It’s my birthday, and I’ll have it in San Jose if I want to

TreatbotYou’ve done your birthday in SF, you don’t want to spend the money to do your birthday in Vegas, and in San Jose, well, it seems like your options are pretty dang limited.

Don’t resort to Denny’s! You can actually have a birthday that you WANT to talk about on social media right here in San Jo. Here are some of our picks for what to do:

 

HayesHayes Mansion: History and a Hefeweizen

The second best mansion in San Jose (it’s hard to beat Sarah W’s place), is Hayes Mansion. The former home of Mary Hayes Chynoweth (a spiritualist and close personal pal of–you guessed it–Sarah Winchester), Hayes Mansion is now a gem of a hotel in South San Jose. Built in 1905, this place is loaded with history, including a library full of Mary’s favorite books, framed pictures of turn of the century San Jose, and a secret speakeasy you can access via a secret elevator. (We’ll let you discover that one on your own). Palm Plaza Lounge, the bar on the property, has a gorgeous, large outdoor patio area with heat lamps, sofas, and live entertainment on weekends.

 

4thstreet4th Street Bowl: For something completely different

Do you enjoy bowling? Do you equally enjoy singing? How about dancing to generic ‘90’s beats? Then 4th Street is the place for your annual shindig. A combination bowling alley/karaoke bar/club, it is a truly memorable (and weird) experience that you have to try at least once…and possibly only once.

 

MonopolyMonopoly in the Park: For a record-setting birthday

Joey Chestnut isn’t the only record-setter of note in San Jose. We are also home to the largest Monopoly board in the world, a 930- square foot Guinness World Record holder you can rent out for your birthday. Play the game with larger-than-life dice, giant token hats, black and white stripes for unfortunate “go directly to jail” cards, and more.

 

sanpedrosquaremarketlightingSan Pedro Market: Lots of food, plenty of alcohol, and a really, really old house

With more than 20 unique vendors selling food, beverage, and trinkets in the shadow of the oldest residence in San Jose (the 219-year-old Peralta Adobe), you’ll be able to make everyone on your b-day guest list happy here. Check the calendar of events for live music, and be sure to visit our friends at Treatbot Karaoke Ice Cream for a perfect birthday dessert from a San Jose original.

 

campoCampo di Bocce: Bocce ball if you’re feeling old; Fireball if you’re still feeling young

Okay, okay, it’s TECHNICALLY Los Gatos, but we couldn’t leave this place off the list. Just when you thought bocce ball was just for bored people at parks, Campo’s got food, alcohol, and a super competitive environment: all the ingredients for a perfect birthday (assuming you’re on the winning team).

Hicks Road: Haunted or Hyped?

hicksAs a YA reader in the ‘90’s and In honor of the Goosebumps movie (coming to a theater near you in October!) I wanted to cover a topic that has been the fodder of many a San Jose sleepover story: Hicks Road.

Situated alongside Almaden Quicksilver County Park, Hicks Road has become legendary in San Jose for all the wrong reasons. If you even mention it in driving directions, you’ll get a “oh hayyyllllllll no” response and a request for a different route. Hearing the stories about what makes Hicks Road so dang creepy might turn you as ghostly white as the albinos rumored to inhabit the area. Which leads me to the first piece of Hicks Lore.

The Albinos

There’s said to be a community of albinos (in some versions of the story, Satanic albinos) on Hicks that are rather wary of visitors. They reside in what people have spun as either harmless “small trailer homes” or “creepy huts,” once you turn right at a fork in the road onto a no-through street. While hard evidence of their hostility towards “out-of-streeters” is a bit hard to come by, there are some favorite anecdotes, for instance, this gem:

“He was coming after us in his Jeep…my buddy got a good look and said he was hella’ white.”

…or one brilliant skeptic who simply asserts:

“I personally do not believe in albinos.”

Oh NorCal.

The Devil’s Door

…is a giant rock. With a door painted on it.

