San Jose City Hall, which brought the city’s seat of government back downtown when it opened in 2005, is one of 15 buildings featured in a new book by photographer Arthur Drooker: City Hall: Masterpieces of American Civil Architecture.
Right now, some of you may be scratching your head, wondering how the City Hall Complex, with its 18-story tower, city council wing, and glass-dome rotunda, was wound up among others from Chicago, Boston, New York City, and Los Angeles, and San Francisco. (It was actually a visit to SF shortly after Drooker moved to the Bay Area that inspired the book.)
Most of its involvement has to do with its architect Richard Meier, who wanted to create a modern public building for the city called “The Capital of Silicon Valley”. But Drooker’s book deals with the horn interlock between the world-famous architect and then-mayor Ron Gonzales, who insisted on a more traditional rotunda.
“The stories of these buildings are as compelling as their architecture,” writes Drooker in his introduction. “They show that the best town halls are not just administrative buildings, but also monuments that express the spirit of their time and place.”
In the end, both Meier and Gonzales were right. The modern, energy efficient building is still a distinctive and recognizable sight in Silicon Valley. And while the building certainly continues to have critics – personally, I’ve never warmed myself up in hardscape – it has proven that it fulfills its role as the “living room” of San Jose.
The town hall was the center of protests and celebrations, art exhibitions and musical performances. In the rotunda, ice hockey fans flocked to the Stanley Cup and couples in love made their marriage vows. People take selfies in front of the sign and skateboarders still manage to practice their jumps on the steps. Here, some flags can be hoisted downtown to celebrate our diversity, and others are cut to half the staff in times of tragedy.
It may be an exaggeration to call it a masterpiece, but it has found its place in the fabric of the city, and that will prove to be more important in the years to come.
COVID HEROES IN CAMPBELL: For the past 30 years, Faith King, now 90, has run a pantry two days a week at the United Church of Christ in Campbell. But with last year’s COVID-19 pandemic, parishioners decided that the pantry should be temporarily closed instead of putting their health at risk.
And that’s where Mary Edson comes in. Her business, the balloon crew, was also closed due to convention restrictions, so she was ready to help. Her husband Larry Edson built a “blessing box” so people in need can access resources around the clock. Mary Edson listed the program with the county’s 211 system. Members of the Orchard City Indivisible group donated money and food and got other food organizations to do the same.
Demand rose to the point where Mary Edson was filling the shelves three times a week and volunteering 40 hours a week, and sometimes arriving home well after dark.
“She knows she’s doing important work and doesn’t expect a pat on the back for her service,” wrote Larry Edson in an email, adding that a thank you card she received just made her day. She can consider this another thank you on behalf of a grateful community.
CELEBRATE THE YEAR OF OX: The Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose has put together a number of virtual options to celebrate the New Year celebrations on Friday. CDM brings together Chinese and Vietnamese traditions and offers an online tour of its exhibition Voyage to Vietnam. Lessons in making spring blossom; and videos of past festivals, including lion dances. Check it out at www.cdm.org/celebrate/community-celebrations/lunar-new-year.
The San Jose Art Museum will kick off the Year of the Ox with a free online Community Day that includes performances by the Rising Phoenix Lion & Dragon Dance Association and the Urisawe Korean Cultural Center, as well as traditional and modern Vietnamese poetry and arts activities. It runs from 10:45 am to 3:00 pm on Saturday and you can register at www.sjmusart.org.