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.

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!

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

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