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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Where Have You Gone, Pronto Pup?

By Eric A. Carlson

The Pronto Pup was a sacred shrine of 1950s Willow Glen--almost too deep in its resonances for simple recollection. --David Hickey

DRIVING SOUTH on Lincoln Avenue, from West San Carlos toward Willow Glen, provides travelers with visions of decay and seedy commercial enterprise that rival incomparable Monterey Road. The corrugated palaces of the defunct Del Monte cannery are breathtaking, and further along, at the outstretched fingertips of Willow Glen proper, A & J's Bar beckons with bikini-clad dancers that are, in Mr. P's words, "the best-looking women in San Jose." Rototilling Discing, Don's Auto Wash, Mr. T's Liquor Locker and Women Kickin It whoosh by in sun-bleached splendor. The road is a bit bumpy into Shangri-La.

After a hearty breakfast at Bill's Cafe that included four slices of the best bacon in Santa Clara County, Mr. P and I took to the streets. "You can call that shot the Bane of Willow Glen," he drawled, as I focused a digital Nikon on a typical Lincoln Avenue tableau of romping pups, babies in strollers and young urban professionals. "What do you mean?" I replied. Mr. P took a draw on a Pall Mall Red as if it was the final one he would ever be issued, exhaled and replied, "Dogs, strollers and yuppies." Mr. P was born and raised in Willow Glen and has seen bungalows replaced with monster driveway-to-driveway homes, and a classic neighborhood fixture such as The Garden Theater reduced to a strip-mall-in-a-box hosting a Burger King. Some bitterness can be expected.

Mr. P tugged on my arm and led me into Falcone Jewelry & Coins at 1230 Lincoln Ave. And for this I will be forever in his debt. Falcone's is a store that everyone should patronize and spend vast sums of money in. Sal and Barbara Falcone are lovers of San Jose history. Their collection of photographs, topical commemorative coins and odd San Jose gee-gaws almost caused me to lose consciousness. Sal pointed to an ancient document hanging on the wall that was signed by several Bernals. "Can you believe that Paul Bernal [San Jose's official historian] was in here and he didn't mortgage his house to buy this!" Sal seemed genuinely shocked that people wouldn't sell their homes to get hold of old photographs of the San Jose electric light tower.

Mr. P pointed out the locations of notable past and present Willow Glen businesses, including Bergman's Department Store, A&W Root Beer, Sarah's Cafe, La Villa Delicatessen, John's Xlnt Foods, Blaines's Lamps, Plaza Inn Mexican Food Cantina, Ed's Restaurant and Pronto Pup Creamery.

The Pronto Pup Creamery was located at 1383 Lincoln Avenue (now Willow Glen Coffee Roasting Co.). It flourished in the 1950s and '60s as the preferred spot for after-movie entertainment and sustenance. Burgers and fries and malts and flavored Cokes--chocolate, lemon, cherry and vanilla. David Hickey relates that magazine racks held "sex-and-suburbia and private-eye pulp paperbacks as well as assorted cheesecake magazines." The Pup was owned and operated by Rocci Curci, who fry-cooked at the counter and ruled the Pup with a gruff good nature. David recalls the terror that young boys faced when attempting to buy lurid magazines: "If one wanted to buy a cheesecake mag or sleazy novel, one had to run the Rocci gauntlet of verbalized and beady-eyed glaring disapprobation ... Rocci was hostile and enchantingly foul-mouthed to one and all, yet he was also warm and hospitable, managing, like a nun on a bicycle, the difficult balance."

Oh so many years ago, circa 1860, the area three miles southwest of San Jose was referred to as The Willows, and shortly thereafter, Willow Glen. Around 1890, beautiful trees lined El Abra Street (present-day Lincoln Avenue). Willow Glen incorporated in 1927 in an attempt to thwart the wicked plans of San Jose and the Southern Pacific Railroad to bisect Willow Glen. In 1936, it was annexed to San Jose.

Final note: Check out Tony and Paulette's pink Victorian on Minnesota Avenue. Splendid topiary in the yard includes a kangaroo with joey.

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From the January 25-31, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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