Op-Ed: San Jose a Step Closer to Building Iconic Light Tower

The San Jose Light Tower Corporation recently won official approval to move forward with plans to design and construct an artistically inspired and iconic structure downtown as a gift to the Capital of Silicon Valley. 

In 1881, an impressive 237-foot tall electric light tower was constructed in downtown San Jose, spanning the intersection of Santa Clara and Market Streets. It was recently discovered that the Eiffel Tower, designed by ETH Zurich graduate Maurice Koechlin and built in 1889, was inspired in part by this original tower.

Now, the San Jose Light Tower Corporation, a local nonprofit organization, is leading the effort to build a new, world-class, distinctive structure in San Jose that would use cutting-edge architecture and technology to recognize the region’s history while inspiring future generations with a state-of-the-art design. Through this endorsement by the city council, that vision is now closer to becoming a reality.

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services and the Office of Economic Development/Office of Cultural Affairs are approved to guide the San Jose Light Tower Corporation as they perform site selection, discuss possible amenities, and implement fundraising strategies in support of this vision. This will also be done with special regard given to scale and context within the current urban fabric of the downtown to ensure a harmonious and aesthetic result.

The actual design for the new tower is undetermined and a worldwide competition to identify the ultimate design is still to be announced. As part of the effort to build a new tower, graduating students at ETH Zurich in Switzerland (considered one of the world's most prestigious universities in science and technology) were tasked with designing a possible new, artistic structure for San Jose.

In September 2017, students Nando Truffer, Coralie Taccoz, and Matthias Fischer came to California to present something special, a striking light tower design combining art and architecture, which immediately gained attention.

So striking that as part of an international collaboration, students from San Jose State University’s Engineering Department—Markanthony Rivera, Gabriel Orozco, Nicolas Macken, Scott Locascio, Christopher Kennedy, and Daniel Gu—utilized this design to construct a 3-foot tall, scale-model replica of the light tower, complete with individually-adjustable LEDs, programmable lighting, and a turntable.

The replica is on display at the Tech Museum of Innovation in downtown San Jose through mid-May when it will be moved to the lobby of the San Jose branch of Steinberg Hart, an award-winning architecture, urban planning, and interior design firm.

“Bringing this project to life has been an incredible feat, and it couldn't have been done without the hard work and long days my team turned in,” SJSU student Markanthony Rivera says. “Being on the ground floor of a large project that will be the future icon of Silicon Valley has been inspiring. The implications it bears for the future are especially impressive when you consider the long history behind the San Jose Electric Light Tower.”

With the success of this international collaboration and the green light from the city of San Jose to move forward with design and construction plans, the San Jose Light Tower team is preparing to hold a worldwide design competition and estimates a four-year project development and construction cycle, with project completion in 2022.

This new light tower will be the largest gift ever given to the city.

Thomas Wohlmut, Steve Borkenhagen, and Jon Ball are the founders of The San Jose Light Tower Corporation, a nonprofit, grassroots organization formed with the bold vision of creating an artistically-inspired and iconic structure that builds civic pride within San Jose. Visit www.sanjoselighttower.org to learn more. Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Interested in writing an op-ed? Email pitches to [email protected].


  1. I’m not sold on this idea yet.

    What’s the connection between San Jose, a light tower, and anything else?

    There’s a real connection between New York CIty and the Statue of Liberty. There’s a real connection between St. Louis and the Gateway Arch.

    San Jose and a light tower? The rest of the world is going to say: “huh?”

    “Maybe they just lost their keys and were looking for them”.

  2. Nothing screams sad small town, quite as loudly as this homage to the past. Reminds me of the hundreds of small towns in the Midwest who celebrate their long-defunct water towers with some pathetic mural or local saying.

    Welcome to Smallville – Capitol of Silicon Valley.

  3. Here’s another tower for consideration – the original San Jose town clock tower. Once an amazing piece of architecture and today holds the oldest operating piece of Hi-Tech in Silicon Valley. Largely ignored for over a 100 years – the clock alone qualifies as the “Crown Jewels of San Jose” – but because the tower was never fully restored after the ’06 – that’s 1906 earthquake less than 1% of the San Jose population even know we have a town clock. But there’s more to this story, much more. There is a 1,500 lb bell in the tower that never gets rung – because there is no belfry -any bell sound would just go down inside the Art Museum. And more – —
    – – — – – Doc Harrold did the first ever radio broadcast from the then next door – Santa Clara Valley Bank, now Fairmont office build. – he knew at the time there was going to be a bell installed at the (then US Post Office) and he wanted accurate time for listeners on their Quartz homemade radio listening device – go see the Doc Harrold plaque on the Fairmont office tower to learn more on him — – but there is more history to this – – – to keep this short just go to FB and see sjclocktower or to the site http://www.sjclocktower.org for deeper history.
    Additionally there is a STEAM Ed. program for youth – The Art and Science of Time – – how many young people today can understand analog time – – say – “quarter to five” there is a lot to learn with the Science, Tech, Eng., Art and Math in time keeping. – oh should mention that Lick Observatory takes part in this as well – – Example – You are building a clock – from scratch – how do you get the right time to start your clock – – you look to the heavens.
    – – – — – and the old US Post office held the US Weather Bureau on the 2nd floor – probably something good for that Doc Harrold radio guy – – who wants to know the weather?- – – – – – figure this out – – -what was the major industry in this valley in 1908 – — -. Lastly – about lights — when we finish restoration of the US Landmark San Jose Clock Tower – we can string lights down the edges – at New Year Eve – next to San Jose Ice and C.Chavez Park – we can watch the Nels Johnson clock as it ticks down to midnight- – – so this is an idea for another tower – – –

  4. San Jose’s is such high tech place I just dont see why it’s not like San Franisco with more modern buildings and places. Why are some places so run down east side gangs stop them tell the police everything you hear

    • San Francisco’s prosperity is being funded by borrowed money which is never going to be paid back. The city streets in San Francisco are overrun with nomadic grifters (“homeless”) who crap wherever they damn well please and menace and panhandle the dwindling urban workforce. Whatever economic activities that once required a central location in San Francisco can now be done via the internet in safe, clean, civilized red, white, and blue cities and towns located across the land.
      The glittering, modern buildings in San Francisco ultimately going to be archeological curiosities of a past, failed civilization like Angkor Wat or the Maya.

      Old line urban centers like San Francisco, Chicago, New York, etc are like burned out stars that are no longer fueled by meaningful economic activity, but are now just warehousing for the welfare-sustained permanent Democratic Party underclass

      “Progressive” San Jose is on track to slip down the same slope. We should appreciate the small blessing that San Francisco will be first down the chute before us.

  5. I think if they want an “Iconic” building why not a 21st century multi-use, multipurpose lighthouse built at the South End of the Bay.

    whatever, good luck with the Shoe Tower.

    Good o’l Shoe

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