The sturdy but self-contained former courthouse on the corner of Park Avenue and Almaden Boulevard in downtown San Jose has been the subject of several redevelopment visions since the Santa Clara County’s Supreme Court moved years ago.
Jay Paul Co.’s recent vision of building a 3.4 million square foot office campus in place of an existing mixed-use space called CityView Plaza is the project that may actually bring the building down. Now local conservationists are working to save the building, which was built along with the rest of the square in 1973 and was once a central banking center on South Bay.
The San Jose Historic Landmarks Commission – an advisory council to the city council – unanimously decided on Wednesday to initiate proceedings to recommend that the concrete building at 170 Park Ave. to be declared a symbol of the city. That could protect the long-vacant building from demolition if it is approved by the city council.
City officials say the building meets at least five criteria that could put it on the city’s list of historic landmarks, including that it is an example of an important part of the city’s history and hallmarks of San Jose modernism and embodied in brutalist architecture and designed by a master architect.
Those traits did not consistently love the building across the city, admitted commission chairman Edward Saum.
“I think it’s an indication of how many people responded to brutalist architecture,” he said. “The architects and historians say this captures an era or the work of an architect, and then there are members of the public who say,” Well why would you want to keep that? “
Nevertheless, he supports the rescue of the building.
“At any given time, any kind of architectural style was the one where people would say, ‘Why would you want to keep this? “, He said.
Likewise, Mike Sodergren, a board member of the Preservation Action Council in San Jose (PAC SJ), told commissioners that the group is receiving “significant contributions from qualified experts asking us to save this building.”
Jay Paul’s proposal to clear the site for a glassy, modern, three-tower campus is also going through the approval process. It is expected to be examined by the city’s planning commission this month and will be put to a vote by the city council in early June.
Renderings show the proposed office towers at CityView Plaza in downtown San Jose. Courtesy Jay Paul and Gensler.
Planners in San Jose are keen to shape the schedule so that council members can review Jay Paul’s project during the same meeting as they consider whether to designate the building on the corner of the development site as a landmark.
However, the schedule will be tight as the commissioners will have to vote again on an official recommendation to preserve the building before the council members get the issue.
“If the (Jay Paul) project comes to the council before this naming process, we will inform the council that this process is underway,” Juliet Arroyo, the city’s historic heritage commissioner, told commissioners on Wednesday. “I will work with (urban planner) Cassandra (van der Zweep) how we can use this timing for both processes.”
Councilor Raul Peralez, who represents the city’s downtown area, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Ben Leech, executive director of PAC SJ, said the group had spoken to representatives from Jay Paul about whether the building could be saved as part of the massive development on the site in the middle of downtown San Jose.
So far, representatives of the San Francisco-based developer have not bothered about having to demolish the building for the new project. Jay Paul offered PAC SJ designs that show that even complex maneuvers cannot accommodate the building.
However, Leech believes that a simpler option, like changing the spacing between buildings or shifting angles of development, could create a win-win situation.
“We really believe there are conservation options that they haven’t explored or demonstrated, and we don’t think it’s an either-or,” he said.
At the moment, the group is working to raise the community’s support to save the building they named the “Sphinx” for designing the front of the building. PAC SJ launched a petition this week that had garnered dozens of signatures by Wednesday evening.
And members of the Historic Landmark Commission are watching how quickly their recommendation goes to the city council.
“I think the clear intention should be that both points have to be on the mind of the council and the planning committee if they decide on either,” Saum said. “So it’s not about the landmark application running and trying to catch up, and then it becomes an academic exercise because it’s too late.”
Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify the process of nominating a property for the City Landmarks List.