Named for former Milpitas Mayor Ben Gross (1921-2012), Gross Street is appropriately located in Milpitas’s Sunnyhills neighborhood. In addition to being the first black mayor (1966-1970) of a sizeable city in the US, Ben Gross was an official in the United Auto Workers Union and was central to the development of Milpitas’s Sunnyhills neighborhood, the first planned integrated housing development in California.
Ben Gross moved west to Richmond, CA in 1947, went to work in the Ford plant there, and became a member of the UAW Local 560. When Ford opened its new plant in Milpitas in 1954, Mr. Gross was chair of the union’s Housing Committee, which saw a huge problem looming to find housing for African-American Ford plant workers in almost all-white Santa Clara County.
Working with the federal justice department, local developers, the Quakers, and other church groups, Ben Gross was able after much hard work to make the Sunnyhills development a reality. His dedication to community service in this and other projects led to his repeated elections to the City Council, where he served with distinction, and eventually to his election as Mayor. He initiated the request that eventually led to having a Russian delegation, including Nikita Krushchev, visit Milpitas in 1962 to experience a racially integrated neighborhood.
As befitted a passionate and effective champion of civil rights, Ben Gross’s life was celebrated here on February 23; speakers included his sons Ben Gross Jr. and Ashley Gross, Mayor Jose Esteves, former Mayor Denny Weisgerber, and Milpitas Post Founder Mort Levine.
March 1, 2013 by mhs