Local, alternative perspective. Insightful stories for the Santa Clara Valley.

CHANGES TO DOWNTOWN WILLOW GLEN’S STREET-SCAPE

Downtown Willow Glen’s streetscape has been showing changes over the last several years; but, it’s just over the last several months and into the Fourth of July 2014 weekend, that residents can see significant building developments that are changing the look of Lincoln Avenue, that is from Willow Street to Minnesota Avenue.  What is more, these building projects are coming along with a few other street infrastructural improvements.

It was back on 3rd November 2012 that Charles Kahn, architect of the Willow Glen Town Square, appeared with David Taxin, that building’s leasing agent, at the eastern corner of Lincoln Avenue and Willow Street.  At that time, the building project was instantly recognized as one of the avenue’s greatest architectural unveilings in years.   For example, as much as it now contrasts with older Garden Theater across the street, nowadays it also competes for that grandiose “curb appeal.”  From a bird’s-eye view, The Town Square building, including a garage, has significant square footage and land use.  Street-side, the new Town Square building has become one of downtown Willow Glen’s most visible, modern and grand landmarks… at least on the central part of Lincoln Avenue.

But, as of this summer 2014, the developer at the opposite corner of the street has raised the bar of competition again.  Whereas the old Elite Cleaners once stood for decades at the southern corner of Lincoln Avenue and Willow Street, as of mid-August 2013 it became known that they would vacate and move down the avenue.  (Elite is now towards the intersection of Brace Avenue, nearby Bank of America and CVS).  Here, the only thing that remains of the older business is an old neon sign, that’s with a big arrow pointing downwards to the sidewalk entrance.

Now, that sign might as well say “Eat Here!” …at The Table restaurant, which is expanding into the building that is currently under renovation.  The restaurant had been adjacently situated to the Elite Cleaners, when it started and introduced its first dishes like Corn Alfredo, Chocolate Budino with homemade marshmallows, plus a bone marrow share plate.  That was back on 15 August 2012.  Then, on its first anniversary — as of 2013 — The Table announced that it would be expanding into the unit next door.  It was suddenly “goodbye” to the  Elite cleaners, with its iconic sign at the front of the property, which had long been recognized at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Willow Street by generations of residents.  It has since been rumored that the sign would be preserved as a historic relic of sorts, but possibly with an update.  Maybe it will not say “Elite” or even “Eat Here,” but be refashioned as a sign that is likely to welcome people to Willow Glen.  It’s currently speculated or an idea, but not confirmed.

Meanwhile, developers have carried on with new plans for the streetscape, wrapping around the corner from Willow street and continuing down the south side of Lincoln Avenue towards the Garden Theater.  As of July 2014, two of the previous businesses have been vacated, including the “Baby Hugs” shop that was behind the VTA bus stop and adjacent to the Elite Cleaners.  Baby Hugs announced a big close-out sale, a new business name as “Lil’ Starz,” plus plans to move out to a new location inside Valley Fair shopping mall.

Several other business will remain situated on this side of Lincoln, between the old Baby Hugs and the driveway to the Garden Theater building; but, it’s the actual curbside to the theater that’s taken on a new look as of this summer 2014.

Lincoln Avenue — if not the Willow Glen neighborhood — now has its first installation of a “parklet” for “curbside dining.”   The Lincoln Avenue parklet and bike corral installation at the front of Garden Theater had visibly begun as early as 14 May 2014; whereas, by the beginning of July, it was nearly complete.  Only tables, chairs, and umbrellas await, aside from an adjacent corral that area bicyclists seem eager to welcome.   (Jim Stump, The Table restaurant owner, expects delivery of furniture to arrive by mid July, if all goes well.  Opening for foodservice may happen, too; but, that seems to depend on more on county inspections and initial compliance issues, etc.)

It was back in January 2013 that talk was made about the installation of a curb cafe, including the making of a platform to be built, thereby bringing the grade of the sidewalk out into the street.  At that time, property owner Michael Mulcahy, of the Garden Theater, estimated it would cost at least $20,000.  Mulcahy learned about the program by neighborhood activists, aside from San Jose Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio.  The parklet and curbside dining program were already popular in other cities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area (if not the nation) before they were experimented with in downtown San Jose, Santa Row, and then eventually proposed for Willow Glen.

