You never know what you’ll find in the California Room at the Martin Luther King Jr. Public Library. Every time I invade the place, I wind up staying at least an extra 30 minutes, because the room is so utterly jammed to the gills with crackpot historical miscellanea. I always wind up rummaging around for something I wasn’t even planning on looking for in the first place. If you aren’t familiar with the cargo of books, pamphlets, maps, old newspaper clippings and photographs within its walls, you should be.
The California Room, located on the fifth floor, is the library’s special collection of local history. Originally, about a century ago, it was composed almost entirely of history and travel books and works of local and state poets. Over the decades it grew into a massive collection of anything related to the lore of San Jose and Santa Clara County.
For example, against one wall of the room, one finds entire rows of City Directories dating back to the early 1900s. If you want to know who lived at a particular street address in say, 1956, you can look up the address in the volume for that year. If you own a business and want to know what used to be at that location 30 years ago, the City Directories are the place to look.
Also, if you want to see endless documentations of capital projects that never happened, the California Room is the locale. Need aerial photos of San Jose from 1921, press clippings about the Hart kidnapping or high school essays from the ‘70s about Agnews Developmental Center? Look no further.
You never know who you’ll stumble into within the hallowed walls of this place. Years ago, when the main library was still on San Carlos Street, I was perusing a copy of David Ovason’s book, The Secret Architecture of Our Nation’s Capital, in which the author theorizes that the founding of Washington, D.C., was directly linked to sacred geometry, astrology, zodiacs and Masonic ideology, right down to how they laid out the streets and the monuments. He gives diagrams of D.C. streets that were supposedly designed to synchronize with certain constellations.
I wondered if St. James Park and downtown San Jose were designed the same way. Why not? San Jose’s first City Council included several Freemasons, so maybe they also designed the streets according to Masonic principles. If you look at the original diagrams for St. James Park—the diagonal and peripheral walkways—there just might be some mystical symbology buried in there somewhere. It sounded like a plausible idea.
So I left my place on the bar stool and scurried over to the California Room to pore through two books titled Fifty Years of Masonry in California—enormous volumes from 1898 that weigh about 10 pounds each. Then, lo and behold, Jim Arbuckle, son of the late Clyde Arbuckle, the official San Jose historian, sauntered into the room and saw me leafing through the tomes.
“We have all those in the basement,” he said of the books. “My dad was the historian.”
That was the first time I had met Jim, and we became casual acquaintances. Jim admitted nothing of said Masonic ideology in the street layouts of downtown, but he later informed me in an email that Clyde, being at least a 32nd degree Mason himself, did indeed encode certain Masonic-related details within the pages of his legendary book, Clyde Arbuckle’s History of San Jose.
So there you have it. Sadly, Jim Arbuckle passed away last year and I now have no one to pester with my zonked-out San Jose Masonic theories. But the California Room lives on. Try it sometime. You never know what you’ll discover.