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[whitespace] The 5 Spot
Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly


By Eric A. Carlson

"Fortune is not satisfied with inflicting one calamity."

--Publius Syrus (42 B.C.E.)

THE FATE OF SAN JOSE'S BUILDINGS is less predictable than the fortunes wafting down Washington Avenue from the King Wah restaurant. Victorians are being plucked out of the ground to make way for a Xanadu glass-domed City Hall. On South First Street, a chain-link fence imprisons the funky carcass of the 5-Spot Coffee Shop as it awaits execution. And Lou's Living Donut Museum is deep-frying donuts on borrowed time. Only the mausoleum at Oak Hill Memorial cemetery appears immune from the industrious ants.

I stopped at Lou's for a cup of java and a spiritual maple-glazed donut before exploring the less fashionable section of South First Street (from the Highway 280 overpass until it succumbs abjectly to Monterey Road). In 1955, Lucius Ades, a World War II B-24 pilot, founded Lou's Donuts at 750 E. Santa Clara, where it would remain until Super Bowl Sunday of 1995, when the building's instability necessitated a move to 387 Delmas. In 1981 Lou sold the business to the Chavira family, who have been loyal caretakers of Lou's vision. Lou's donuts are the tastiest in Santa Clara County (true) and hold spiritual and patriotic significance as well. "We unite the American spirit through the symbol of a donut, love with no beginning and no end," Connie Chavira said. And Ralph Chavira added, "We do an American donut. We honor all military people, our families and our children." I asked Ralph if the San Jose Redevelopment Agency provided any help when he was forced to move to the Delmas location. "They didn't help us at all; we ended up mortgaging our home." Perhaps if Ralph had changed the name of his business to Lou's House of Blues Donuts and hired out-of-town celebrity donut-makers, the RDA would have grubstaked the enterprise. Too late now--the owner of the current building wants to sell and the Chaviras are looking for a buyer who will respect the established concept.

The 5-Spot Coffee Shop (869 S. First St.) began life as the 5-Spot Drive-In. The "Drive-In" fixtures were never removed and include the original sign, a sliding window and a neon sculpture that appears to be two Sno-Cones in flagrante delicto. I peered into the window; the bar stools had been uprooted and the décor was no more. The interior decoration had been heavily weighted toward cartoon characters and religious icons--Virgin Mary candles, plastic figurines of dinosaurs and ceramic busts of humans and animals. An American flag was once Scotch-taped to the wall, along with an assortment of feathers. All gone.

Before walking up Sunset Hill at Oak Hill Memorial cemetery, I stopped outside the mausoleum to enjoy a panorama of the Santa Clara Valley (an incredible vantage point--and not crowded). As I basked in the sun, my eye was drawn to some colorful objects on the wall I was leaning against. Two photographs were taped to a stone marker. The first photo was of a dark-haired young man lounging at the top of the Grand Canyon. The second photo showed the same young man standing alongside a lovely woman, both smiling. A small, white decorative bird was placed near the photos and below that a sticker read, "Never forget Tim Brauch." The marker was inscribed Timothy M. Brauch, April 26, 1974-May 9, 1999. Sometimes the universe breaks down.

I did not recognize his name, but searched the web and found his story. Tim was at the height of his powers--one of the top skateboarders in the world and embarking on his own business ventures--when he died of a heart attack at the age of 25. He had turned pro at age 17 and was, by all accounts, a friendly and loving man. Judging by the number of testimonials to Tim from various skateboarding websites, it is not likely he will ever be forgotten. Do a search for Tim Brauch and find him soaring through the air on his skateboard. He did what he loved and did it well.

Final note: I climbed to the top of Sunset Hill--to photograph the giant white cross. The ground was covered with weeds and broken beer bottles. An Oak Hill spokesman told me the area would soon be landscaped.

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From the August 2-8, 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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