Archive for the ‘Buildings’ Category

PAC*SJ presents impressive home tour

The Preservation Action Council of San Jose (PAC*SJ), put on an impressive home tour today, highlighting the work of San Jose’s own Prairie School architects, Frank Delos and Carl Wolfe.

Eight San Jose homes were shown, all by the firm of Wolfe & Wolfe, and all showcasing the Prairie Style pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright. The homes all featured the bold horizontal lines, geometrical details, and stained glass that are well-known features of Prairie Style design. They also shared features, like egg-and-dart moldings that seem to be special favorites of Wolfe & Wolfe.

Two homes were highlights of the tour. The Col House, in Hanchett Park, is a well-known architectural landmark, and has been featured in American Bungalow magazine, and is billed as “perhaps the most photographed house in San Jose”. The house presents a spectacular view from the street and was equally well-appointed within.

The Caputo House (pictured) is less well known, sitting among much more recent development south of Stevens Creek Boulevard in West San Jose, but equally spectacular. And homeowner Krista Van Laan, who also led the efforts to put on the tour, has decorated the house to celebrate its architectural heritage.

Overall the tour was fabulously well-run, with traffic moving smoothly through all the houses. Even with the tour locations spread widely across San Jose, my group had plenty of time to complete the tour, even with a lunch break. Many of the docents were able to present interesting background on the houses they were presenting. I was told that the entire ticket supply of 800 was sold, giving PAC*SJ a well-deserved revenue boost.

Congratulations to Krista Van Laan and PAC*SJ for presenting a great home tour. I’ll look forward to more PAC*SJ events in the future.

Widespread Panic at The Fox Theater

The band Widespread Panic, on stage at the Fox Oakland Theater

The band Widespread Panic, on stage at the Fox Oakland Theater

Last night I made it to a fantastic concert by the southern rock jam band Widespread Panic in Oakland. With a sound that appeals to a lot of the same people as The Grateful Dead or Phish, this is a great band to see when you just want to get out of your head for a couple of hours and live in the music. The band laid down a medium-fast groove on the first number and kept it up throughout the evening. They pretty much carried the same tempo through every song up to the encore, when they played a couple of slower pieces, then finished with a couple more fast songs. Unfortunately, though, last night might have been your last chance to see this band in northern California for quite a while. In business for 25 years, the band has announced they’ll go “on hiatus” after the current tour.

So what I really want to talk about is the venue. This was my first time seeing a show at the Fox Oakland Theater, and I was totally blown away by the place. The Fox Oakland was a 1928 movie palace that was closed in 1966 and only reopened in 2009 after years of neglect, followed by years of restoration work by the Friends of the Oakland Fox and the city of Oakland. Both the facade and the interior were just astounding, truly capturing the old theater magic. The interior decoration is a whimsical take on the exotics settings of early film, using elements from Indian and Middle Eastern art and architecture. The bold colors give the feeling that whatever entertainment you’re about to take in at the theater is totally apart from everyday life outside.

If you know the beautiful restoration work done at the California Theater in San Jose, that gives an indication of the quality of what was done at the Fox Oakland, but the Oakland theater is not a place for symphonies or events that require evening dress—they could stage an opera here but it would have to be something big and colorful like Die Entführung aus dem Serail. For a band with a bit of a psychedelic image and a bright light show like Widespread Panic, the Fox Oakland might just be the premiere venue.

If any of the upcoming shows at the Fox Oakland appeal to you, I absolutely recommend taking the drive up to see it at this fantastic venue.

Remembering the Mid-Century by the Bay

The cover of Heather M. David's book, Mid-Century by the Bay.

Heather M. David's Mid-Century by the Bay captures the style of the 50's and 60's.

When we think about historic architecture in the Bay Area, we often think of our very oldest structures, like the Spanish Missions, the Peralta Adobe, or possibly Victorian and early 20th-century buildings like the Hotel Sainte Claire. Heather M. David’s recent book, Mid-Century by the Bay, shows how post World War II architecture also makes a contribution to our urban landscape, and ought to be celebrated (and preserved) alongside earlier styles.

Heather M. David, though she isn’t a trained architect or designer, has plenty of background for writing this book. She grew up in the North and South Bays, and was fascinated with modern architecture since she had her first “crush” on the Wells Fargo bank branch building on Fourth Street in San Rafael. More recently, she has been a board member of the Preservation Action Council of San Jose, and helped organize the San Jose Modern Tour for DOCOMOMO. When I met her she made a point to recommend these organizations and their work to preserve modern and other historical architectural resources in the bay area.

