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.

No waiting at the Blue Cube!

One of the main features of the former Naval Air Base at Moffett Field, outside of San Jose, is Onizuka Air Force Station.  Known colloquially as “The Blue Cube”, the large, windowless blue building is the subject of no small speculation in the area.  Until its recent decommissioning, the building was known to house an Air Force satellite control center, suspected to the MAIN satellite control facility for much of the United States’ satellite inventory.  The building was, perhaps unsurprisingly then, rumored to be the world’s prime nuclear target.  Meaning that if the bombs started falling, Mountain View would be the first place to go.  Let’s do a little math here.  Moffett Field is about 11 miles from the heart of San Jose.  A 25 megaton nuclear bomb (about half the size of the largest ever tested) has an utter destruction radius of about…well…11 miles.  Given the blast expansion formula R=S(Et^2/p)^(1/5) where R equals the radius of the blast, E the energy, and t the time, we get (17,700m)^5*1.3kg/m^3 = ~1(1.05×10^16J * t^2s), so…t^2s = 21,509, meaning…that about 2 minutes and 26 seconds after WWIII officially started, your watch would stop working.  It’s probably for the best, really, because you wouldn’t need it after that; all your appointments from that moment forward would be of the more…eternal…sort.  Anyway, Greetings from Sunny San Jose!

Sources: profligate hearsay, wikipedia.org, and nationalterroralert.com

A little too close...

A helpful map of post-MAD San Jose!

Togo’s – The Better Way to Travel with Hunger

No report on the culinary features of San Jose would be complete without a mention of what is perhaps San Jose’s most famous edible offspring: Togo’s Sandwiches.  Started in San Jose in 1971, the single shop has grown to a chain of 240 locations on a platform that boils down to: ‘Our sandwiches are bigger than theirs.’ (Theirs in this case, being that other sandwich shop, the one that takes as their namesake the dirtiest of transportation systems – interesting choice if you ask me)  And while it’s true that Togo’s sandwiches are larger (and served on something that far better approximates real bread) I would have to state that their offerings seem to have gotten less “larger” over the years, while still maintaining a calculable edge.  I seem to recall a time when the sandwiches were almost dauntingly large, the amount of meat on them visibly outweighing the amount of bread.  Sadly, they have been acquired by a corporate conglomerate (probably more than once) and their sandwiches today are far more normally proportioned, but still tasty and always fresh.  If you’re looking for a healthy lunch on the West Coast, Togo’s will certainly factor prominently on your ‘fast & fresh’ radar.

Sources: togos.com

The Happiest Little House

One of the beautiful things about living in a large city is the variety of food that is available, allowing you to stretch yourself beyond the national food chains (whose menus are predicated upon the lowest common taste denominator).  A little place that I especially enjoy (and a San Jose original) is a fast food teriyaki joint known as Happi House.   Started in 1976 in San Jose’s Japantown, the restaurant known for its fast, “California” style teriyaki became a chain, with a current six locations around the San Jose area.  A great place to go for quick bite, the chain serves both meals and a la carte style food, with the meals generally consisting of a central meat choice, accompanied by their Asian chicken salad, white or brown (beef) rice, and a few pieces of tempura.  The real draw here is the teriyaki sauce.  I don’t know what they put in it (they say that they don’t add any MSG) but the stuff is ADDICTIVE.  The spicy teriyaki sauce is especially delicious, and a step outside the usual.  You can even buy a bottle to take home if you like (oh, and I do!)  Visit the updated original Japantown location off Taylor and 5th for extra urban originality points!

Sources: happihouse.com

Dookie in the Park

Quetzalcoatl

Yes, children are climbing on it, and yes, I find that gross too.

Ascending nearly 8 feet into the sky above Plaza de Cesar Chavez in San Jose, is the “plumed serpent,” a fearsome Aztec deity, the anthropomorphic god of the morning star…who, very unfortunately, resembles a pile of you-know-what.

Yes, San Jose’s “Quetzalcoatl” is a big, brown, steaming pile of…artistic iteration….that based on its weirdness alone makes it worthy to be visited. Erected in 1994 in downtown San Jose, this sculpture has left many confused, few inspired, but all interested in learning—why oh WHY would we let this statue reside at the end of such a prominent San Jose park?

Now, don’t all go blaming Richard Graham- San Jose’s Quetzalcoatl sculptor who was commissioned to make a piece that would honor the city’s Mexican heritage. We possibly have author D.H. Lawrence to thank for this particular rendition of the ubiquitous Aztec god based on Lawrence’s note in 1926, that existing statues of Quetzalcoatl in Mexico were “coiled like excrement.” Graham’s original vision- one of multicolored bronze, three stories high- was given the big “deny” stamp by San Jose. What they got instead was, well, visit the Plaza de Cesar Chavez and see for yourself. D.H. Lawrence…what hath thou wrought?!

If you’re anything like us you may often be tempted to string Quetzalcoatl in Christmas lights or put him in a Santa hat or dress him in an oversize bikini in the summertime. Beware! We assume that the fine for dressing up, a.k.a. “defacing” the $500,000 landmark would be extremely costly, not to mention that a charge of “getting arrested for dressing up a humungous turd like a pirate” would be a difficult blot on any permanent record to explain. Thusly, we urge anyone tempted to give our coiled colon-release a makeover to perhaps just Photoshop a Santa hat in.

Eggo – The San Jose Treat

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.

San Jose – City of Lights

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

 

singlebarrel

With the help of a glossary of ‘20’s slang, allow me to introduce you to a San Jose speakeasy that you have probably walked by and never noticed but is nothing less than the cat’s pajamas (the best, greatest, wonderful).

Around the corner from The Agenda Lounge you’ll find singlebarrel, marked by—now don’t let this blow your mind too much—a single barrel on the exterior wall and their version of a bouncer- a guy in a newsboy hat not to be mistaken for a drugstore cowboy (guy that hangs around on a street corner trying to pick up chicks). singlebarrel might be the first bar I’ve ever visited with rules other than keeping your clothes on and not getting into fistfights. For instance, if you’re planning to beat your gums (chatter idly) too loudly, you might get bum rushed (kicked out of the establishment). If you’re party size is greater than six, you’ll have to sit at separate tables. And if you’re thinking of wildly hoofing (dancing), this isn’t the place.

Fixings for a mean old fashioned

If you can handle a much more muted juice joint (bar), though, you’re in for a really unique experience. At singlebarrel, you don’t give them a drink order. Instead, the bartenders—all dressed up in 20’s garb and touted for really knowing their giggle water (alcohol)—craft a special drink based on your tastes. In other words, you tell them you like strong drinks that still have a fruity flavor, or you want something tangy and sour, or yes, you’re a man but you still insist on drinking a bright pink cocktail, and they take that information to whip up your own “signature drink” that you’re sure to love.

How copacetic (wonderful) is that?

 An old fashioned by candlelight