The Movie

San Jose, perhaps desperate for a solidly great urban legend, has seen stories of Hicks Road perpetuate through several decades. And its influence has even made it to the silver screen. Several college students produced a short Blair Witch-style movie called—appropriately— Hicks Road in 2009. Here’s the plot summary:

The urban legend of Hicks Road has captured the minds and thoughts of many residents in San Jose, California. And especially the imagination of four college students that grew up hearing the story again and again. These four curiosity seekers attempt to find out what is really going on in the shadows of Hicks Road. But little do they know that what lies ahead will haunt and change them for the rest of their lives…

 

It may not be The Hills Have Eyes, but it’s something.

The Threatening Motorists in Cars That Are, Like, WAY Faster Than Yours

One of our own Searchlighters had a late-night experience on Hicks that left him convinced that the hype is true. Here’s his version of the story:

It was a dark and stormy night, or at least, 15 years later in my mind it was.  As bored South San Jose teenagers we were sick of roaming the halls of Oakridge, sitting outside of Starbucks, or killing time at the Cardinal Lounge so we decided to go for some real adventure – a trip on Hicks Road.  About five minutes after turning onto the road an old busted up pickup truck raced up behind our car.  The driver flashed his high beams multiple times so we assumed he simply wanted to pass.  We pulled off into the first turn off and the truck slammed on its breaks behind us, high beams still shining bright and the driver opened his door and exited carrying a large object which in our retellings of the story has been everything from a shotgun to a fishing pole. The screams from our vehicle could be heard from Quicksilver park to Old Almaden and we hit the gas and raced off of Hicks as quickly as possible.  Was he albino?  Hard to tell.  Was he Satanic?  I suppose it’s possible.  Was he a poor local who lives off of Hicks and hates having teenagers who are terrible drivers and likely up to nefarious activities roaming around his neighborhood?  Probably yes but on that fateful night he was only one thing; our worst nightmares. 

HicksRoad

The Road Itself

As the paved road gives way to dirt, abandoned cars, sketchy messages on cardboard, and people threatening you with shotguns make Hicks, well, potentially “less-than-friendly.” And maybe not where you want to teach your teenager to drive.

If you want to brave the road, just get on Camden from 85 and head for the hills. It might turn out to be no big deal. It might turn out to be the stuff nightmares are made of.

But ultimately, the way I see it, how scary can a road that scales a hill called “Mt. Umunhum” be?

Now and Then: The Ghosts of Roller Rinks, Restaurants, and Amusement Parks Past

A moose-themed arcade/restaurant.

An amusement park straight out of the Old West.

A roller rink where you probably had your birthday party at least once and wore an L.A. Gear shirt and a denim vest (yes, VEST), and hoped that the boy you liked would hold your hand even though he was surely playing pinball and eating greasy pizza instead.

Whether you love or hate change, it happens. And, as San Jose continues to morph and develop, some of the places you just assume will always be there suddenly become a distant memory (And maybe the denim vest should REMAIN a distant memory…)

Let’s look at some historic (and some NOT so historic…one just closed this past year) San Jose fixtures and what now stands where they once were.

THEN: Bullwinkles

Opened: 1981

Closed: 1996

Bullwinkles

I remember visiting Bullwinkles as a kid and even then feeling like it was Chuck E Cheese done more upscale. (I mean, what’s more appetizing anyway: a mouse or a moose?) Based on the beloved cartoon characters of the ‘60’s, Bullwinkles was designed to look like a woodsy edifice on the outside, and inside was a cornucopia of arcade games, climbing structures, and even a show with animatronics that would run a couple times per hour. Other Bullwinkles locations exist today, but sadly the NorCal birthday go-to couldn’t keep its doors open.

Now: DaVita Santa Clara Dialysis/D1 Training Center

DaVita

In 1996, Bullwinkles closed and was replaced by a nightclub. And then another nightclub. And then I’m pretty sure one more nightclub before it finally landed in the hands of a completely different industry: healthcare. There isn’t a discernible trace of the old family entertainment center (or smarmy club scene) here anymore, but at least it’s moved on to a place where people can maintain health and happiness—even without the help of a cartoon moose.

