music in the park san jose

.Royal Remains

This stretch of El Camino Real is old school in all the right ways

music in the park san jose

In Santa Clara, the stretch of El Camino Real near San Tomas Expressway should be preserved in a museum of suburban wasteland history.

As any local explorer knows, El Camino demonstrates just how much the valley has changed over the years, with pieces of new and old, cookiecutter and hodgepodge, all sitting side by side.

As always, explorers must enter this area on foot, not in a car. Walking provides a more intimate connection with vacant lots, abandoned gas stations, defunct barbecue restaurants, weeds, bent chain-link fencing and banquet hotels from decades past. Driving by will not provide an adequate experience. One needs to pound the pavement.

Now, this is not a top-ten list of pheasant dishes in Paris or summer beach reads for an all-inclusive vacay. I am here to navigate a stretch of road where the temporal landscape merges with the crumbling physical landscape, where ghosts of everyday people—both valley pioneers and local barflies—all leave their traces underneath the surface. One must be an imaginative traveler, of course. Such is life.

There is no end or beginning, really, but the newer, fixed-up strip malls—the ones with dumb furniture outlets and huge empty parking lots—interest me none. The piecemeal janky crud is much more rocking.

Even better, the juxtaposition of the shuttered Andy’s Bar-B-Que with the soon-to-be revitalized Mariani’s Inn right down the street is a fantastic study in contrast. Mariani’s was once a legendary gathering spot for dining, reunions and speaking engagements of the more genteel sort. Andy’s is a squat windowless joint, a carnivore and cocktail hangout that somehow never really returned to the glory of its old Campbell location, when sawdust and plaid shirts ruled the landscape. Both places were old-school in all the right ways.

I can’t walk by the temporarily closed Mariani’s without imagining all the 50-year high school reunions, Knights of Malta luncheons or plates of veal flying off the counter. Man. But seriously, the Mariani clan was and is one of the most storied local families of the 20th century, contributing much to the agricultural heritage of this valley. Originally immigrants from Croatia when it was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Marianis had their hands in everything—prunes, apricots, real estate, soccer teams, the whole nine yards.

I am not a food writer, but like any traveler, I will conjure up those who preceded me. Former Metro staffer Stett Holbrook penned a great 2006 column about the Mariani family’s apricot enterprise, including Andy’s Orchard, which still exists today. In 2006, Holbrook was the best food writer in the entire Bay Area, bar none. He has long since moved on to other jobs, but his words remain. And I remember that column.

That same year, Holbrook also reviewed Andy’s Bar-B-Que, including fond memories of the original location in the glorious 95008, sitting right there on Campbell Ave, with its neon-lit sign, in full view of anyone zooming south on 17. You could smell the bar-b-que from the freeway. For decades, people knew Andy’s from that perspective, whether they ever went there or not.

Now, though, Andy’s sits abandoned on El Camino Real. The proprietor has left the building, in more ways than one. The cactus growing outside completes the scenario perfectly. The emptiness of the parking lot just screams at you. A single orange cone sits in front of the doorway, for whatever reason. 

Mariani’s, where remodeling is currently under way, remains much more uplifting. It is a throwback to an era when people in Santa Clara still complained about the no-smoking laws in bars. You see, way back in the ’90s, Mariani’s fought that law tooth and nail. And that was just the ’90s, which seems like a recent decade compared to much of what else transpired at that legendary property. Generations of Marianis have been all over the map and they will surely transform this place into something quite cool.

Meanwhile, the rest of this sordid stretch of El Camino features a smattering of strip malls, both new and ancient. It is well worth the stroll. To riff yet again on Rumi: Somewhere out there beyond cookiecutter and hodgepodge, there is the Royal Road. I will meet you there.

Gary Singh
Gary Singhhttps://www.garysingh.info/
Gary Singh’s byline has appeared over 1500 times, including newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro columns, Silicon Alleys, was published in 2020.

1 COMMENT

  1. Hey, Gary, when you return to Santa Clara, you might want to take a walk around Franklin Square, including the yellowed historical markers on Jackson St. describing the old downtown that is no more.

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