The Man With No Name at Home

When Clint Eastwood as the Man With No Name would ride into town, he had no history.  He would be right at home in San Jose.  San Jose has become a city that may as well have no history because we continually forget what we have and, as they say, those who forget history are bound to repeat it. 

This is a great irony because we are the oldest civil settlement in California and the seat of the first California Legislature.  Yet, I think we are adrift without any real sense of direction or remembrance.  I’m pleased that Leonard McKay refreshed our memories about all the creameries that we used to enjoy “downtown”—places we could all go to share the common experience of a community. 

Maybe it’s the nature of things that there is birth, death and rebirth.  Maybe it’s normal that downtowns live and die, but where is the rebirth of our downtown?  Where is the feeling of belonging to something that is bigger than us and, at the same time, small enough to create a sense of permanence and continuity?  Where is the remembrance?  Maybe some of us are simply living in the past and the future has passed us by.  Maybe the future is supposed to have no past.

Dutch Hamann built more parks than any city manager before or since, and what do we remember him for but sprawl and the creation of Valley Fair in the late 1950s that drove the first stake through downtown’s heart.  Planners, mayors, managers and council members ever since, with a few notable exceptions, have tried to reinvent downtown, but all we have gotten is art, mostly modern, Quetzalcoatl, a few new architecturally boring buildings, a $500 million nouveau gauche City Hall, an empty Sobrato building and a place where Single Gal cannot get a real date.  Boy, guys are sure different from when I was young and single!

At the same time, we can’t seem to resurrect our statue of Fallon because it’s not PC.  We keep repeating the mistakes of the past as we divert more resources into projects such as Santana Row.  We chase the pipe dream of having a major league baseball team.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see MLB in San Jose, but we’re still bumbling it as we’ve been doing for 20 years.  Furthermore, if we’re not very, very careful, Coyote Valley will drive another stake through downtown and it’ll take us decades to recover from that.  Why?  You may ask what harm it would be to move the center of community 30 miles south.  The answer is simple: sprawl, congestion, and dissipation.  Those are the same things we did with Valley Fair, Santana Row and all the commercial strips that we have built over the years. 

The Man With No Name would feel right at home!


  1. Jerry:

    Lest we forget, Leonard is President-Emeritus of the California Pioneers of Santa Clara County (founded 1875) while I am the current President. You can find us at <> We are also an affiliate of History San Jose.

    At the present time we are in the process of raising funds to renovate the historic Paulson house in History Park.  When that project is completed, it will be occupied, jointly, by the Pioneers and the Digital Clubhouse Network <>, an intergenerational group that gathers local history and archives it in digital form at History Park.

    Thank you for the kudos for Dutch. He was the visionary, along with John Mcenery the elder, George Starbird, Ernie Renzel and the many “pioneers” of the last half of the last century that created a plan for San Jose that destroyed by the carpet baggers…



    The riddle of the intentions of city hall toward downtown were fully revealed in the course of planning commission and city council meetings that culminated in the huge general plan changes adopted in June 2005 when the city embarked on an expanded urbanization (or downtownization) of unprecedented size and scope.

    City planners decided to expand the downtown traffic rules & guidelines along various streets and avenues. For example, downtown traffic congestion rules were imposed along North Capitol Avenue and North First Avenue in an explicit program of urbanizing those streets to the same level of downtown streets. The goal has been explicitly stated as bringing urban “bustle” (presumably in the sense of “hustle-bustle”) to the sidewalks of those roadways. The planners are too young to know the original meaning of “bustle.”

    The same is true for downtown rules for residential design guidelines. Both the named streets are scheduled for urban-density row house developments suitable for downtown, but planted in formerly suburban neighborhoods.

    Both the planning commission and the city council worked together with the planners to establish a framework for a kind of spider web downtown, stretching in all directions along specific roadways. While we still hear about the “downtown core,” in fact we now have the downtown core, so far as density & construction styles & urbanization are concerned, stretching all the way to Santa Clara and Milpitas along multiple roadways.

    The borders of the “downtown core” have been breached even though the names are the same. See the planning department web site for its vision for North First Street in this slow-loading slide-show of six slides. at Plumeria_files/frame.htm

    The last two slides show an urban landscape in all but name. And that is where your downtown has gone, all along the principal roadways leading out of downtown.

  3. It’s a sad commentary that people need to drive to a park in order to see historical homes and replicated historical buildings in an artificial setting.  I’m happy that the historical homes were saved, but sad that so many buildings with historical value downtown and elsewhere were pushed over to make way for something sterile and boring. 

    Civic leaders long ago sold this town’s soul to developers and things have been bumbling along at City Hall ever since in what is a never ending search for an identity that has been quite effectively destroyed forever.

    10th largest city in the country is hardly something to be boasting about.  It’s shameful that a town holding that title is so numbingly non-descript and nowhere.

    The sad truth is, you ask your average American “do you know the way to San Jose” and you’ll get an appropriately blank stare in response.

  4. Mark has it right. San Jose does not value its history. If it did, groups would not have to fight to save numerous historic stuctures.
    Unfortunately,  only does the average American know about San Jose, many San Jose residents do not know much about or appreciate the rich history of the city.
    We can’t rely on City Hall to have the wisdom to save what is left of our historic buildings. We have to rely on our local groups like the California Pioneers, PACSJ,etc.

