Historic buildings both large and small help make San Jose a unique and special place that is different from other cities. Unfortunately, we have lost many historic buildings to development, fire and illegal demolition. These losses make our remaining architectural resources all the more valuable and, therefore, are due to exceptional protection and consideration.
The rush to develop virtually every square foot of downtown San Jose has put these resources under extreme pressure. For long-time residents in particular, the preservation of our historic buildings and signs offers a reassuring connection to the history of our city. Residents face traffic, the high cost of living, homelessness and other challenges. Losing our familiar and cherished prospects is just another reason people are fed up and move elsewhere. And these prospects are enjoyed by new visitors and residents as well as “old-timers”.
Last year, the city approved a 22-story tower just across from our stately 1926 Bank of Italy building that obscures the view of this treasure and has an impact on the downtown historic business district. The city has also just approved a 19-story tower against Hotel De Anza. An additional tower has been proposed to tower over and tower over the Montgomery Hotel, a city landmark. Without intervention, a local developer intends to build another tower just south of Montgomery, which together will plunge the hotel into a valley of darkness.
Dozens of projects are underway or planned that will not affect San Jose’s unique historical architecture. Housing projects of all shapes and sizes have been built in the inner city that respect our cultural heritage. Many more are in the works. A commercial development with a total area of more than 2.5 million square feet is under construction, away from historical landmarks and more than double that planned.
There is no doubt that San Jose needs additional residential, commercial, and hotel units. Apparently, there is a shortage of hotel rooms. The location of the “temporary” tent in the Convention Center is more than 16 times the size of the property next to Hotel De Anza, where a new tower has just been approved, with a total of 272 rooms. Imagine how many hotel rooms could be added if the tower were built right next to our convention center instead? And again without considering historical resources nearby.
The Preservation Action Council in San Jose supports density. With the density come people. Feet on the street activate historical buildings and bring vitality to the city center. Instead of empty shop windows, a pulsating 24-hour city helps generate energy that fills unused rooms. What will pull people from one block to the next? New buildings that are respectful in height and mass and arouse visual interest must be brought into harmony with our beloved historical architecture. But if all new residents and visitors see is an endless iteration of modern glass towers that could be built in any city in California, then what is being built is empty with no soul or sense of place. There is no connection with San Jose’s development from 1777 to the present day.
Monument preservation is one of the many San Jose planning guidelines. It seems that despite letters from concerned citizens, the work of nonprofit advocates like PAC * SJ, and even the guidance of their own Commission on Historic Landmarks, the city’s decision-makers are intent on destroying or disregarding our historic heritage as quickly as possible. Bad decisions made today will take generations. Just because a developer can design and execute a project after the decline of historic San Jose architecture doesn’t mean they should. We can do better.
André Luthard is chairman of the Preservation Action Council of San Jose.