St. James' Curse
By Gary Singh
THE San Jose Redevelopment Agency has now released preliminary documents related to the relandscaping of St. James Park in downtown San Jose, a project intended to give the much-maligned park a new face-lift while preserving its historic character. Since this park was San Jose's original town square in the 1880s, I have a few thoughts on the park's crazed history.
By now, most folks know about the Brooke Hart lynching in 1933. It is San Jose's darkest moment. Two degenerate wastoids kidnapped and murdered the 22-year-old Hart, and law enforcement officials didn't have enough manpower to hold the killers in their cells, so the lynch mob prevailed and hanged the men from two different trees, an elm and a mulberry. The trees were later removed. Writing in a 1957 issue of Modern Detective Magazine, Edward G. Sullivan, who attended the lynching, described it harrowingly: "the mob rioted in frenzied glee under the two swinging bodies. Teenage schoolboys leaped and pranced back and forth on the grass, brandishing whiskey bottles and yelling in triumph. Women ... held their wide-eyed babies aloft to give them a good look. Laughing couples danced and embraced under the slowly dangling feet."
Now, I'll go out on a limb and suggest that there should be a plaque in St. James Park to designate this atrocity. We must never forget the dark side of human history. President William McKinley, for example, came to speak in the park in 1901 and was assassinated in Buffalo four months later. Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy came to speak in the park in 1968 and was assassinated in Los Angeles three months later. Monuments for both those individuals exist, but nothing regarding the lynching.
Jump to 2008. The Redevelopment Agency says that the funding available for the relandscaping is limited to the western half of the park, bounded by First Street, Second Street, St. James and St. John. The eastern half will not be dealt with for now, which, if you know San Jose, will definitely elicit some complaints.
You see, more than a few disgruntled east San Joseans objected to the new City Hall, arguing that the side of the building facing directly east—the solid, flat, rectangular Socialist-Gulag-looking side—is a callous and deliberate snub at east San Jose in general. Similar complaints emerged when one of the proposals to restore the clock tower on the Museum of Art suggested leaving off the particular clock face on the side of the tower facing east. So expect people to start screaming at the RDA for symbolically dissing the East Side by only redeveloping the west side of St. James Park. It's not as crazy as it sounds, believe me.
In any event, as part of this new landscaping plan, the landscape architect hired by the RDA asked a consulting arborist, one Mr. Michael Bench, to prepare an evaluation of all the trees in the park. In that evaluation, he says:
"During my visits to this site, I observed that police vehicles would routinely drive across the lawn between the trees in order to confront one or more individuals. On one occasion, I observed a City of San Jose maintenance vehicle being driven across the lawn. Apparently this is an accepted practice in this park. However, the use of vehicles no doubt contributes significantly to the soil compaction in the park. Soil compaction reduces the absorption of water into the soil, either by rainfall or by irrigation, and it reduces the drainage capability of the soil. The result is that absorbing roots die and require years to regenerate. Most trees react by slow decline. Some trees die. ... I recommend that police vehicles be driven primarily on the paved pathways except during an emergency."
So now we've come full circle. First Brooke Hart's killers were lynched from the trees because not enough officers were present to stop the angry mob, and now some of the current trees are dying because the cops keep driving across the grass. The fun just never ends in St. James Park and I wish the RDA nothing but luck in this endeavor.