History Must Go!
By Gary Singh
LAST YEAR, when my alter ego, the urban blight exploration junkie, decided to prowl around the industrial wastelands of Stockton Avenue in San Jose, fans of San Jose underbelly came roaring out of the woodwork to laud the elegant monstrosity of urban decay sitting at the corner of Julian and Stockton—that decrepit falling-to-pieces old Westinghouse warehouse. The building is famous, and several folks who appreciate the artistic value of urban blight photography have shot the place for their collections. Metro photographer Felipe Buitrago brilliantly captured it in the July 25, 2007, issue of Metro.
Along with many others, I assumed all these years that the building was unused, but boy was I wrong. Turns out the folks at History San Jose have been storing all sorts of dusty relics inside the building for 15 years and are now hosting an auction on the weekend of July 12–13 to get rid of it all. Technically, the auction is the final step of "deaccession," a method by which artifacts are permanently gutted from a museum's collection. It's a necessary practice museums go through in order to unload items that are in poor condition, already exist in great number, no longer have any relevance to the collection, or are just plain hazardous to keep. Media were invited for a sneak preview of the goods and believe me, this place is a treasure trove. Collectors of museum salvage, get ready. Here's a small example of what's inside the building: A 19th-century hearse. Bizarre medical equipment. Piles of Victorian architectural salvage. Old sinks, stoves and sewing machines. Ancient motor oil pumps. Busted farm gear. Vintage desks, armoires and vanities. A few sleighs. Old-fashioned printing press machinery. Heavy-duty sewer grates from 1887. And my two favorites:
(1.) An old machine for shock therapy, complete with dials and knobs for frequency control and settings that say things like, "surgery" and "therapy." (2.) An original '30s-era Thomas Alva Edison Voicewriter, complete with a box of wax cylinders.
We discovered a few potential diamonds in the rough, like an antique Steinway & Sons square piano, probably from the 19th century. Underneath the lid sits an old business card, dating from the '60s, that belonged to one Mr. Arlie R. Bolerjack, a piano tuner who worked at Ferguson's House of Rentals at 30 E. San Fernando St.
There's also a heavy gold-colored antique fireplace cover with an embossed Rosicrucian-looking Egyptian figure on the front. That piece will immediately get gobbled up during the opening live auction. Remains of a few antique cars are also there for the picking, including the carcass of an old Pierce-Arrow that somebody converted into a wooden popcorn truck. Yellow police caution tape weaves its way throughout the frame, complete with recent handwriting that says, "Do not move until termites are exterminated."
History San Jose claims that this sale has nothing to do with its current financial woes and that it just needs to get rid of stuff it no longer has a use for. The city owns the building and would rather it be a parking lot, so the stuff must go.
Auctioneer Frank Sunseri was present for the sneak preview, his voice booming throughout the warehouse as he advised the History San Jose folks how to effectively auction off the items, a daunting task given the amount of people that will probably show up. The final decision was to have the preview from 9 to 10:30am on Saturday, July 12, followed by a live auction. On Sunday, whatever is left will be sold off on a cash-and-carry basis. So bring your truck.
In short, this will be an awesome garage sale, to say the least. Restoration fanatics will drool over all the Victorian salvage. Antique auto collectors will be interested in the vehicle remains. And if you're the morbid type, you can even bid on the antique dust-covered gynecological table, complete with stirrups. There's something for everybody. Come on down! For info: www.historysanjose.org.