It’s opening day and a great time to remember just how well baseball and beer go together. In 1997 Dan Gordon and Dean Biersch were in dire need of space. For nearly 2 decades Dan and Dean had been successfully brewing their Gordon Biersch beer out of a small restaurant facility in downtown Palo Alto but the pair was finally ready to hit the big leagues of bottling and distribution. One problem, brewing and bottling mass quantities of beer takes a massive amount of space, something that was sorely lacking in Palo Alto. Enter Mr October; Reggie Jackson. By this point the hall of famer was enjoying retirement and his hobby of collecting classic cars, many of which were housed (along with an alleged mistress in a top floor penthouse as the tale goes) in a large warehouse facility on East Taylor and 9th just outside of Japantown in San Jose. Fortunately for Dan and Dean, Reggie had found a new space for his vehicles in Monterey and was vacating the San Jose warehouse. Gordon and Biersch snapped up the space (presumably without said mistress) and the South Bay’s largest brewery remains there to this day.
Fortunately for Mr October, if he’s missing his San Jose digs Gordon Biersch offers free tours of the brewery and bottling facility Monday through Thursday by appointment. The tour is a fantastic way to learn more about the colorful history of Gordon Biersch (followers of 16th century German beer purity laws), the brewing process (Gordon Biersch uses San Jose water!), and the business of beer (Gordon Biersch restaurants are not actually owned by the brewery). Check out the Gordon Biersch Brewery website to learn more and to schedule your group’s tour!
Back to the Future Day may have come and gone however its celebration allowed us here at SearchlightSJ to go back to the past and find an interesting San Jose connection to the film. The bonus features include commentary from Bob Gale, the Co-Creator of the trilogy. In the commentary Gale describes the first public screening of the film in which movie-goers entered the theater not knowing what to expect and left not wanting the fun to end. Steven Spielberg remarks that other than E.T. the first screening of Back to the Future was the greatest preview he had ever seen. Where would such an enthusiastic and fun audience come from? From San Jose of course! In May of 1985 Back to the Future received its first test screening at the Century Domes Theater Complex off of Winchester (the dome has since been granted historic building status by the City of San Jose saving the now defunct theater from the wrecking ball). The screening went so well that the release date was moved up from mid-August to July 3rd in order to capture larger summer audiences. It also resulted in the removal of over 6 minutes of footage which are now available as bonus scenes in the DVD and Blu-ray releases of the trilogy.
One question remains unanswered surrounding the screening; what prompted the creators of Back to the Future to hold their first screening in San Jose and not at Universal? Spielberg, with his South Bay ties, may have had familiarity with the dome which was completed in 1964, a year prior to his graduation from Saratoga High School. Perhaps more importantly, the creators of Back to the Future wanted an initial screening to occur without the presence of studio executives to maintain creative control over the film. Following the screening several minor tweaks were made before a formal screening at Universal Studios which included studio executive who gave their immediate approval of the film. Regardless the reason of how the sneak peek ended up at the Century Domes it just goes to show that whether back to the future or back to the past, we can always bring it back around to San Jose.
A few of our favorite San Jose sites had recent posts about the short lived Guadalupe Lake, a small lake with boat rentals that was formed in 1914 with the damming of the Guadalupe River. This got us wondering here at Searchlight SJ, when the rains return and the Guadalupe rises, is the river still navigable by boat? After some extensive searching we came across this intriguing and somewhat amazing sign:
That’s right, brown water rafting (new favorite term) right here in our own backyard! In rainy years the Guadalupe can be floated on in several different areas. One particularly memorable route sets sail from Park Ave downtown and takes you all the way into the Alviso Slough that feeds into the Bay. One veteran of these trips recommends that they be made in early spring, only after a winter with strong rains.
Sadly there are no dedicated Guadalupe River guides however experienced kayakers can learn about some of San Jose’s urban runs here. Care to take your urban kayaking to the next level? Check out this Stanford Kayak Club video where members not only found Guadalupe River runs, but also some fast moving surf under 880 perfect for back flips and barrel rolls. For those less adventurous the recently completed Alviso Slough boat dock offers gentle kayaking at the southernmost tip of the Bay.
