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July 18-24, 2007

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

One Track Mind

By Gary Singh

WITH THE Grand Prix descending upon San Jo next week, now more than ever is the time to randomly meander the entire length of the track, which people can do next Wednesday. As soon as the streets close to through-traffic, people can walk one lap around the entire track for free, 7–9pm.

Since I just had to do it first, I began the voyage near the start/finish line right there amid the palm trees in the middle of Almaden on the western side of the convention center. These are the trees that didn't get removed, unlike their counterparts on Park Avenue. The concrete blocks and the catch-fencing were being installed as the sun beat down on the pavement.

My expedition took me further north up the track, across San Carlos and the light rail tracks to the faux polar bear sculpture that sits behind the archaic Center for Performing Arts. The ceremoniously banal statue was created by Beniamino "Benny" Bufano, an artist based in San Francisco, who passed away in 1970. Bufano was known for his simplistic rounded animals like this one, and for some oddball reason, the plaque next to it declares that it's a brown bear, but it is indeed white. No one knows why. One source said that the city purchased the bear for $70,000 and it was cast from a mold in 1980, meaning, essentially, that Benny Bufano never even saw it. Thus, it's a copy, not an original. But the faux polar bear lives on.

After that, I walked past the lavish Adobe buildings to the "hairpin turn" that makes a U-ie and then back southward to Park Avenue. Hanging a left, I imagined the champ cars accelerating to top speeds through this stretch. Again, the crew was busy at work erecting the grandstands as I paraded by. That strip of Park takes you along the southern edge of that famous downtown mecca of commerce, Park Center Plaza, the creation of which in 1973 was the Redevelopment Agency's first major effort to revitalize downtown San Jose. Now the whole plaza has been given a face-lift and has been refurbished to include a lavish Morton's Steakhouse. The RDA provided $240,000 for the project in the form of a "facade improvement grant."

A southward turn on Market past the Tech Museum and the light rail tracks then took me to the home stretch, the back straightaway and by far the most interesting street of the entire course: Balbach Avenue. Right at that corner, at 477 S. Market St.—which is Turn Six on the track—sits a Firestone Tire shop and auto repair place that boasts some amazing throwback architecture. You immediately envision what this part of downtown was like decades ago, when there existed thriving auto dealerships in the neighborhood, before they all moved to the suburbs.

Continuing down Balbach, one scoots by a brand new housing project called Emerald Village, which is not emerald. And you wonder whether or not the folks who eventually move into these units will be among those unfortunate few who get displaced when the Grand Prix comes through every year. Hmmm.

Just past the Emerald Village one finds a corrugated steel shack that houses Crow's Auto, and the sign says, "Where You Pay Le$$." Dozens of used cars occupy the yard.

As I waltzed by, another crew scurried about erecting the Bronze Grandstand on Balbach. Flatbed trucks lumbered around with grandstand equipment in the back. Then I made it back to the finish line on Almaden, finishing off the 1.5 mile track. I suggest you walk the track yourself next Wednesday. Info is at

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