Magazine article Sunset

Just a Little Country Town ... in Silicon Valley

Magazine article Sunset

Just a Little Country Town ... in Silicon Valley

Article excerpt

Friendly Campbell boasts a revived downtown

Megabytes and microchips aside, Silicon Valley offers more than just high-tech hype and dotcoms with lucrative IPOs. A visit to downtown Campbell's rows of antiques shops, sidewalk cafes, and historic attractions shows why.

"Years ago, before Silicon Valley became developed with all the businesses, Campbell was considered a country community," says Betty Deal, executive director of the Campbell Chamber of Commerce. That small-town style has lured lots of Silicon Valley types into settling in this city of 41,000 a bit southwest of San Jose. Still, until recently, most people thought of Campbell only as a good place to live, not as a place to visit. The downtown--which had to compete against nearby malls--was in particular need of an economic boost.

"Back then, at five o'clock at night you could walk through downtown Campbell and there wasn't anyone around," Deal says. In the late 1990s, city officials began to revitalize the area by renovating storefronts and encouraging the growth of local businesses, including restaurants and boutiques. "Now," adds Deal, "you go down there at 11 o'clock at night, and you see lots of people."

The orchard city remembers its past

Part of the attraction stems from Campbell's early history. Known as "the Orchard City," Campbell (named for 19th-century settler Benjamin Campbell) was once recognized as the largest prune shipping area in the world. Almost every building in downtown is a relic of the community's farming past.

Take a look back in time by strolling over to the Ainsley House, the former home of local canning pioneer John Colpitts Ainsley and his wife, Alcinda. Docent-led tours of the 1925 home--donated to the city by Ainsley's granddaughters in 1989--reveal a stunning example of Tudor revival architecture. Just across the street, the city's old firehouse is now the Campbell Historical Museum, where hands-on exhibits showcase Santa Clara County history.

Adding drama to the downtown scene are the melodramas and vaudeville revues presented at the Gaslighter Theater. Performances here involve an early form of interactive entertainment: Theatergoers boo the villain, cheer the hero, and throw fistfuls of free popcorn with gleeful abandon. …

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