We here at Searchlight SJ focus on all things uniquely unusual and fun about San Jose so that you can stop yourself the next time you start to say to a visitor or friend that there is nothing to do in San Jose except go to Santana Row, the Winchester Mystery House, or a Sharks game. That’s not to say that we want to stop you from promenading around the Row, touring Sarah’s beautiful but bizarre mansion, or taking in a game from the best hockey team in the world, in fact, we encourage it! Best of all, these three oft visited San Jose hot spots have some zany attributes that we love and that you’ve probably never known:
Santana Row: San Jose’s answer for Rodeo Drive has quickly become a go to for expensive clothes, fine dining, and exhibiting adoration for all things upper class. Santana Row doesn’t just attract the rich and famous of the South Bay, it has also hosted its fair share of well known national personalities including Bill Clinton. The former President stopped by Rosie McCann’s during a 2004 book tour for dinner and, among other things, a mango mojito (because nothing says Irish pub like mango and mojito). Stop by Rosie’s and check out the photo of Clinton’s visit near the entrance but please, order a Smithwicks instead.
Winchester Mystery House: You’ve undoubtedly visited this California State Landmark on fieldtrips or while entertaining out of town guests and may feel like you could give the admittedly pricey tour. The next time your uncle is visiting fear not, there’s plenty more to be learned and seen in the mansion. The key to a good experience at the Mystery House is a quality guide. To minimize the chance of an overly scripted guide avoid summer months and try for a morning or early afternoon tour. If you still find yourself growing disinterested and need a way to spook your nephews ask your guide about the Hall of Heads. For years the Winchester House hosted a wax museum that focused on the history of Winchester and the rifle. In the 70’s the wax museum was disassembled and replaced by the current rifle museum and its wax figures were dismembered with it. Various waxy body parts are stored in un-toured rooms of the mansion including one room dedicated to the heads of the historical characters. If you’re lucky enough to end up on a small tour and with an adventurous guide the room can be seen (if you ask nicely) after touring the Grand Ballroom.
San Jose Sharks: A trip to the Shark Tank remains one of the hottest tickets in town and we can say (with bias) one of the best sporting environments around. Everyone knows that the Sharks’ winning ways haven’t been able to carry them to the Stanley Cup but since 1991 San Jose has built a respected and already storied franchise with a history that includes the only NHL game ever to be rained out. In March of 1995 downtown’s mighty Guadalupe River flooded its banks thanks to torrential rain and poorly constructed spillways and covered Highway 87 and nearly every road into the arena with several feet of water. While the floodwaters did not reach the arena the rain did not cease and the water continued to rise thus forcing the NHL to declare the game with the Detroit Red Wings a rain out, the first and only rain out in the league’s history. Check out the pictures of a flooded 87 and Guadalupe flood cycles (if you’re into that sort of thing) at the Oakland Museum of California’s website.
A culinary trip to east San Jose conjures up thoughts of the delicious Salsa Festival, a bowl of warm Pho on a cold day, or brightly colored helados from a push cart. Chances are you don’t think of classic style hot dogs when you head east of 101 however at Mark’s Hot Dogs at 48 South Capitol Ave that’s exactly what you’ll find. What may be the last San Jose restaurant to provide carhop service Mark’s has been serving up delicious dogs since 1936 out of a tiny round orange building that can only be described as Flinstonian.
The hot dog stand has moved several times in the last 75 years and most recently relocated to its current location in 2000. Fortunately the unique hut has remained intact and proves to be impossible to miss if you happen to drive by. While the dogs won’t send ripples through the restaurant world they are big, messy, and cheap and above all the novelty of being served meat products in your parked car out of a building that looks like a big piece of fruit makes the trip well worth it.
There are plenty of tremendous dining establishments that go unnoticed in San Jose (more to come on this later) but there is one contribution to the culinary world that stands out amongst all others; the Eggo. Undoubtedly you’ve enjoyed them at one point in your life be it in the styling of chocolate chips, blueberries, strawberries, added fiber, honey oats, low fat, cinnamon sugar, antioxidized, or just plain ol’ thick and fluffy original, but you probably never realized that they were an invention of San Jose.
