Blight Makes Right
By Gary Singh
IN AN Aug. 13, 2008, cover story, I channeled the Urban Blight Exploration Junkie and raved over the Pink Elephant Center, that landmark rundown strip mall at the corner of King Road and Virginia in San Jose City Council District 5. I had quacked about the place once before in a previous column, but for that travel feature, titled "Postcards from the Edge of San Jose," in which I mapped out ignored masterpieces in each district, striking visuals were necessary to properly document the shabby outré ugliness of that East Side monument.
The faded pink facade couldn't possibly have been painted in decades, it seemed, and the entire property just exuded the quaint, dry, dusty underbelly of a San Jose long forgotten. The whole parcel of land just reeked of landlord neglect, the sort of which begged to be captured with only the finest of blighted-landscape photography.
Fortunately or unfortunately, for whatever curious reason, someone recently decided to paint the place. That's right, the dictators of cleanliness have upgraded one of San Jose's finest dilapidated buildings and made it look nice. Maybe it was the landlord, I don't know, but now the place explodes with fresh hues of pink, brick-red and olive green. Updated signage appears above each store front, including the Pink Elephant Barbershop, which still claims 1958 as its year of inception.
Of course, I would be elevating my own self-importance to even suggest that two Metro articles celebrating the hideousness of the property would result in the landlord suddenly fixing up the facade after years of neglect. That would be presumptuous, now, wouldn't it?
But it strangely happened somewhere else also. A second travesty of tidiness recently went down over at Lincoln Glen Center, that historic suburban wasteland strip mall at the corner of Almaden Expressway and Foxworthy. The Urban Blight Exploration Junkie relished in the hideous aura of this dump while compiling a July 25, 2007, cover exposé titled "Tour the Obscure."
If you don't know the place, this is the rundown center where you'll find the Sherwood Inn, one of San Jose's classic old-school dive restaurants—the one with the green cow overlooking the expressway. That cow has been there for decades, although it used to be black not green. But the bovine still commands a presence as it seemingly gazes due west, straight down Foxworthy toward the far southern expanses of Willow Glen.
At the time of that exposé, the Lincoln Glen Center sign was a gorgeously haphazard, pieced-together-over-decades monstrosity showcasing the history of all the places within the center that have come and gone over the years. It hadn't been updated in at least 20 years—a paean to cheapskate landlords worldwide.
You saw a square sign with the words "Barber" and "Cocktails" and "Health Foods" arbitrarily sandwiched between other more faded and slanted signs from times past or present or both—all of which inhabited a pole slanting 70 degrees off the pavement in a pure '50s kitsch sort of design. Now all of that is gone and you see one brand new shiny boring square sign in its place. Drat. All grandiosity and narcissism aside, the Urban Blight Exploration Junkie just has to wonder if he hadn't penned that exposé celebrating the property owner's glorious disregard of all things modern and kept up—and announcing such grace to hundreds of thousands of readers all over the Bay Area and beyond—that the wonderful dilapidated sign would not have been finally replaced. Go check it out for yourself.
Either way, it brings to mind a tale freelance writer and pal Larry Tritten once relayed to me. He said that years ago a certain SoCal porno theater replaced its movie screen solely because he had complained about the quality in one of his reviews. There you have it. Maybe the pen is mightier than the sword after all. The Urban Blight Exploration Junkie will resurface at a later date.