The weathered intersection of North First Street and Highway 101 conjured up more ghosts than I expected. The long-gone San Jose Hyatt House, a legendary business accommodation, convention and wedding destination where Bay 101 is now, still lingered in the atmosphere.
As I stood there at the intersection and looked at smashed pizza boxes in the gutter and discarded clothes in the middle of the street, I thought of something Rudyard Kipling wrote in Kim, his novel of India:
“One thing after another drew Kim’s idle eye across the plain. There was no purpose in his wanderings, except that the build of the huts nearby seemed new, and he wished to investigate.”
That was it. That’s why I came to this ancient crossroads: to see what things looked like in the modern era. Casinos and box hotels have long since replaced the ancient kitsch that ruled the landscape 50 years ago.
Kipling had his problems, but his Kim character always inspired me. A half-western, half-eastern intruder, Kim made “the road” a metaphor for life about 50 years before Kerouac, traversing northern India in search of interesting people to hang out with. He was also a spy.
This was exactly how I felt wandering around the Bay 101 parking lot, trying to avoid the gaze of security guards. The old San Jose Hyatt House immediately came to mind.
The legendary hotel was a game changer when it opened in 1961 with 256 rooms across five buildings on 25 acres, that is, after completing a $2.2 million purchase of the Caravan Inn (no relation to the bar), a property that was built from scratch a year earlier, but never got off the ground due to financial and legal problems. At this time, First Street north of 101 was called San Jose-Alviso Road.
Many people to this day have fond memories of the old Hyatt House, citing proms, weddings or even the 24-hour coffee shop, back when San Jose allowed that kind of thing. The Hyatt House blossomed into the city’s primary destination for business travelers and corporate conferences before San Jose had a convention center. There was even a putting green.
As the ‘90s and the aughts wore on, the Hyatt started dying a natural death, eventually morphing into something else before finally succumbing to the wrecking ball. Google Earth shows semi-recent imagery of when the buildings still existed, surrounded by chain-link fencing as the bulldozers loomed.
You don’t have to look very far to unearth the memories. In 1974, for example, the Hyatt House was the first headquarters for the San Jose Earthquakes soccer club when the franchise formed. Johnny Moore and Dick Berg essentially turned a desk around and ran the front office out of a hotel room. Pele stayed at the Hyatt House for a week in 1975.
In fact, all sorts of Silicon Valley history can be traced to the old San Jose Hyatt House. In July of 1977, the fourth SIGGRAPH conference unfolded at the Hyatt, featuring the first ever 3-D rendering course and the first SIGGRAPH t-shirt. About 750 people attended. At the time, the term ‘Silicon Valley’ was still a brand-new moniker and the Apple II had just been released. Nowadays, SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles is the world’s preeminent gathering for computer graphics, a gargantuan Hollywood-style event drawing thousands of people every year, with a few old-timers still talking about that measly little San Jose conference in 1977.
Yet even with Kim as the exotic intruder inspiring me, I still wasn’t done. Across the street, my idle eyes looked around some more. What’s now the hideous Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott used to be a gorgeously kitschy Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge 40 years ago. The same building is now a soulless boxlike structure, quite possibly one of the ugliest buildings I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t even look real.
At that point, I couldn’t take any more. Across the parking lot, I decompressed over a fantastic plate of food at Sam & Curry, a hipster Indian place, where I practically went native, straight down to the mustard seeds in the potato dish.
Back outside, I became Kim again, hitting the road once more. Such was life.