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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Downtown Tour No. 51

By Eric A. Carlson

"They say: Could I find my proper groove, What a deep mark I would make! So they chop and change, and each fresh move Is only a fresh mistake."

--Robert Service

DOWNTOWN SAN JOSE TOUR No. 51 begins with free parking. The lot at San Fernando and Third streets is free in the evenings and on weekends. Get it while it's hot. Free parking is a quaint Mayberry R.F.D. notion looked upon with scorn by San Jose movers and shakers, who will soon put up a parking lot on the parking lot--sprinkled with other instant businesses--which will not be free. A tech executive was heard moaning that San Francisco is more sophisticated than stumpy San Jose because people in "The City" are accustomed to high parking fees--and won't complain. How uncouth we are in San Jose.

After parking, walk toward the San José Repertory Theatre. The Rep is a giant blue barn that carries itself well--like an elegant elephant. Dashes of color are glued to the blue, and at dusk and early evening there is nothing more beauteous in San Jose. Proceed down the Paseo de San Antonio (seedy San Antonio Street in the 1960s) and stop at Starbucks to catch your breath for the adventure ahead. When you continue down the Paseo, you will be accosted by a crazed street person who will ask for money or mutter dark curses at his/her bad luck in encountering the likes of you. Not to worry. Just chant, "At least I'm not in San Francisco" three times and move on to the brand-spanking-new Fairmont Hotel Annex.

A passageway juts over the Paseo de San Antonio connecting the ostentatious Fairmont with its ostentatious appendage. At ground level, enter the annex lobby to sample the ambience--faux flowers and vases in muted pastels reminiscent of a funeral home. Alan Hess, author of Googie: Fifties Coffee Shop Architecture, describes the glass chandeliers as "chandeliers like you might find in the Las Vegas home of a Renaissance pope." Unquote. Return to the Paseo and take a deep breath. It's time for Quetzalcoatl.

The Quetzalcoatl statue, designed by Robert Graham, squats on a traffic island on the southernmost tip of the Plaza de Cesar E. Chavez--the oval park in front of the Fairmont Hotel. It is good luck to give Quetzy a pat and a hug whenever you visit the park. Children occasionally play on the misshapen lump, and the event is always noted in the local press, as if to say, "See, spending $500,000 for a ball of composite cement wasn't such a dumb idea after all." Needless to say, it wasn't really designed as a jungle gym--a fall from Quetzy's head onto the scuffed-up cement below would likely result in litigation. In fact, an argument might be made that Quetzalcoatl should be removed and taken to a warehouse in Oakland, as it is patently hazardous to quetzalkids.

Time to move on. Backtrack through the plaza and stop at the ancient granite cornerstone of the old City Hall (directly across the street from the mango-lapis lazuli Tech Museum). The stone is a remnant from one of San Jose's sillier City Halls, which exhibited a distinct Germanic gingerbread appearance that was either loved or hated in full proportion. Proceed down Market Street to Post. Post Street was once named El Dorado Street--a street dedicated to brothels and bars and secret Chinese lotteries. A right turn onto Post delivers one to Waves Smokehouse & Saloon, which has been renovated to its 1900 glory. But that is Tour No. 65, and a story for another day.

Take a left onto Post and wend your way to 44 S. Almaden Ave. Here is the building that housed Fuel 44--a très chic and happening San Jose nightclub featuring food, fuel and music. Out of the ashes, the phoenix shall arise--in this case another chichi club: Plant 51. Paul Kiely and his partners quietly opened for business here the other day and have every intention of making Plant 51 shine with good food and good music. Plant 51 is named after the Del Monte cannery whose remains can be found nearby--at The Alameda and Bush Street. First Fuel 44, then Plant 51. The logical extension would be Route 66. But let's hope 51 sticks around for a while, as it is a bit disconcerting to see downtown businesses fade out like shooting stars.

Final Note: The House of Blues claims it is holding off moving to San Jose because it is short of folding cash. And Capt. Thomas Fallon will be erected within a year. And I am the King of Romania.

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From the March 7-13, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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