San Jose Light Tower Project Raises Close to $100K in Phase 1

San Jose desperately needs an iconic landmark. Last year, the nation’s 10th largest city was tabbed the country’s most forgettable municipality, according to a study by Nathan Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com. Fly will forgive the slight—but not the werewolf squid Silver calls a haircut, or, you know, his awful prediction in the last year’s presidential election—mainly because San Jose’s skyline has about as many peaks as Brent Burns’ smile. (Love you, Burnzie. Now please put that hockey stick down.) But there’s light at the beginning of the tunnel. Two weeks ago, San Jose Inside provided the full scoop on an effort to rebuild the city’s massive light tower, which a 100 years ago was the envy of the bay. Standing over Santa Clara Street, the beacon could be seen from as far away as San Francisco. A few San Jose Rotarians—Jon Ball, Steve Borkenhagen and Thomas Wohlmut—have since teamed up to see if they can replicate a larger version of the structure, perhaps as high as 260 feet, and place it over one of the city’s parks. Phase one of the project is funding Wohlmut’s documentary on the light tower and its rumored influence on the design of the Eiffel Tower. Last week, Borkenhagen invited 150 guests to his jazz club, Café Stritch, to build excitement for the project, and the event raised an encouraging $90,000. That was $10K short of the goal, but Borkenhagen tells Fly that “a number of people came up to me and said they don’t do public donations,” so the amount is expected to grow. After the film is released, phase two of the project will involve global submissions for the design of the new light tower, with stipends in the range of $20K-$30K, Borkenhagen says. From there, the effort will move to building the structure—in total, Borkenhagen says, the process should take four years—and working out an agreement with the city regarding placement and ongoing maintenance costs. “Our current thought is to give this as a gift to the city,” Borkenhagen says.

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18 Comments

  1. Who is Nathan Silver and why would we give a flying rip about his opinion of San Jose?
    Now putting up an ugly light tower is supposed to make us the cultural equivalent to Paris, really?
    Light rail was obsolete after the automobile was popularized, light tower was obsolete after the light bulb was perfected. Building this tower as symbol that San Jose has arrived in the 21 century makes the city look like they need to be wearing this 250ft high dunce cap instead shining a light on our briliance.
    If you want to impress the outside world, fix the potholes clean up the trash along the streets and freeways, and find some work for the tens of thousand of homeless that are living in boxes along those roads. Dredge out the creeks that flood people out of there homes and sequence the traffic lights. That would impress the hell out of me!

    • Absolutely right on. The idea is grotesque, especially over Cesar Chavez park. Better place? Mt. Umunhum or maybe floating on the Bay near Alviso. Maybe these three amigos can put their heads together to raise funds for low income housing and rap around services for homeless. This idea that city needs something iconic, continues this inferiority complex of certain locals versus SF. SF is iconic city, even without GGBridge. People don’t love Seattle because of the Space Needle. Dumb idea

  2. If they do build that tower I hope Rich Robinson goes and stands under it.
    He could use some enlightenment.

  3. This is a great idea, wee need to have civic pride, besides City Hall, The Tech and very few other iconic buildings San Jose has very bland architecture. I wish this idea and many others alike come to fruition. Where can I donate $$$?

  4. Please understand math. Silver did not “predict” anything. He gave what turned out to be the actual outcome a probability of 33%.

  5. Please consider the lost of public land and public open space. As a long time park volunteer, I can honestly tell you the city has a poor record of maintaining our parks. What is it going to cost the taxpayers for the on going maintenance costs and placement. This idea needs to be explored on private land like San Pedro Square. Regarding civic pride, lets beautify San Jose by having cleaner streets, develop our parks so residents and visitors can really enjoy them. Alum Rock is an example where we need to invest more money and if we did it could really make our city shine. I hope our Mayor and City council really think this out.

  6. Agreed, Alum Rock Park was one of the nicest city parks in the country a hundred years ago and only a few repairs have been made in the 40+ years I have been going there.

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