Mid-Century by the Bay tours the entire Bay Area, with side trips to the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa Napa Valley and the Nut Tree in Vacaville, but because of the rapid growth in the South Bay at the time many of the treasures are here in our area. The book uses words and pictures (lots of pictures) to highlight some of the most daring and inventive architecture you’ll find in the region. David shows how everyday locations like bank branches and water company offices were designed with a flair for “experimentation and creative expression”. Other sections describe workplaces like IBM’s Almaden Valley campus and playgrounds for young (Happy Hollow) and old (Trader Vic’s, home of the original Mai Tai cocktail).

The former Sunnyvale First National Bank looks as much like a space ship as a financial institution.

My personal favorites are the most outrageous of those space-age designs, known as googie architecture, that really celebrate the optimistic future-looking view of the mid-century. These include the hexagonal aerial “control tower” suite of the Hillsdale Inn in San Mateo, or the Lyon’s Coffee Shop in San Bruno.

The book isn’t solely focused on architecture. David told me she wanted to “visually transport people back in time”, to capture the experience of life in the 50’s or 60’s. To do that she includes images from the printed “ephemera” of the period, like the matchbooks that bowling alleys (and many other businesses) provided to their smoking patrons, and brochures for attractions like Golden Gate Fields and Tanforan horse racing tracks. The graphic designs and colors from these enthusiastic advertisements really capture the feel of a different time.

The book is self-published, but, having taken a year off from her job to complete it, the author settled for nothing less than the highest quality in producing it. To help polish the book, David hired a professional editor and a designer who was able to capture the mid-century style in the book design. She had the book printed by a printer who specializes in high-quality products like museum exhibit catalogs. The book was recently recommended in the Metro’s holiday gift guide, and I can wholeheartedly agree that it would make a great gift for anyone interested in modern design or local history.

You can purchase Mid-Century by the Bay directly from the author’s website, Design Within Reach in San Francisco, or the Antiques Colony in San Jose.

Photos courtesy of Heather M. David.

Hensley historic district walking tour

Bonnie Montgomery, leading the Hensley district walking tour.

The recent series of walking tours of downtown area neighborhoods came around to the Hensley historic district yesterday. I joined tour guide Bonnie Montgomery and about a half dozen neighbors for a walk around the Hensley.

Bonnie Montgomery has done research to establish various homes as city landmarks, and worked with George Espinola on the book Cottages, Flats, Buildings and Bungalows, which details 102 works by San Jose’s iconic early-20th-century architectural partnership of Wolfe and McKenzie. With that background, she was able to point out several Wolfe & McKenzie houses in the Hensley district, and also presented photos of them in their original state as we walked. Some of these houses still retain most of their historic appearance, like the row of houses across 5th Street from Mi Pueblo Market on Julian, or the row of prominent buildings on Julian Street between First and Second, now being used as law offices. Others have been rather brutally remodeled, to the point you’d hardly guess at their ornate origins (see below, right).

Due to the upcoming holidays, the next downtown area neighborhood walking tour will be held on the final Saturday morning of January, 2011.


Saint James Historic District tour

The tour was led by neighborhood leader Frank Penrose.

The Saint James Historic District hosted a walking tour this morning, highlighting historic buildings, the work of the new local neighborhood association, and some great food at nearby Morocco’s Restaurant. Neighborhood advocate Frank Penrose (probably also an officer in the neighborhood association, but unfortunately I missed the introductions at the start of the tour) led the tour around Saint James Park.

The tour featured two churches, the first of which was the abandoned Church of Christ Scientist on the north side of the park. The church is under renovation by developer Barry Swenson, who is also planning new buildings for other areas of the church property. The tour group was let into the building, despite the lack of lighting, and the weakness of the floors — hopefully Swenson’s legal advisers won’t find out about this — and we got to see the state of the renovation work in the fantastic old building.

Interior of the Church of Christ Scientist building.

We also visited Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, the oldest continuously active church building in San Jose. Dean David Bird took the morning away from watching rugby to give a brief history of the church, which dates to 1863. A carillonist was also on hand to play the church bells, one of only three carillons in northern California. If you haven’t heard these played before, take a break in Saint James Park at 3 pm on Monday afternoon for a special 1 hour Memorial Day carillon concert.

Aside from historical architecture, another theme of the tour was efforts to revive the local neighborhood association, catering to residents in the high-rise condo complexes of the area. The organization is has only restarted recently after an earlier neighborhood association disbanded in 2009. The high density housing in this neighborhood means the local concerns are slightly different from those of other nearby historic neighborhoods like Horace Mann and Hensley. The main focus of the revived group seems to be ensuring local residents have a voice in upcoming development decisions for their neighborhood (such as an expansion of the Superior Court complex to the west of the park) and in maintaining the historic and walkable, resident-friendly aspects of their neighborhood.

