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San Jose's historic survivors ... still glittering.

San Jose's historic survivors . . . still glittering The gleam of new office towers might mark the most obvious changes on the downtown San Jose skyline, but some of what glitters is old. In the shadow of the upstart high-rises, historic survivors from an era when a smaller scale prevailed have also benefited from the downtown area's intensive redevelopment effort.

Many old buildings and public places in California's oldest city have never looked better, having undergone thorough restorations to bring back their original appeal, or transformations to accommodate new uses. This month, the San Jose Museum of Art opens a vast new addition that brings together the old and new to make an enduring contribution to the city's cultural heritage.

We've put together an itinerary that guides you to the best of downtown San Jose's historical renovations, with numbers corresponding to ones on our map (page 20). You can follow it step-by-step, or use any part of it that fits your interests or schedule. To join a docent-guided historical tour, call the San Jose Historical Museum at (408) 287-2290.

A stroll through the park (1)

Plaza Park is an appropriate starting point for any history-oriented tour of San Jose. The park was at the center of the Pueblo de San Jose at the city's founding in 1777, making it the oldest open space in San Jose. California's first state capitol was built on the park's eastern border in 1849 (on the site now occupied by the Fairmont Hotel), and San Jose's city hall stood at its center from 1889 to 1958.

As part of the park's recent facelift, a stage for free performances was put up on the north end of the park; palms, sycamores, and redwoods that once lined the approach to the city hall now flank a wide walkway lined with old-fashioned lamp-posts and benches popular at lunchtime with brown-bagging office workers. On warm days, children frolic in a fountain of water jets that spray up from the paved area to the south. Flowering jacarandas and other new plantings combine pleasantly with older trees in the spruced-up landscape design.

A museum that weds old and new (2)

Cross Market Street to the old San Jose post office, built in 1892 in robust Richardsonian Romanesque style. An unusual three-faced clock is set into its sandstone tower, which lost an original spire in the 1906 earthquake. Since 1969, the building has been a historic home for the contemporary-leaning San Jose Museum of Art.

On June 1, the museum takes a big step forward with the unveiling of a new barrel-vaulted addition that more than triples its exhibit space. The expansion allows the museum to mount a wider range of traveling exhibits that require more room and state-of-the-art climate and security controls, as well as to show more of its permanent collection that, until now, has been hidden away in storage.

Inaugurating the new exhibit space is Compassion and Protest: Recent Social and Political Art from the Eli Broad Family Foundation Collection, on display through August 25. The exhibit brings together startlingly confrontational works by artists such as Jonathan Borofsky, Keith Haring, and Andy Warhol. Rodin bronzes on loan from Stanford will also be on view. During the opening weekend, the museum will host free guided tours of the new addition and exhibit, and hands-on art demonstrations for children; call 294-2787 for more information.

Try to visit the museum this summer, when you can see exhibits in both the old and new sections. Come fall, the old building will be closed for a couple of years for seismic upgrading. Museum hours are 10 to 6 Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 to 4 Saturdays, noon to 4 Sundays; admission costs $4.

Next stop: St. Joseph Cathedral (3)

Across San Fernando Street from the museum stands St. Joseph Cathedral. The original St. Joseph's, an adobe structure built on this site in 1803, was the first church of the Pueblo de San Jose. The current dome-topped, neoclassical church, dedicated in 1877, has emerged from a top-to-bottom restoration with its status raised to cathedral.

Viewing the inspirational beauty of the restored cathedral might well bring a lapsed Catholic back into the fold. In their newfound brilliance, the reworked murals that cover the ceiling vaults (most of which are actually painted on canvas, rather than directly on the plaster) bring to mind the newly cleaned pigments of the Sistine Chapel. The restoration project's Michelangelo is Andrzej Bossak, a worldclass restorer who has worked on several of California's Spanish missions since leaving his native Poland in 1982.

A free pamphlet available in the cathedral's foyer gives a brief introduction to the interior of the church, laid out in a symmetrical Greek cross plan. (The restoration architect has emphasized this design by moving the altar to a central location under the dome.) Be sure to make the short climb up the stairs in the south bell tower to see the impressive 105-year-old pipe organ.

Free guided tours are offered by appointment on Friday mornings. Among upcoming cultural events hosted by the cathedral are choral concerts on May 29 by the Washu Chorus from Japan and on June 21 by Opera San Jose. To join a tour or get more information about events, call 925-0200.

Take a break for lunch (4)

Ready for a bite to eat? Amble east down San Fernando Street to the narrow alleyway between First and Second streets that opens into the outdoor dining courtyard of Gordon Biersch Brewing Company. The courtyard faces a picturesque brick wall of the renovated 1908 Lyon Building, which houses the elegant brew pub's main dining area.

The brew pub's menu reads like culinary Esperanto, offering such international options as Thai chicken skewers, Greek salad, and tortellini carbonara; accompanying sauces run the gamut from spicy peanut to Sichuan black bean to curry. Three types of German-style lager been are brewed on the premises.

Hop on a historic trolley (5)

After lunch, head back to First Street and then north to the Santa Clara light-rail station, where you can board one of five historic electric trolleys that were painstakingly restored by hundreds of volunteer workers. All the trolleys were built in the early years of this century; two actually ran on the old San Jose Railroad street-car tracks from 1912 to 1934.

The trolleys now operate daily on the new light-rail tracks of the San Jose Transit Mall, running north on First Street and south on Second Street between San Carlos and Devine streets every 20 minutes from 9 to 5 weekdays, 10 to 6 weekends and holidays. Tickets cost 25 cents at vending machines along the transit mall. You can ride the trolley north past St. James Park to the Civic Center, then back through the park on Second Street.

Disembark at the park (6)

Get off the trolley where it bisects St. James Park. Just as Plaza Park defined the center of the original pueblo, St. James emerged as the hub of the new American city that took shape in the latter half of the 19th century. The presence of such noteworthy buildings as the 1866-vintage Santa Clara County Courthouse (awaiting repair of earthquake damage) around its perimeter indicates its longstanding prominence.

A fountain circled by benches and spouting iron fish was installed as part of a recent park restoration project, to replace an 1880s fountain removed when Second Street was extended through the park in 1955; a matching fountain is planned just across the transit mall.

Join the club at an art deco hotel (7)

To get to the last stop on our tour, backtrack to Santa Clara Street and stroll west to where Almaden Boulevard branches around a pink art deco structure. The Hotel De Anza has commanded its proud prospect of the wide boulevard since 1931, when it was built at a cost of a half-million dollars. Its recent renovation, following almost two decades of disuse, cost 20 times that amount. Now, the 10-story hotel has resumed its role as an elegant spot for locals to dine and for visitors to spend the night.

Although little remains of the original interior, an appropriately art deco look has been maintained throughout the hotel. One room that does retain some original elements is the Hedley Club (open 11:30 A.M. to midnight), just off the lobby. It's a comfortable place to unwind with a drink after a day of exploring downtown. The hotel's new restaurant, La Pastaia, is open daily for lunch and dinner. Slateclad arches and marbleized walls create an appealing environment for dining on northern Italian cuisine; a large menu offers a wide range of antipasti and salads, pastas, grilled and roasted meat dishes, and pizzas cooked in an exposed woodfire oven.

Attractively furnished guest rooms, expanded during the renovation (and thus reduced in number to 100 from the original 150), cost $110 for one person and $125 for two on weekday nights, $89 for two on weekends. For reservations, call 286-1000.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jun 1, 1991
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