The devastating four-alarm fire that broke through a 19th-century building on San Fernando Street in San Jose on Thursday not only destroyed a number of storefronts that were thankfully unoccupied. It also threatened to burn up decades of the city’s history.
The Lawrence Hotel building was never considered significant enough to warrant city landmark status, and unlike other high-rise buildings in the downtown area, few photos exist from much of its 125-year history. But it was a structure around which generations of San Jose people created memories.
Cinebar’s landmark hangs in front of the burned building of the Lawerence Hotel on San Fernando Street in San Jose on Friday, January 8, 2021. (Sal Pizarro / Bay Area News Group)
Probably the oldest watering hole in San Jose, Cinebar hosted countless San Jose State Spartan graduates on the morning of its inception and once boasted of having the only pool table downtown. (It also had a life before what was referred to as the “soft drink parlor” in a Spartan Daily article in the mid-1940s. Advertisements in the 1950s showed a gent in a sports coat that made it look like a fancy nightspot let.)
It’s been a long time since I’ve been a regular, but I’m one of those who worried about the damage to the beloved pub that has been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Co-owner Stacy Sutherland has vowed to rebuild and I hope she succeeds.
The building’s other tenants – Chacho’s, Los San Patricios, and Social Lady – have also closed, but these places also have their own line. Chacho’s, which owner Jorge Sanchez closed permanently just a few weeks before the fire, occupying the room in which Olga Enciso-Smith In the 1990s, the Peruvian restaurant Inca Gardens was a popular and rare place to find South American food in the San Jose.
Mandrake’s shoe repair shop was next door back then, and then there was Twice-Read Books – also known as Woodruff & Thush – a musty, old used book cave that closed in 2003 after having been open since 1928 or ’38, depending on your source. It was owned by Craig Thushwho probably overcharged for old paperbacks compared to the nearby Recycle Bookstore. I doubt he cared very much about the lost business as he owned the building until it was sold in 2003.
But personally, the room at 71-73 East San Fernando Street appears to be a lifetime. This was the location of the Comic Collector Shop, San Jose’s first comic book store (and one of the first in the country) that Kurmudgeonly had Bob Sidebottom It originally opened one block away in the late 1960s before moving to the Lawrence a few years later. Sidebottom could blow the hell out of an 8 year old who was rummaging through the stacks, but I heard him speak in court and listen to jazz with customers.
After Sidebottom’s death in 1993 at the age of 57, the comic book store eventually became Stratta Grill & Bar, which is where I had my first mojito. A change in name, decor, and theme turned it into the Latin-flavored azucar a few years later, in which actors performed Edward James Olmos stopped by during a Cinequest party. The next iteration was Deluxe Eatery & Drinkery, where my family was one of those who ate a weekend breakfast of convenience foods and seasonal produce from the chef Chad Ferry.
The last tenant at this location was Social Lady, a restaurant and bar with white and pink decor that, according to their website, were aimed at “celebrating femininity”. That’s one hell of a trip from the days when Bob smoked sidebottom and listened to Miles Davis records behind the counter.
What is happening next to the building is not yet known. The entire top floor – once the Pension Toccoa and later the Lawrence Hotel – is up to the brick facade. It’s undoubtedly a candidate for demolition, but a building expert who was there told me it could be saved.
But whether it comes back or becomes a heap of rubble, its legacy will at least stay alive in our memories.
MIRACLES ON MURPHY AVENUE: A really beautiful moment happened last month in Sunnyvale that is still worth sharing in the new year. Director of the Downtown Sunnyvale Association Mike Johnson asked Sunnyvale Community Services to help downtown business owners bring some vacation fun to their workers, many of whom had cut their hours.
Executive Director of Sunnyvale Community Services Marie Bernard says they checked their Second Harvest grocery inventory and reached out to the local community for assistance. In no time, a thousand pounds of groceries, plus grocery gift cards and other essentials for distribution, were acquired.
On December 21, 300 workers in downtown Sunnyvale passed the distribution point on Murphy Avenue to receive a grocery bag and $ 75 gift card.
“This was much needed help for them to get through the holidays with food on their tables and other essentials,” said Bernard. “We call it the Miracle on Murphy Avenue – a small but hopefully some help for unemployed workers who need help this holiday season.”
GEAR WHEELS ON TRACK: Teresa Alvarado continues after nine years of engagement in the municipal advocacy group SPUR, among other things as board member, director of the office in San Jose and most recently as chief for local effects. “As for many, this year has inspired me to self-reflect and move on to new opportunities,” Alvarado said in an email, adding that she will return to her counseling practice.
SPUR is now recruiting a new director for its San Jose office. Alvarado’s successor, interim director Michael roadwaywill transition to a newly created position as SPUR State Policy Director.
POWERFUL VOICES: Long-term friends and doers Dolores Huerta and Luis Valdez The Peninsula Open Space Trust’s Wallace Stegner lecture series for 2021 will begin with an online conversation on January 26th. “Land and People” is the title of the 7pm conversation between the longtime labor leader and the Chicano theater pioneer, which will be unveiled Free to the public, but prior registration is required. openspacetrust.org/wsls-dolores-huerta.
The two legends will reflect on their history in the Santa Clara Valley as well as their work for social and environmental justice, which relates to the relationships between history, land and people in the state. It is made easier by Jose Gonzalez, Founder of Latino Outdoors, one of the sponsors.
Future lectures will be presented Erin Brockovich (February 23), climate researcher Michael E. Mann (March 9th) and humanitarian chef Jose Andrés (April 6th). Tickets can be found at www.openspacetrust.org/lectures.