March 14-20, 2007

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

San Jose '75

By Gary Singh

FOR THOSE of you who don't live on the Internet, an alluring San Jose-related tidbit has weaved and bobbed its way all over cyberspace throughout the last few months. Even if you weren't born and raised here, you will undoubtedly enjoy a photo project that compares downtown San Jose intersections in 1975 with those same intersections in 2006, shot from the same angles. I first discovered the whole thing as an Adobe Acrobat file on the Redevelopment Agency's website in January. Basically, it's a slide show of photos that compare specific intersections now to what they looked like in 1975. Within days, people everywhere began to forward the collection to everyone else, and Loui Tucker of the Buena Vista Neighborhood Association extracted each photo and put them up on a different page (, which subsequently got forwarded and forwarded and forwarded all over the place. No less than 20 people emailed me and told me about it, just in a few weeks.

"The number of hits the page was getting daily soared astronomically," she said via email. "I had to buy some extra bandwidth for the little neighborhood association website to handle the huge increase in traffic! Things have cooled off a bit, and the hits per day have dropped to something manageable, but I'm still getting 2-3 comment-emails per day."

The photos are downright amazing to look at, and whatever you think about downtown, you can't deny the incredible amount of progress that's been made in the last 30 years. For example, there's a shot looking east from the corner of Fourth and Santa Clara in 1975, where you see Charlie's Liquors, Lenny's Cocktails and the Quality Cafe—always the best Sunday morning $2 breakfast/hangover dump. It was there as recently as the early '90s. The photo is juxtaposed with a photo of that same intersection now, where you see the new City Hall and the Rotunda, which sits basically right where Charlie's Liquors was. In another shot from 1975, one sees the length of San Fernando Street between Second and Third. What's now P.F. Chang's was Gold Seal Shoe Repair 30 years ago. And, most importantly, the only institution on that block still remaining from those days is the Cinebar, one of San Jo's oldest watering holes and one of downtown's few remaining neighborhood bars.

You also get awe-inspiring pre-light rail glimpses of First Street and Second Street and a great look-see at the dirt parking lot that is now the McEnery Convention Center. As much as people, including yours truly, ridicule this place for being an overgrown cowtown now, go look at these photos. It just may change your mind. The whole shebang definitely woke me up. Going back and looking at all these places in 1975, you see how sparse and barren the neighborhood was back then, and one of the first things you notice is the plethora of trees that now line the streets. Again, you don't have to even give a rat's ass about downtown to enjoy this stuff.

Last and absolutely least, the shots of San Fernando and Almaden, right where the Caravan Lounge sits, forcefully broadcast that the only institution in all of these photos that hasn't changed one single solitary bit is the Caravan, another one of downtown's true neighborhood taverns. Always one of the best dive bars in all of San Jose, and a place with a rocking live music scene two nights a week if you're into punk, metal or rockabilly, the Caravan, from these photos, appears to be simply flipping the bird at all the developers. It doesn't matter what you build downtown, the Caravan will always be there. It will never die. All of the photos in this collection show how much has really been accomplished downtown since 1975, but some things need to be left alone. The Caravan is one of them. If the city even tries to swipe it away via eminent domain, expect World War III to erupt. Meanwhile, tip a few for historical photos.

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