  5. Excellent blog.  Your post would be a great read in the editorial page in the Merc.  I think your piece embodies how many people feel about San Jose.

    I applaud those who have embraced and share the history of San Jose from its beginnings to the Valley of Heart’s Delight to the Capital of Silicon Valley.  Is there a video out there that documents the evolution of San Jose?  It would be great to show it in San Jose schools.  (I felt the same about Miss McEnery’s documentary on Fallon)

    From a timing perspective, this is a question for the mayoral candidates to address.  We should embrace the history of the City and use it to our advantage.  Also, it is time to speak honestly about the current identity of San Jose and make a clear vision that makes sense to the people (do we really need Dr. Phil?).

    Now that I am thinking about it, I think we should have a spontaneous essay test for San Jose’s leaders asking what the identity of the City of San Jose.  Secondly, I would like to know what they would identify as the most significant mistakes made by San Jose’s government over the past 40+ years and what they are doing to avoid similar mishaps. 

    I guess I have more questions than answers!

  6. Very good points about proposed development and what has been going on for decades

    So Who is going to do something about it ?

    Who is responsible to change our current situation?

    – not politicans
    – not developers

    Who ?

    Please make workable suggestions about who exactly and how

  7. SW—The problem is that the current “leaders” are making some of the most significant mistakes so it is unlikely they will identify them. They will likely point the finger everywhere but at themselves.

  8. Jerry, We all want change to effect others not us. We are compulsive and do not like change.
    I have spent all of my life in San Jose. Except for my first two years of life and the tour of Navy enlistment, if you can call being stantioned in El Centro Ca, with the Mercury Project and 7 Astonauts enlistment.
      I do not travel well, and as such I can find all of lifes satisfactions, hunting, fishing, painting, and on and on, all with in a radius of 500 miles max. My greatest pleasure is the Redwood Forests we have in our Santa Cruz Mtns. Steelhead Streams, Coastal shore lines with an abundance of fish and viewing pleasures. A bay teaming with Sturgeon, Halibut, Salmon, Stripped Bas. All within a small effort, away.
      Down town is but a small part of that whole picture. Yet for many who have come to the lure of gold in the Silicon Valley, there is little else.
      I learned my Foundry trade here and in San Francisco. I purchased a foundry in San Francisco that was established in 1846, the same year that San Francisco was founded. I found and located in my present location (San Jose Foundry, estblished 1852). I established the First Mexican Gallery in the history of San Jose. 200 years before the first Mexican Gallery. Hard to belive. Sand Fire & Imagination Gallery.
      Upon more research, I established, while at the Mexican Heritage Corp. Founder’s Day. That got Politically bent. Founder’s Day should be a celebration of great style. Instead we have Cinco de Mayo and 16th of Sept. WHY?
      Down town represents many facets to me. The early morning San Jose. The mid day hustle and bustle. The evening enjoying the moment, drinks and dinners. The after dinner socials, get togethers, dancing. Then there is the element that polutes the City. The after midnight bars and night clubs. Why? The answer is easy. Expect the same behavior for the after hours folks as the after dinner crowd.
      What’s the problem? The police it appears are baby sitting the mess that the Redevelopment and the city created. So fix it!
      Give this mess to the Grand Jury. They will deal with it. It’s show time!
      Our city is much too rich in history and stature to be condemed for rousting the early morning energetic generation.
      We can never be a San Francisco, so let’s just be San Jose! Warts and all. All the present characters will enhance our history in time. We’ll look back at this moment and have a good belly laugh! Broke but happy!
      Take a Veteran to lunch tomorrow. Better yet, thank a Veteran, express your appreciation, let them know you care!
      F Troop at the San Jose Athletic Club will get high fives from me in the morning.
            The Village Black Smith

  9. #3, Mark,

    Ummm…actually, to see victorian homes all you have to do is drive or walk down a few blocks to the Hensley district, second, third and fourth street between Julian and Jackson, roughly.  You can also cross first street and check out the Vendome neighborhood, which is full of victorians, craftsman houses, and 1920’s Spanish Villas.  Those areas too far north for you?  Go to Naglee Park, or head south on any street downtown.  My house, one block out of the official downtown core, was built in the 1880’s.

    There is so much beautiful architecture in this city and in the core- your complaints are completely off the mark.

  10. Excellent piece!  Another thing San Jose has forgotten is that it is the home of the original California State University, established on May 2, 1862, by the California Legislature as the California State Normal School, but now called “San Jose State”. See

    Instead of that non-sensical name, we should restore the school’s CSU identity and promote its history as the school that gave birth to the entire 23-campus CSU system, and to UCLA and UC Santa Barbara.

    We lost the state capitol, but we are still the capitol of the mighty CSU.  But to exploit this status, we need to overcome the provinical “SJSU” alumni and restore the school’s presitigous California State University identity and promote its status as the rightful flagship campus of the CSU.

    This could be the first step to seeing that school blossom into a statewide power, a destination campus that can help transform and revitablize our still-moribund downtown.

    To learn more, please visit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *