music in the park san jose

.Silicon Alleys: Resurrecting the Ghosts of Willow Glen

Embracing the nostalgic vibes of Willow Glen through a Whine Walk

music in the park san jose

Since the Willow Glen Wine Walk unfolds this weekend, I decided, in the spirit of this column, to take a Whine Walk instead.

Luckily, though, I didn’t need to whine at all. The ego dissolved and peace ensued.

On the way to a chamber music gig at St. Francis Episcopal Church at Pine and Newport, my options became simple. I scoped out my grandmother’s old apartment on Brace Avenue. I thought about Bergmann’s department store from the ’70s. I contemplated the building where I took my first music lessons in ’78. And I didn’t forget Woodhaven, where my dad’s funeral was in 1985, or the house on Minnesota Avenue where my mom grew up.

I would be doing this anyway, of course. It was unavoidable, as I shall explain.

My grandmother lived upstairs at 1172 Brace for many years until she passed away in the ’90s. She was a bit neurodivergent, yet totally functional and able to live alone and go about her business. Nevertheless, we never once had any adult conversation of any sort, but I have distinct childhood memories of ascending that flight of stairs off Brace Avenue.

Around the corner, Bergmann’s was the iconic Willow Glen department store for clothes, goods and everything else. The giant ‘B’ sign still remains above the building, harking back to the old Willow Glen, before it was colonized by the more comfortable classes. Although I grew up across town, we often came through this area because my mom’s friends were in this neighborhood. As a result, I went to several babysitters in Willow Glen, so I remember Bergmann’s, as it was still there when I started taking keyboard lessons at Stevens Music in 1978.

I have previously written about Stevens Music many times, both in this column, and on the cover of Metro. I fondly recall journeying to Elko, Nevada, in 2008, for a preview of the Cowboy Poetry Festival and then learning half the people there knew Gordon Stevens of Stevens Music. So I wrote a cover story. Sometimes, and this works on many levels, one needs to leave town in order to learn more about his own landscape. Larger macrocosms often mirror the microcosms.

Which brings me right back to my parents. After tiring of Lincoln, I hung a right on Minnesota. My mom grew up a few blocks down, so it was a full-circle affair when her mom, my grandmother, returned to the area and moved into the aforementioned Brace Avenue flat after living away for many years. Some people just can’t stay out of this town, you know?

Over at Newport and Minnesota, hidden behind the Methodist Church, tucked away beneath the redwoods, one finds an old historic house now known as the Woodhaven Retreat Center. This is where my dad’s funeral was. I haven’t been inside since then. I’m OK with it. There is nothing but peace. I like it that way.

I figured these vibrations would eventually dissolve as I shuffled down Newport toward St. Francis and the San Jose Chamber Orchestra gig, but I was kidding myself because ancestral neighborhood ambiance happens automatically. If one never leaves his hometown, and continues to write about it, energy will spiral out of the past and return to the forefront, especially when the chamber music gig is conducted by the maestra who performed my old professor’s harpsichord piece the first semester I attended SJSU (just as I’m sitting in the audience thinking about this, there she is on stage talking about it) and the gig is in the same church where I attended basement meetings much later in 2009.

At any moment in Willow Glen, I’d be writing in service to these energies anyway. It’s unavoidable. There is no way to separate myself from the story, so when it comes to previous lives of relatives, teachers and what now even feels like my own previous lives, the physical landscape of Willow Glen merges with the temporal landscape. Always.

This is a beautiful feeling, when the ego evaporates and becomes one with the spacetime continuum of the neighborhood. It’s almost mystical. Some people need psychedelics to do this. I don’t. In the end, I have nothing to whine about.

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.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I enjoyed reading your article.I am sure by my moniker you recognize the part of Willow Glen that never was but is now.Fascinating isn’t it?? The Power of a Railroad track.I never measured it but from Jerome to brown St it can’t be more than 50yards,Yet that is the inflection point for what was to follow.Willow Glen incorporated as a City as a result of those Tracks.It was also the installation of tracks that instituted the Masonic lodge of Willow Glen.Biebrach was one of its main Proponents you know ,the guy they gave the park to.He was Mayor from 1930-32.
    Anyhow that felling of nostalgia and History never ceases to feel me with that same feeling you have to spacetime and how the past present future all converge.However ,unlike yourself I am filled with sadness uncertainty as the pool that was given to Chicanos of that community for destroying our Barrio with the freeway ( which is how the Barrio Derives it’s name)is now overran by bourgeois Asians and Caucasians by a Private non profit who care nothing about the legacy of the area.The Area was designated D11 in 1939 Redlined Map of San Jose.The Lowest possible designation .Now it is probably the most valued property in the world due to proximity to GOOGLE.Talk of Gardener becoming Chinese immersion has been suggested?? Ah yes progress.However the Ghost of Horseshoe past ,it is my hope will continue to exist reminding those who dwell there is the scent of Fruit from Del Monte or the Sounds of a Lowrider passing along Virginia st.Over the Guadalupe bridge carrying the sounds of Mary Wells and the Isley Brothers.Yes Barrio Horseshoe I remember….

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  2. Thank you for this article! Do you happen to recall if in the basement of Bergmann’s – in the children’s department – there was a sort of pedal carousel for kids? Somewhat sunken into the floor, maybe in the shoe department? Thank you!

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  3. Do you happen to recall if in the basement of Bergmann’s was a sort of pedal type carousel that children could play on. Perhaps in the children’s clothing or shoe department? Thanks!

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music in the park san jose