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Taylor's Greatest Hits

[whitespace] With few exceptions, history took a back seat to the wants of favored developers

By Michael Learmonth

AFTER POURING MILLIONS into a few high-profile historic buildings in downtown San Jose, like the $5 million Fallon House and the $5.3 million art museum, Frank Taylor could frustrate preservationists with an argument that, like all specious arguments, contained an annoying kernel of truth.

"When we brought up the business of saving buildings," says Jack Douglas, SJSU history professor emeritus, "Frank always said he'd done more than anyone else."

The trouble is, no one else had done much of anything at all. Indeed when Taylor arrived in 1979, redevelopment had succeeded in little more than making downtown San Jose look like downtown Beirut, razing entire city blocks with little or no plan for what would rise from the rubble.

During his administration, Taylor padded his preservation résumé when it was convenient, keeping a few quaint facades downtown but never taking a stand for a historic building unless it was clear there was no other lucrative alternative.

"When it was practical for him, he did it," Douglas says. "But when bigger things came up, he would go with the developer."

The fates of the following historic buildings were decided on Taylor's watch, along with some others whose fate now shifts to the Gonzales administration.

Death Row

Jose Theater
The subject of San Jose's fiercest preservation battle to date, the 1904 theater was slated to be gutted and transformed into the facade of an apartment complex built by one of Taylor's favorite developers, Jim Fox. Preservationists tried to stop the project in court and said the theater's loss would jeopardize the downtown historic district's status. A court order postponing demolition will give Mayor Gonzales the opportunity to cut a deal with Fox to save the theater, but the future of the Jose is still very much in limbo.

Montgomery Hotel
Built in 1910, the Montgomery was San Jose's first modern hotel with fireproof, earthquake-proof construction, electric fixtures and private baths. But today it stands in the shadow of the cornerstone of downtown redevelopment, the Fairmont Hotel. Taylor wanted very much to see the Fairmont expand into a new 14-story south tower in the space the Montgomery occupies. He's offered the property to Fairmont owner Lew Wolff for $4 million. Mayor Gonzales voiced support for saving the Montgomery during his campaign, though he accepted $7,500 in contributions from Wolff and his associates.

Ward's Funeral Home
Preservationists have vowed to go to the mat for the 1909 structure at Market and Devine streets, which is rumored to be on the block and sits adjacent to several lots slated for development.

First Church of Christ
The last historic structure on St. James Park, the 1905 neoclassical church was bought by the Redevelopment Agency in 1997 from lawyer Jim Boccardo for $3.5 million. As part of the deal, Redevelopment gave Barry Swenson exclusive rights to develop the property. Swenson already owns several parcels around the historic church and plans a condominium development. Preservationists fear the church will get the Eagles Hall treatment, its pillars becoming the portico to the new building.

Del Monte Cannery/Western Pacific Depot
Unless redevelopment momentum can be stopped, these turn-of-the-century vestiges of San Jose's blue-collar past will soon be a distant memory. Both are in various stages of development, but a concerted effort by the new mayor and the City Council could be enough to win a stay of execution.

Razed

Costa Hall
A contributing structure to the downtown historic district, Costa Hall was built in 1925 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It took the fall in 1995 to make way for a parking lot for Zanotto's Family Market.

Eagles Hall
Built in 1900 as a lodge for a fraternal order, the hall remains only in its pillars and portico, which were incorporated into a new office building on St. James Park.

Pestana Building
The former savings and loan at the corner of San Carlos and South First was the finest postwar office tower in San Jose until the wrecking ball hit last week. Its kinetic billboard and marble checkered facade were landmarks. Redevelopment leveled it with no specific replacement in mind--just to lure a future developer with a vacant downtown lot.

Weir Building
Built in 1963 on Julian Street, it was too young to be covered by preservation laws, but it was an excellent example of architecture influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and sported the famous "Wrightean" horizontal lines. It was replaced by the Villa Torino apartments.

Preserved

Twohy Building
San Jose's first redevelopment czar, T.S. Montomery, built the terra-cotta-faced office building in 1917 across from his famous, and threatened, Montgomery Hotel. Redevelopment pumped in almost $3.5 million to restore the building.

Sainte Claire and De Anza Hotels
The Sainte Claire was built in the '20s by T.S. Montgomery and catered to the elegant and rich. Redevelopment helped save it with a $9.5 million subsidy. The deco De Anza was built in the '30s and catered to the young and rakish by ushering in the end of Prohibition with the trendy club Danzabar. It was a pigeon-infested heap until redevelopment gave a $3.6 million subsidy to Barry Swenson to restore it.

Letitia and Security buildings
Anchors of First Street between Santa Clara and San Fernando, both contribute to the downtown historic district. Both were built before the turn of the century. Letitia was named for Letitia Ryland Burnett, the daughter of California's first governor. Saving the buildings cost the agency almost $1 million apiece.

Hayes Mansion
Redevelopment saved Mary Hayes-Chynoweth's 1905 mansion from the steady march of condominiums in 1985. Now it's a conference center and a hotel.

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From the February 25-March 3, 1999 issue of Metro.

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