THEN: Aloha/ Roxy’s/ Golden Skate/ San Jose Skate Roller Rink

Opened: 1977

Closed: December 2014

Rollerrink

Even though everyone agrees that it was a “bit” run down, the place consistently smelled like a foot, and the employees seemed like they would rather be doing anything…ANYTHING… than refereeing an organized game of Shoot the Duck, everyone also agreed that this place also just reeked of memories. The ultimate personality crisis, this rink went through at least 4 name changes but people generally fondly remember the original Aloha Roller Palace days where you DEFINITELY weren’t in paradise, but you got a little slice of roller heaven for 2 hours. Then get off the rink dangit. It’s roller derby practice.

NOW: ACO Furniture

Sigh. From a place that stood for pure, sheer, unadulterated fun to a chain furniture store that will probably be claiming that it’s going out of business and everything must GO, GO, GO! in no time, makes this one of the most depressing then&now’s in San Jose history. But all is not lost. If you stand in the middle of the concrete show floor, close your eyes, and just take the littlest whiff, you maybe—just maybe— might still detect the faintest aroma of skate sanitizer in the air.

THEN: Frontier Village

Opened: 1961

Closed: 1980

Frontiervillage

Some recent articles and videos (like this AWESOME one from Lost Parks of Northern California) have perhaps introduced you to Frontier Village, the Disneyland of San Jose back in the day. And from what I’ve learned, it was completely and utterly charming. Stories about the park abound, from the variety of rides and gunslinger shows, to canoe marathons, and even a Lutheran church that used to meet in the upper room of the Saloon. And overwhelmingly people that either worked in the park or visited it agree: IT SHOULD NEVER HAVE CLOSED. But you know, there’s still Happy Hollow.

NOW: Edenvale Park

edenvalepark

Nestled just adjacent to Hayes Mansion, this park is a favorite for South San Jose residents and features beautiful walking paths, mature trees, volleyball and tennis courts, and multiple play structures including a giant climbing rock (which used to also be a slide). Also, the park nods subtly to the ghost of its past with old maps of Frontier Village in display cases, and the occasional homage to former park decor (like this little frontier house and others atop light posts in the park).

Depressed that it’s no longer a theme park? Go get a drink at the bar in Hayes Mansion, or join the groups of people that reunite every year to reminisce about the former Frontier.

Stay tuned for more “Now and Thens” coming soon!

Setting Sail on the Mighty Guadalupe

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:

riversign

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.

Bon voyage!

Being Three Faced: The Unsolved Mystery of the San Jose Clock Tower

"I'm on the outsiiiiiiide, I'm looking innnnnnn..."

“I’m on the outsiiiiiiide, I’m looking innnnnnn…”

Sarah Winchester’s crib isn’t the only mysterious edifice in San Jose.

It might be the fact that I watched Back to the Future this weekend and have clock towers on the brain, but I had the urge to explore an understated San Jose mystery: why the historic San Jose Clock Tower only has three faces. There is a circular indentation where the fourth clock—facing east—would be affixed, but alas, it remains empty. Conspiracy? A matter of structural integrity? Bizarrely obvious oversight?

Before we speculate on that, let’s look at some facts:

  • The clock tower was built in 1892…not a great year for the birth of a building since a bit over a decade later many of them would come crumbling down in the 1906 earthquake. And crumble down it did.
  • In 1908 the city began reconstructing the tower, a project that never fully reached completion.
  • The clock inside is a famed Nels Johnson Century Tower Clock which isn’t just your average, run of the mill Swatch. At the time, it was one of the finest clocks available (yet another mystery is why San Jose was chosen to receive such a gift), and is speculated to be “the first high-tech instrument built in San Jose.” Today it needs to be hand-wound, but is evidently still ridiculously accurate, to within a few seconds over a month.
  • And most importantly—be sure to soak this in— the original clock tower did, in fact, have four clock faces.

No one seems to know why the clock tower only has three faces today, not even those responsible for its preservation and restoration efforts. In response to my hard-hitting, investigative interrogation (“Would you be so good as to let me know why there are only three faces on the San Jose Clock Tower please?”) I got this response:

Hello Jordan. No one knows why the clock tower only has 3 faces.  The original tower did indeed have the fourth face.  You can see a picture of it on the FB page.

Wolf Blitzer I am not.

