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Street Smarts

San Jose Museum of Art
Christopher Gardner

Walk of Life: San Jose Museum of Art provides guided walking tours Mondays at noon.

Museums without walls and historical walkabouts share the sun with workers and visitors looking for a lunchtime cultural getaway

By Heather Zimmerman

WHETHER ONE IS a cubicle-dweller or a parental shuttle service between day camps, grabbing a few of the summer rays isn't always easy. But some local communities have devised a few ways that hassled drivers can give their carpal tunnel syndrome and road rage a rest during the week and bring some cultural enrichment to those few precious moments in the sun.

At noon on Mondays from April through September, the San Jose Museum of Art hosts a series of Public Places Walking Tours. Offered as an alternative to the museum, which is closed on Mondays, museum docents lead four different tours that highlight the works of art on display in public areas around downtown San Jose. The free 45-minute tours, which are offered on a rotating basis, include paintings and sculpture around the San Jose Convention Center, art around the Federal and State Office buildings (such as Ruth Asawa's Japanese-American Internment Memorial) and art around the Exhibit Hall and Park Center Plaza. Many of the artists featured here have ties to San Jose. The final tour looks at art around and inside the Hilton Hotel and pays a visit to Robert Graham's controversial Quetzalcoatl statue at the Plaza de Cesar Chavez.

Sally Sumida, a museum docent who has been leading the walking tours for three years, says she enjoys meeting the variety of participants. A unique advantage of these outings, she feels, is the informality of the walks, which allows visitors to "see works out of the museum setting and to see how pieces are affected by their settings," she says. Although docents do discuss artistic elements and facts along the tour, Sumida says she involves people as much as possible and encourages them to offer their interpretations of the works. "People have wonderful insights," Sumida notes.

All tours begin at noon in front of the San Jose Museum of Art, 110 S. Market St, San Jose. For more information, call 408/271-6840.

Visitors to downtown San Jose can also get a taste of local lore with the Historic Downtown Tours offered by the San Jose Historical Museum. Starting May 1, docents will lead, in rotation every Thursday, five different afternoon tours of notable sites and landmarks around San Jose's downtown.

The free, 45-minute tours include two that begin at the Santa Clara County Courthouse on First Street between St. John and St. James streets: the St. James Park area--site of a famous lynching in years past--and San Jose's early pueblo town. Two start at St. Joseph Cathedral, Market and San Fernando streets: one involves the old business district and the other the old city plaza. The last tours East Santa Clara Street, starting at the Historic Bank of America building at Santa Clara and First streets.

Docent Bev Blockie says the tours give visitors a sampling of local history in different areas around town, focusing on certain buildings and offering historical facts or stories about them. Blockie points out that even if you tour the same area more than once, you get a different take on it each time because the docents alternate. "Each docent has his or her own response and focuses on things differently," she says. "There's no canned speech."

Tours are also offered the first Saturday of each month, a good opportunity for families, although Blockie notes that children are also welcome on the regular Thursday walks. All tours start at 12:10pm (including Saturdays). For more information, call 408/287-2290.

Local history enthusiasts can check out some of Saratoga village's vintage landmarks on a self-guided Historic Walking Tour, using a brochure and map from the Saratoga Historical Museum. Unless you're really looking to burn calories, you'd be hard pressed to see in one visit every place included in the brochure--it lists 26 sites in all, with a summary of historic and architectural highlights for each. But since the tour is self-guided, you can always return for a second or third leg of the tour on another day.

Brochures are available at the Saratoga Historical Museum, 20450 Saratoga-Los Gatos Rd, Saratoga (408/867-4311). It is open Wed.­Sun., 1­4pm.

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From the May 1-7, 1997 issue of Metro

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