents are hispanic. Children play unimpeded in the streets. Family owned resturants serve some of the finest Mexican cuisine in the area.
Walking down some of its streets, a visitor will feel as if she's passing through what remains of an old western boom town. California's oldest cannery, the Bayside Canning Company, sits abandoned and crumbling beside the slough. Along some of the side streets occupied houses and convenience stores exist beside weathered wooden buildings with flat faces and porches, typical of those found in ghost towns in the desert. These buildings are empty now, their contents long since pilfered.
"Drawbridge" is a legitimate ghost town registered with the US Park Service within the modern Alviso. Visitors are limited to 13 per day and all visits are guided by a park ranger.
Sources for this article:
"Historical Footnotes of Santa Clara Valley" - by Jack Douglas
John, the bar tender at Vahl's Restaurant, Alviso
US Park Service Websites