Perhaps no one does know for sure why the clock is the way it is, but theories abound. Here are a smattering.

Not giving the east side the time of day

Theory number one—which happens to be the one I’ve heard the most—is that the missing clock is a cheap shot to the east side. Why? Who knows. It’s not the first clock in history to include only 3 faces, intentionally slighting a side of town they were not particularly fond of. (A number of clocks in England, for example, are purported to have excluded a fourth clock face for this reason).Those involved with the restoration debate whether or not to include the fourth face, and there’s absolutely no reason not to. In an interview with The Metro, John Mitchell, who is spearheading the restoration efforts, made this remark:

‘If we don’t [add the fourth face], then people on the East Side will complain,’ Mitchell says. “They’ll say, ‘What, d’ya think the East Side isn’t good enough?'” (Knowing San Jose, that’s probably exactly what would happen.)”

Yet sources point to “no” on adding the fourth face. Sorry east side; you’ll have to resort to sun dial.

Wondering “weather” or not to do it

Seeing that the sun rises in the east, one school of thought believes that the weather-induced wear and tear of the clock would become an eyesore, particularly compared to the other faces. However, one would presume that if we can preserve centuries-old Italian frescoes, surely we could weather-guard a clock.

Time is money, people

One clock tower in England, paid for by public subscription, had either an ironworking business or shipyard that refused to pay for a fourth clock face because employers on that side of the clock didn’t want their employees wasting time “clockwatching.” In Silicon Valley, we’re all about productivity. So this theory makes an iota of sense that could promote it from “laughable” to “plausible.”

The question remains: will we ever solve the mystery of the clock? Will it ever be returned to its original form? And will they ever add the elusive fourth face?

Only time will tell.

Heard (or want to start) any other theories? Do tell!

The Holy Trinity of San Jose Attractions

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.

Hot Dog!

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.

Secrets of the Library

What does a secret hiding spot, a hilarious window, and a really creepy lock of aged hair have in common? They’re all part of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. library in San Jose, which is so much more than a bunch of books and college students half-reading them. If you’re meandering through downtown, stop in at the library and check out these hidden gems along with a favorite book:

Secret in the Browsing Library: On the first floor of the library in the area labeled “Browsing Library” you’ll find a Harry Potter-esque secret hiding space. One of the bookshelves, when pushed, will swing open and reveal a space large enough to hide inside.

Spinning bookshelf

The Reason Why San Jose is the North American Vienna: Thanks to a donation in the early ‘80’s by avid Beethoven collector, Ira F. Brilliant, the DMLK library’s third floor houses the largest collection of Beethoven paraphernalia outside of Europe. An impressive collection of fortepianos, manuscripts in Beethoven’s own handwriting, and…yes…a now famous lock of Beethoven’s hair (clipped off of his dead body by a visitor to the funeral home where he was temporarily housed *shudder*), make this museum a must-see if you’re making your way through the library’s oddities.

Fortepianos at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library

The oldest lock of hair in the MLK library

Alice’s Adventures in the Elevator: In the southernmost elevator on the first floor of the library, you’ll see a door that is totally inefficient for anyone riding up to check out a science textbook, but just perfect if you’re 2 feet tall and fixing to go to Wonderland. The door, otherwise known as the “Hatch,” is a work of art by Mel Chin, who contributed to artistic installations throughout the library.

The Hatch

The Burned and the Banned: Throughout the library are bookshelves that stand over “vaults” of books that have been burned or otherwise banned in the past.

Wisecracking Windows: On the 7th floor bridge you’ll find a window paying homage to artist Marcel Duchamp’s “Large Glass.” Look closely and you’ll find that the cracks are comprised of eensy-weensy etched jokes and puns.

Am I hearing things?: On the third floor around call numbers 642-658, you’ll hear the sound of pages turning above you followed by the sound of a book closing as you reach the end of the row.

Finish your trip to the library with a literature-themed sandwich from On Fourth: A Novel Café on the ground floor. (I highly recommend the “Great Gatsby!”) For a complete list of oddities to round out your library scavenger hunt, visit http://www.sjlibrary.org/melchin-art-list.