Obscure Monuments of Downtown San Jose

Like the city planning document in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe” that was kept in a locked basement and guarded by a leopard, some monuments in San Jose are hard to get at—or find. Within a half-mile radius of Plaza de Cesar E. Chavez Park is a giant bronze rendition of Tony Ridder’s running shoes, a statue of William McKinley, a memorial forum honoring Robert F. Kennedy, the actual cornerstone of the 1887 San Jose City Hall, and a Brobdingnagian statue of Thomas Fallon and the horse he rode in on.

Several of these monuments are in St. James Park, which explains why few people have ever seen them. Last time I went to the park a hooker started screaming at me, thinking I was taking pictures of her. The natives do get restless at times, so be prepared to make a run for it into the cigar room of the nearby St. Claire Club. I have a friend who has a friend who is a member, so it’s okay. Really.

St. James Park is rife with monuments, including the William McKinley statue, which has a small cannon at the base. The cannon itself has a history. In 1918 a German by the name of George Koetzer, an employee of the Fredricksburg brewery, was tarred, feathered, and chained to the cannon. He was suspected of being “pro-German.”

Also in the park is a memorial forum in honor of Robert F. Kennedy that is now used by bums as a tabletop to make peanut butter sandwiches on. And close by is a monument celebrating Brigadier General Henry Morris Naglee, who made brandy (Naglia, and it’s all gone) and liked to do pushups using the sides of his bathtub simultaneous with taking a bath. (Read “Tales of Naglee Park,” by Jack Douglass.)

Near the Children’s Discovery Museum, along the banks of the azure Guadalupe River, is a disturbing bronze statue of a pair of running shoes.  The accompanying text reads, “These shoes symbolize the long run that Tony Ridder made to support and improve San Jose. They are big shoes to fill.” The text runs on just a bit longer, but you get the idea.

The cornerstone of the 1887 San Jose City Hall resides in Plaza Park, about 50 yards from its original spot—that original spot being where the fountain now spouts.

For a real challenge, try finding the Fallon Statue in Pellier Park. Let’s make it easier. Try finding Pellier Park. You’ll have better luck locating the Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

21 Comments

  1. Eric, thanks for the cornucopia of monument viewing opportunities.  Regarding St. James Park, I guess we’re lucky the park remains at all.  Had “The Schickmeister” and her RDA gang had their way, the park would have been plundered for an underground parking garage.  Oh, by the way, you failed to mention any monuments or markers dealing with the Alum Rock Park albino enclave.  Many years ago, wasn’t there a small road sign at the intersection of Santa Clara and 4th that pointed the way?

  2. I always had the question as to how safe it is to walk around the St. James park area.  Thank you for answering that question today.

  3. #2 asks about safety of St. James Park. In truth I have visited the park a number of times, and was accosted only once—verbally. I would not go at night however.

  4. The only real danger @ St. James Park is if you inadvertently stumble onto one of the dozens of daily drug deals there.  Keep an eye open and you’re probably OK

  5. That’s some good information, though you’ve effectively mostly reiterated (with a few new things) what can be found here:

    http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Sanjose/belly.html

    And St. James Park specifically is here:

    http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Sanjose/james/james1.html

    As for Pellier Park, I was afraid it was gone for good but found (through a simple Google search, as the CSJ search function is useless) that it is merely undergoing “renovation”.  Information can be found here:

    http://www.sanjoseca.gov/prns/Parks/Parks/PellierRenovation.asp

  6. THE OLD TOWN BELL…

    The much esteemed Eric Carlson, whose web site my friends and I have enjoyed for years, did not list the curious history of the 122-year-old Old Town Bell.

    Once a dignified and well-used feature of the structures on what is now Plaza de Cesar Chavez, it languished under McEnery and Hammer on the dirt at the south end of the plaza under a century-old native oak.

    Suddenly one winter morning during the reign of Mayor Hammer, my friends discovered that the ancient oak tree had been cut down, still steaming in the winter temperature. Soon under Mayor Hammer, the Old Town Bell was meanly relegated to the most disfavored site in town, St. James Park, where it was allowed to languish. The secrecy she attached to this really ugly and disrespectful move speaks volumes about her political agenda for San Jose.

    While Mayor Hammer’s motive was to marginalize San Jose history and to disrespect its past, Mayor Gonzales managed to top her in the marginalization department.

    He saw fit to ship the Old Town Bell to an even less appropriate site, near the off-ramp to 87 on Market Street. There it currently sits, dishonored, without lawn, chairs, or flags suitable for gatherings and celebrations around this oldest of San Jose artifacts.

    The rumor is that Mayor Gonzales moved the Old Town Bell to Market Street to please the fire department in some way, so the only joy we can take in this matter is that fire department personnel have now turned against him in his time of need, too.

    The mayor forgot to dance with them that helped bring him to the party.

  7. St. James Park reminds me of that square in Back to the Future.  All it needs now is a clock tower but with a little less of people looking like a grubby Doc Brown.

  8. Okay, duh.  Eric, I quoted you back to you.  Bad me.  I did you not realize that you and the Soft Underbelly author were one and the same.  I am a longtime fan and have had your site bookmarked at work for reference for years!

  9. Last time I went to St James Park was on Halloween.  I was expecting to find drug dealers, drug atticks, prostitutes and homeless people sleeping on park benches.  Sorry to disappoint you, but there were none.  I did all that worrying for nothing.

  10. Hey City Hall Chick, I appreciate being quoted back at! And I stand guilty as charged of stealing from myself. You were good to defend me from me.

    As for other obscure treasures, you may be interrested to hear that a rumor is afloat that remnants of the old San Jose Light Tower are known to be buried in the back yard of a bitter Willow Glen Lockheed employee. More on this later

  11. City Hall Chick, yes Eric is revered in many quarters.  He now writes from Cocoa Beach, Florida, sitting on his porch, sipping a tall cool one.  But don’t despair, rumor has it that Eric may soon return to San Jose. 

    Speaking of Willow Glen, I once gave Eric a fine tour of the community, transportation and breakfast included.  Eric later graced me with a rare copy of a menu from the old Pronto Pup cafe, perhaps the last copy extant.

  12. Hey DH, don’t move. I did and now I want back. I believe it was Dorothy who said, “There’s no place like home.” And she was talking about God-forsaken Kansas, and a farm at that. Think how much more there is in San Jose than a farm in Kansas and you will come to your senses. Cheers!

  13. Ugh!  Someday I’ll move out of this city and not look back.  Someday San Jose will grow up..

  14. Thanks Eric I needed that.  Yes, San Jose has more warts than the wicked witch of whereever.  It is however home and I would miss it even though I am a transplant from NYC/NJ. 

    But Jeez, what a goofy city..St. James Park, sign should read: don’t feed the winos,a dump, then you have the six million dollar turd a few blocks over.  Gonzo and the gang and an airport with never ending construction (they used the Winchester mystery house as a model I presume). 

    This does go on and on but it is home… 

    Somebody take out the trash PLEASE.

    Dave H

  15. I have an extensive set of san jose history pages which focus on the Cottle and Conkling families.

    They were early settelers The Conkling Grocery Store was theres