Carillonist at the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral

The tour ended at the nearby Morocco’s restaurant, where we were met with beet salad, lentil salad, and cous-cous, not to mention wine and sangria. Morocco’s will be taking part in the Dine Downtown restaurant festival next week, as well as the associated City Bites street dining fair this Wednesday at lunchtime, so there’s a great opportunity coming up to sample their authentic Moroccan cuisine.

Frank Penrose told me the neighborhood group plans to host more tours, and they hope to visit other sights, like abandoned jail cells in the basement of a certain local pub, on future tours. Have a lookout at their website for future tour dates.

Naglee Park Home Tour

Yesterday’s Naglee Park Home Tour turned out very well. There weren’t the huge crowds that the Santa Clara tour gets or even last year’s Hanchett Park Home Tour. But it made for a much nicer experience walking around a beautiful neighborhood in beautiful weather without having to stand in line, or push through crowds to see the homes. That might be a disappointment in terms of fundraising, but I had a ticket numbered around 500, so they still likely collected over $10,000, to be used for improvements to the San Jose Woman’s Club clubhouse.

The show highlighted homes built by the prolific architecture firm of Wolfe and McKenzie (with one by McKenzie alone, after the partnership split up). According to local architectural historian George Espinola, who lectured near mid-day, the firm designed over 1000 (2000? I need to write these things down) local buildings, including many residences, and were one of the main direction-setters in San Jose’s residential architecture in the early 20th century. Their homes can be seen in Naglee Park, Willow Glen, Hanchett Park, and scattered around the rest of Northern California as well. Espinola’s book, Cottages, Flats, Buildings & Bungalows, reprints a design catalog published by Wolfe and McKenzie in 1907, with additional notes on where the buildings were actually built.

San Jose: A New Fire Station

Willows Senior Center

A new fire station (#37) will be built adjacent to the Willows Senior Center on Lincoln Avenue at Curtner.

Public art will be featured in the design and the community’s input is important. Learn about this new station and share ideas.

Help to Shape the Public Art Vision

WHEN: Tuesday, April 6, 2010
6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Willows Senior Center
2175 Lincoln Avenue, San Jose 95125

Lynn Rogers, Sr. Program Officer ~ Project Management & Civic Engagement
City of San Jose, Public Art Program
Office of Cultural Affairs/Office of Economic Development
(408) 277-5144 x15

San Jose Fire Dept – Fire Stations Map

San Jose history photography contest

Roofline of the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin (1937)

If you’re a photographer and interested in San Jose history, this is for you. The San Jose Historic Landmark Commission is holding a photography contest for Historic Preservation Month (May). Only a few details have been announced: its not clear whether the photos are going to be judged solely on artistic grounds, or what other criteria come into play; there are “cash awards”, but they don’t say the amount; and so on. The main prize for the winners is to see your photos presented on monitors around City Hall.

Despite the minimal details available, if you have some good photos of historical San Jose buildings, and you’re willing to take a chance, this could be a fun contest to join. You might even want to send in a photo of a historic building that’s no longer with us (but maybe use the Houghton-Donner house instead of Coconut Willie’s)

The entry deadline is May 1. See the contest website for more details and entry instructions.

(thanks to Eric at NNASJ for this story)

Delmas Ave. church fire photos

Church fire

These are a few photos of the wreckage of the historic church building that burned down near downtown San Jose two nights ago. According to the Mercury News article on the fire, the church was originally (1903 – 1943) the Evangelical Lutheran Bethel Church, and later occupied by three different Baptist denominations.

While I was there another man came to take some photos. He told me he’d been a congregation member when this church was known as one of the first Baptist churches in San Jose, and he’d been married in the church.

Like the Houghton-Donner house that burned down a couple of years ago, the building was slated for renovation and conservation. If the money had materialized, it would have been moved to San Jose History Park to join other historic buildings chronicling the history of our city. But nobody was motivated to keep the place secure, and homeless people were known to camp in the building. Probably their cooking fire saved some developer from the expense of moving the building.

If you don’t want to see more of this kind of demolition by neglect, consider contacting your city councilmember and letting them know you support new laws to keep abandoned buildings secure and protected from fires.

Renovations in progress at Coconut Willie’s

At work at Willie's

Nearly two years after a fire gutted the place, it looks like work has begun to renovate the former Coconut Willie’s bar at the Corner of San Carlos and Lincoln.

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