Dutch Hamann - Part Two

Let’s get back to the man in charge of change—A.P. “Dutch” Hamann.  He graduated from the University of Santa Clara during the early stages of the great depression.  Although his name was Anthony P. Hamann, everyone I’ve ever known called him “Dutch,” a nickname derived from his German heritage.  Dutch was the alumni director of the University when I first knew him prior to World War II.  When the war broke out, Santa Clara became practically deserted as the priests, students, faculty and administrators were called to military duty.  Dutch joined the Navy where he rose to the rank of Lt. Commander.  After the war he returned to Santa Clara as business manager, but after a few years he left to join General Motors as division manager in Oakland. 

In 1950, Hamann was hired as the San Jose city manager. He was completely unflappable— an open, friendly, super-salesman politician; some would say the ideal man for the city of San Jose.

Prior to Dutch’s managership, San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley had a one-crop economy—agriculture.  A one-crop economy courts disaster.  When the one crop failed, and fail it did, everyone in the area suffered.  The canneries were polluting our streams and the smog was unbearable when the oil-fired smudge pots were burning. 

Dutch engineered the bond drives that built the sewer disposal plant.  This plant was able to offer services to the new industries coming to the valley as the canneries were phased out.  The unemployment rate in San Jose when he took office was 11.6%; when he left office it was reduced to 3.5%.  Individuals like me were able to afford reasonable housing and send our kids to public schools without the threat of gang members slaying them.

Dutch had his failures too.  In 1958 the City Hall was moved from downtown to North First and Rosa Streets.  Along with the creation of all the outlying shopping centers, this created a void in downtown that led to its near death.  I personally believe that if the city had negotiated with San Jose State and moved to the Fourth Street campus, while SJS moved its campus to what was then vacant land adjoining Spartan Stadium, each would have been far better served.  I think Hamann recognized that the location of City Hall on North First was wrong and attempted to move it back in 1966.  But the taxpayers had just paid for the move eight years before and defeated the move.

Another loss to Dutch that year was his attempt to bring the giant meat packing company, Swift and Co., to north San Jose as a neighbor to the new Mercury News plant.  Publisher Joe Ridder, usually a Hamann ally, couldn’t tolerate such a neighbor and dispatched Harry Farrell to successfully sabotage the move.

In 1962, Virginia Shaffer was elected to the San Jose City Council, the first woman ever so elected, and dissent began at council meetings.  Prior to that time, many councilmen would merely look to Dutch before a vote; he would either nod assent or dissent and the council would vote that way.  The Mercury soon labeled Mrs. Shaffer as “Mrs. No.”  At every council meeting that I attended, items were presented on the agenda that were new to the part-time council members.  She would ask for time to examine rezoning issues, but the rest of the council would overrule her and pass the items without examination.  Because she did her homework, she would vote “no” when the council rushed legislation without time for inspection.

The city was offered the option to extend BART to San Jose in 1963, but both the council and the Mercury News were totally against it.  By 1967 the makeup of the council was changing, and homeowner associations were offering their own candidates. A major scandal developed when City Treasurer Callison stole hundreds of thousand of dollars in parking meter fees.  It was impossible to determine exactly how much was stolen, but he served jail time for the offense.

Dutch held office at the pleasure of the council and he stood for a vote of confidence from the public every two years, always receiving a majority vote. In 1969, with the philosophy of the council changing and after he had held the job longer than any other city manager, he resigned and returned to the University of Santa Clara as vice president for development.

On March 27, 1977, KLM and Pan Am jumbo jets collided on the runway at Tenerife in the Canary Islands in the worst air crash in history.  Dutch and his wife Frances were on the Pan Am flight, and San Jose tragically lost one of its most influential citizens.

4 Comments

  1. .. check out today’s Merc editorial on Les White as a potential Interim City Manager.  He was a great CM in the 90s, widely respected by elected officials and appointed staff.  Much of San Jose’s national reputation as an exceptional city government can be attributed to his past leadership.

  2. Screw history and poem.  Let’s face reality what’s going on today.  There’s alot more important issues than singing the past of San Jose.

  3. As has been said, “Those who refuse to learn from the past….”
    Bringing Les White back would be the best thing to happen for SJ in the past 7 years. The Merc captured it perfectly—he would bring decades of experience, great management skill, and most importantly—a commodity that has been sadly lacking these past 7 years, integrity.
    This council and the SJ needs Les to restore our form of government, restore trust and integrity, and return a city manager back into the city manager’s office.

  4. Re #2 “Screw history and poem”

    Many who read this site enjoy reading about San Jose’s history, and are cognizant that history is germane to the present. There are many sides to a city; let’s not get so narrowly focused that history and art, and even poem, cannot be discussed in a public forum.