Features & Columns

Silicon Alleys: New Ballet Moves From One Historic Site to Another

LEAP YEAR: New Ballet will celebrate its new digs on Feb. 29 in the Corinthian Ballroom. Photo by Daniel Garcia

Led by Dalia Rawson, San Jose's New Ballet will officially open its new headquarters later this month with a gala kickoff spectacular on Feb. 29.

The company leaves its old building at 40 N. First St.—a structure loaded with historical mysteries—and travels to the Corinthian Ballroom building at 196 N. Third St., a.k.a. The Scottish Rite Temple, another architectural masterpiece filled with secrets.

The old building was a legendary structure dating back to Prohibition. In one of the offices, a bookshelf hid a secret passageway. There was also a hidden wet bar, dumbwaiters and secret staircases that allowed patrons to sneak out the back whenever the cops raided the joint. Netflix even filmed a short documentary, Nocturne, that highlighted the peculiar angles and lighting situations in the building, all using some of the most high-tech cameras in the world.

"I did love that about our old building," Rawson says. "It had a history. It had personality. Every other ballet school in the area is either in a mini-mall or a warehouse. It's converted. Every other school in Northern California is basically that. There are no ballet schools in historic buildings and I really did feel that that was something unique we had at our First Street location."

Much construction still needs to be completed at the new location, but the school is up and running on the lower level of the Scottish Rite building—the area formerly occupied by the San Jose Athletic Club. Concrete walls have been knocked down and rooms have been reconfigured. The old basketball and racquetball courts at the back of the building are now gorgeous dance studios. Where there used to be jacuzzis and locker rooms there are now dressing areas, offices and private lesson spaces.

The Scottish Rite Temple is one of the most ornate structures in San Jose. Designed by architect Carl Werner, it was first dedicated in 1925. Werner was a 33rd-degree Mason and designed most of the Scottish Rite temples in California. If one views the building from St. James Park across the street, two large marble statues can be seen above the entry portico, on top of the front columns. The statue on the left is King Solomon. The one on the right is Albert Pike (1809-1891), one of the most prominent figures in the development of American Freemasonry and a perennial target of worldwide conspiracy theories. When the building first opened, it included a 1,400-seat auditorium and the biggest stage in San Jose. There were club rooms, a library, meeting spaces and secret-ritual chambers. The kitchen and dining facilities could feed 1,000 people.

Fifty years later, after the building and the neighborhood fell into a state of disrepair, the Masons finally bailed for the suburbs, setting up shop in the Almaden and Curtner area, where they remain today. Then in 1981, with a $6-million bankroll, the building was transformed into the San Jose Athletic Club, so that a new generation of politicians, lawyers, judges, real-estate syndicates and redevelopment czars could lounge around in saunas.

Now, after years of dungeon-like emptiness, the bottom floor is once again returning to life—this time with ballet dancers. Feb. 29 will be a perfect day for the kickoff party. Ballet goes hand-in-hand with leap year anyway, and with an entire ballet company surrounded by historical Masonic vibrations and activating the space, a magical feeling is sure to emerge.

"I had really resigned myself to the fact that we were going to move into a warehouse or a mini-mall space," Rawson says, adding that the Scottish Rite Temple offers at least as much compelling history and architecture as the old location. "I think there's some continuity there and it helps us really be part of the landscape of San Jose and the culture of San Jose in a way that we wouldn't if we had moved into an old ACE Hardware building in the suburbs."