Forget the Golden Triangle. The gritty underbelly bordered by Brokaw, 880 and 101 should be called the Industrial Triangle.
The flurry of ramshackle activity erupting in this area, especially on Rogers and Junction avenues, becomes a symphony to the ears of any urban wasteland tour guide. If ever there was a locale to raise the ghost of John Cage and open up your ears to all sounds and noises, however ambient or dissonant, the Industrial Triangle is the place to roam.
First of all, no sane person would traverse this area on foot alone. Railroad tracks run down the middle of the street and there are no sidewalks. So I had to do it.
Anyone who’s driven or lived in a car on Rogers will have a story about the train tracks. Old-timers will spin yarns about the days when trains ran more often. It wasn’t that long ago, they claim.
Especially after business hours, this is a bleak part of town, a sun-ravaged apocalypse of cracked asphalt, granite and weeds. One imagines what it was like, back when 101 was a two-lane road in the ’50s, before Rogers and Junction even existed. In some ways, the vibe hasn’t changed, if you just implement the right flavor of Zenlike curiosity and let those former years harmonize the current day. Like Cage said, if we just open up our ears to all environmental sounds, we wouldn’t need concert halls for anything.
On my recent aimless drift down Rogers, it was a muggy evening just after 6pm. Tile shops, flooring wholesalers, cabinet warehouses, cement trucks and dilapidated RVs took center stage. Lettering peeled from every sun-baked awning. Stray cones and discarded pieces of air conditioning duct lay strewn in driveways. Decades-old office buildings provided counterpoint to barbed wire and graffiti-stained dumpsters. Signs with the phrase “granite slab” seemed ubiquitous. 300,000 suburban San Jose home owners with granite countertops couldn’t go wrong in this neighborhood, for sure.
It wasn’t always like this, of course. In the good old days, when Brokaw first opened in 1867, stately rows of elm trees flanked a dirt road that went from downtown Santa Clara to what’s now North First Street in San Jose. You’d rent a horse and carriage to make the trip. A few decades later, Brokaw extended to what’s now Schallenberger, although generations of San Jose planners have regularly carved up and reconfigured this whole area ever since. Skip to more recent decades and politicians invented yet another moniker just so their buddies could sell more real estate, hence the “Golden Triangle” bordered by 101, 237 and 880.
All of which you can still grasp even today just by wandering around these parts, as the 100-year bumbling farce of San Jose planning is more than perceivable. Pieces of roads still remain from before the freeways existed. Gish breaks up into at least three fragments. Old Bayshore now actually turns into Zanker, where even more tile yards, dumpsters and utility trucks populate the landscape—that is, before Zanker propels into miles of sprawling office parks.
Back on Rogers, there was a darker side to the Industrial Triangle, as evidenced by my second aimless drift on an 85-degree afternoon. Much of the middle stretch had given way to piles of rubbish, aromatic RVs scraping the cement and tweakers dismantling abandoned cars in the middle of the street to recycle the parts. More than one person was living in a beater pick-up along the side of the road. The desolation was palpable.
One block over on Junction, the former Fry’s Electronics complex looked like a deserted movie set, surrounded by chain-link fence and six-foot-tall weeds. Surprisingly, it wasn’t yet covered with graffiti.
In between all of this, though, many businesses were indeed thriving. An old-school manufacturing vibe still percolated. Work trucks rolled in and out of the neighborhood from every direction.
These days, it seems like every square block of San Jose has its own giddy neighborhood booster group, so someone should formally launch the Industrial Triangle Neighborhood Association. To steal a phase from Robert D. Kaplan, this area is a concert of civilization.
The industrial symphony still played as I left the scene. My ears are still ringing.