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Arrested Development

One year closer to the mallification of Silicon Valley

By Gary Singh

ALTHOUGH IT'S BEEN SAID many times, many ways, San Jose is always changing. 2003 represented just the next phase in the city's ever-evolving saga of construction and destruction projects. New places popped up, and old ones faded away--a restoration here, a demolition there. Failed projects gave way to promising others, while San Jose floated on just as it always has.

So let us engage an overview of some significant San Jose projects of 2003, beginning with what used to be called downtown. After six years, the upscale Zanotto's downtown market died a natural death on Aug. 1. The building will most likely sit empty for years to come. Again.

Zanotto's was a great market, but it was doomed from the start. A person who lives at Fifth and Julian street simply isn't going to walk to Zanotto's and drop $10 for a pound of scallions. Transients at the light rail station aren't going to stagger in for gourmet olives. And the few locals who did show up--whether for great sandwiches and salads or eclectic after-work grocery shopping--just weren't enough to keep Zanotto's alive, unfortunately.

Right down the street, one finds another constantly evolving project, the corner of San Fernando and Second streets, where a new P.F. Chang's China Bistro is slated to offer Pan-Asian cuisine beginning in January. One has to wonder what E&O Trading Company thinks about a probable competitor being subsidized one block away. Over in the new Fairmont addition, McCormick & Schmick's will also open in January, giving the Grill on the Alley the same upset stomach that E&O Trading Company probably has.

And then there's Santana Row. For this new city-within-a-city, 2003 was a year of bursting out. With chic eateries, hipster hangouts and over-the-top opulence, Santana Row, the "Las Vegas of San Jose," skyrocketed in popularity. The manufactured neighborhood seems a complete success by every definition of the word.

On any given Friday or Saturday night, the place is rocking. San Jose powers-that-be are sending a clear message where their priorities are. Just like downtown, Santana Row now has an outdoor ice rink, where Peggy Fleming recently made an appearance. Councilman Ken Yeager even suggested that a shuttle should cart people back and forth between downtown and Santana Row--a comment one downtown restaurant owner took as a complete slap in the face.

A minor downside to Santana Row, of course, is all the extra traffic, since it's right across the street from Valley Fair. A lot of people just don't want to drive down Stevens Creek Boulevard any more.

But if you're a south San Josean, you no longer need to drive to Valley Fair. Instead, you can visit the renovated Westfield Shoppingtown Oakridge Mall, which now looks like Valley Fair. Yes, Oakridge--that old-school San Jose mall--the one we all rode the 27 down Blossom Hill to visit when we were teenagers; the one whose dumpy theater let us sneak into R-rated movies; the one that housed such suburban perfection as the Time Zone arcade, Music Land, Taco Villa and Bullock's--has now gone the way of upscale monstrosities like Valley Fair.

Of course, Oakridge had long since degenerated into a dump, and it definitely needed to be remodeled. But why go to the opposite extreme? Does Westfield Shoppingtown's Wal-Martization of San Jose malls really constitute progress of any sort? What's next: Westfield Shoppingtown Eastridge? Westfield Shoppingtown Vallco? Westfield Shoppingtown Alviso? How about we just rename the whole valley Shoppingtown?

Speaking of shopping, not too far from Oakridge sits Building 25, another historic structure slated for demolition. IBM developed flying-head disk drive technology in this very locale during the Cold War, cementing Silicon Valley as a technological Mecca. If the building was important enough for Nikita Khrushchev to tour, then it should be important enough to save. What eyesore is on tap to replace it? Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse. And no, they will not be selling hard drives.

On a more sanguine note, we have an innovative new combination public/university library, and the City Hall project seems to be moving along faster than anything in the history of San Jose. What used to be a giant hole just a few months ago is today a towering framework of steel in its first stage of construction. Now, if they'd only find some way to upgrade the Albertson's next door and flatten the dive laundromat, we'd really see some progress.

Across the street sits the completely rebuilt Horace Mann Elementary School, a job well done. With a modern school and a towering City Hall right next to ethnic sandwich shops and bad trinket vendors, this particular stretch of Santa Clara Street might resemble a real-looking urban downtown sometime soon.

Lastly, hats must go off to two ambitious projects: the saved Montgomery Hotel, which will include the Paragon Restaurant, and the renovation of the historic Fox Theater. Both are progressing quite well, thank you very much. And after years of screaming from the locals, downtown breakfast options are expanding. Flames Coffee Shop will move into the Fourth Street Garage next year, splitting the polar opposite extremes of Peanut's Cafe and the Fairmont right in half.

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From the January 1-7, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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