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July 4-10, 2007

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Huts So Good

By Gary Singh

BY FAR the most interesting parcel of land to explore at the corner of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road is at 2865 El Camino, or what used to be that address. It's now fenced off, but this was the locale of the Old Pro, the legendary sports bar dating back to the '60s. The chain-link fence surrounding the place is flanked with a green tarp, but you can still see the quote above the door, which says, "When you win, you're an old pro. When you lose, you're an old man."

The Old Pro was one of the South Bay's original sports bars, and it was a cavernous place. The best thing about the Old Pro is that it was housed in a Quonset hut, a prefabricated structure of corrugated steel that looks like a miniature airplane hangar. The structures date back to somewhere around the World War II era, and not many are left around here. They functioned as mass-produced shelters that could be transported anywhere, and nowadays they have been converted into every possible use, from army surplus stores to single-family homes to art galleries, storage sheds, churches or nightclubs. And the Old Pro was probably the only sports bar housed in a Quonset hut anywhere in the Bay Area. That alone is worth celebrating.

Since it closed a few months ago, and although the Old Pro's newer location rocks on, this gem should be checked out before it gets razed. The place is a wonder to look at. The satellite dishes still protrude from the roof of the structure. A barbecue grill still sits outside. Garbage and fixtures occupy the back lot of the place. Out on the street, in front of the vacant lot next door, another sign warns of the disasters to come. Amid a bunch of 3-foot-tall weeds and dandelions, the sign says this: "2825 El Camino. Coming soon in 2007. New Class Office Bldg. 2,000–10,000 square feet available." After envisioning such an imminent travesty of justice, I just had to go re-explore the wonderful book Quonset Hut: Metal Living for a Modern Age, edited by Chris Chiei and Julie Decker. Just a casual visit to the book's website,, reveals several drop-dead gorgeous images of the projects that people all over the country have created with these Quonset huts--the quintessential forgotten buildings of the post-war era.

The introduction reminds us that "the Quonset hut is the portable building that has dominated this century. It may even be said that the Quonset hut is making a comeback, albeit with a face-lift. As leading designers today are focusing on new, low-tech, prefabricated and portable structures, it seems not so preposterous to suggest that, if invented today, the Quonset hut would be a featured subject of many an architectural lecture series." The book was launched to coincide with an exhibition of the same name at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art in Alaska about 18 months ago. In Alaska, portable structures have long been a way of life, so the location was perfect.

In Jennifer Siegal's book Mobile: The Art of Portable Architecture, the introduction by Andrei Codrescu says: "Nearly every American house I've lived in has long ago been demolished to make room for some other building. There is a delicious (though painful) paradox here: Americans long for stability, but all they get is stationary impermanence. No wonder then many of us long to become permanent nomads, snails with houses on our backs, Tuareg tribesmen, and Gypsies." I can identify with that sentiment completely.

Another place to gawk at Quonset huts is over on Coleman Avenue in San Jose, between the airport and the Santa Clara Caltrain Station. So there you have it. If people can start a movement to save Hangar One at Moffett Field, then somebody can start a crusade to save all the Quonset huts.

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