Eggo originated with an investment of $50 by three South Bay brothers (Tony, Frank, and Sam Dorsa) in the mid 1930’s as a dry waffle batter that required only milk and soon evolved into the frozen waffle to accommodate a growing demand for the product. Originally named Froffle (as in frozen waffle) the Dorsa’s eventually adopted the name Eggo to reflect the unique eggy taste. Despite a fire that burned the San Jose factory to the ground in 1946, a sale of the company to Kellogg in 1970, and a production issue that caused the Great Eggo Shortage and subsequent Eggo rationing in 2009, the tasty frozen treats continue to be churned out just off of 101 at the Kellogg factory on Eggo Way. While you can’t take your out of town guests to tour the factory you can certainly head to your local Zanotto’s or Mi Pueblo Markets (both San Jose originals) and impress them with the vast selection of Eggo products, born out of the dream from three brothers for warm flaky goodness. A dream that has people worldwide saying “Leggo my Eggo” to this day.
In 1889 Thomas Edison travelled to Paris, France to enjoy the World’s Fair and to marvel at the recently completed Eiffel Tower. The colossal 81 story structure captivated Edison causing the famed American inventor to sign the tower’s guestbook, “To M Eiffel the Engineer the brave builder of so gigantic and original specimen of modern Engineering from one who has the greatest respect and admiration for all Engineers including the Great Engineer the Bon Dieu, Thomas Edison.” Eight years prior to Edison’s praise a French delegation that may have included that same M Gustave Eiffel visited another less iconic iron tower taking meticulous notes and surveying every detail. Armed with information and a rough design the French engineers returned to Paris receiving approval for Le Tour Eiffel shortly thereafter. Over a century later a former complaint would be filed accusing M Eiffel of stealing the idea and the design. If proven true the complaint would combat Edison’s assertion of the Eiffel Tower as an original specimen and instead would show that the inventor needn’t travel farther than his own country to marvel at engineering; not of the Eiffel Tower, but of San Jose’s Electrical Light Tower.
In 1881 J.J. Owen, publisher of the San Jose Mercury News, lobbied for the idea of a massive electrical light tower to be constructed in downtown San Jose. Owen argued that a light tower would eliminate the need for costly gas street lamps and, with the blessing of the city months after, constructed the $4,000 tower at the intersection of Santa Clara and Market Streets. The 237 foot tower (nearly the size of the modern day 18 story Adobe Systems high rises) used six massive lamps and a reflecting shield to illuminate the sky and provided San Jose with the distinction of being the first city west of the Rockies to be illuminated by an electric light.
The giant light tower generated excitement and intrigue in San Jose’s quiet downtown and was soon dubbed the, “Beacon of the West.” Unfortunately, the tower proved to be more of a beacon for trouble than creativity and progress; attracted by the bright lights ducks would regularly fly into the tower and crash to the streets below, local farmers complained of unusual animal activity from their livestock, and most troublesome the light tower proved ineffective at actually lighting downtown due to the sheer distance from the lamps to the ground. Within 3 years the tower would only be lit for special occasions and was widely mocked by local residents. Finally, after years of rusting the giant tower would meet its’ demise in December of 1915 collapsing down onto the street in the midst of a severe wind storm.
For the next 74 years the tower would be largely forgotten until the centurion celebration of its French doppelganger in 1989. That same year the city of San Jose would file a copyright infringement complaint against the city of Paris and against Eiffel’s estate demanding that San Jose receive compensation from the revenue generated by the Eiffel Tower. After a fierce trial the complaint would eventually be dismissed but doubt had forever been cast on the originality of Eiffel’s design.
A trip to History Park provides you with a modern half sized replica of the tower as well as a look into life in the old days of the Valley of the Heart’s Delight. While there, be sure to check out the unique print shop as well as the classic candy and ice cream parlor inside of the Pacific Hotel.
San Jose's Eiffel Tower - What Could Have Been