Former President of Willow Glen Neighborhood Association (WGNA), Richard Zappelli, had long advocated for improvements like curbside dining, “livable streets,” parklets, bicycle lanes, bike corrals, “sharrows,” crosswalks, “Safe Routes to School” programs and more.  So, the idea of curbside dining and a parklet was long in consideration with other items, but looking for its first real-made plan and opportunity.  Mulcahy and Oliverio helped make it happen.

See the WGNA Facebook page for past developments: https://www.facebook.com/WillowGlenNA/posts/648438125239869

Also, see “San Jose City Council to vote on ‘curb cafe’ pilot program” by Tracy Seidel, Mercury News, 01/08/2013
http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-news/ci_22328397/san-jose-city-council-vote-curb-cafe-pilot

The new parklet and curbside dining will be used by Garden Theater foodservice businesses; that is, including the established Top Nosh Cafe and the new-coming “Stumpy’s Burgers, Fries & Dogs,” which is to be operated by Jim Stump, the same owner as The Table restaurant down at the corner of Willow Street & Lincoln Avenue.  Like the name says, Stumpy’s will serve out gourmet hot dogs and hamburgers, complete with a take-out window for authentic “street food” and “curbside dining.”

Last heard from the owners of Top Nosh, they too may be expanding their food offerings, with considerations of an expanded menu and extended hours.

Still, while reminiscing about neighborhood planning over years past, aside from recent infrastructural and building improvements, etc.; still, it comes back to that grand opening that happened about a year and a half ago (or so) at the Willow Glen Town Square.  At that time, it appeared that the past and future scene of the avenue was contrasting ever more; such as when development plans became known and the initial transitional works became obvious.

The foresight, in terms of neighborhood plans, once looked out from the eastern corner of Lincoln Avenue and Willow Street — across from the Willow Glen Town Square — towards the property on the north end of the intersection, where Valero Gas Station has been situated.  Now, as of July 2014, the entire north side of that intersection has been fenced-off and the previously existing business has been closed.   In retrospect, it was at the time of the grand opening of the Town Square that rumor had already been initiated about the closing and removal of the gas station, supposedly to make way for yet another development like the one designed by Charles Kahn.  Official plans and designs have yet to be seen publicly, but a project does appear to be continuing underway.  (Still, as of this writing, it’s unknown what plans entail).

By the way, north side of Lincoln Avenue — opposite of Willow Street and towards Broadway and Coe Avenues — was announced for street improvements back on 9 April 2014 by WGNA’s “Urban Design & Vision” Facebook Page, saying that…

“A roadway work plan will begin as of 2015. WGNA President, Richard Zappelli met with Hans Larsen, San Jose Department of Transportation (SJ DOT), confirming as Tuesday 8 April 2014. Work includes green bike lanes on Lincoln Avenue from Willow Street to Park Avenue, as a first-phase improvement. Following, there will be ‘bulb-out’ or curb-extension traffic calming measures added to the intersections at Lincoln Avenue and Broadway Avenues, as well as at Lincoln and Minnesota Avenues. Finally, San Jose DOT will be sealing cracks and resurfacing Lincoln Avenue.”

Mr. Zappelli was one of the stakeholders, including representatives from the likes of Willow Glen Neighborhood Association (WGNA) and Willow Glen Business Association (WGBA), who have been advocating for such improvements, over a long time.

See the WGNA Facebook post:

[Editor’s Note: the current term Board Members of WGNA have since removed the “Urban Design & Vision” Facebook Page from online, occurring just after this article was written.  Alternately, see the WGNA Board Minutes from Wednesday, June 19, 2013; or,
Mary Gottschalk’s article from the Willow Glen Resident, dated 28 March 2014: “Reducing Lincoln Avenue to One Lane proposed by WG Neighborhood group“]

[The original link was here, now showing “This content is currently unavailable.”]

In the near past, there have been a few other examples of recently built projects that have architectural significance — thusly changing the streetscape — but, they are situated a bit off from the current “center.”  The Willow Glen Elementary School building is down the avenue and just across Minnesota Avenue, seeming to mark the current end of a main shopping and business corridor (while going towards Almaden Expressway).    The school is situated thereabouts its original location from 100 years ago, but with a new architectural presence at the street side.  Moreover, this is not forgetting  the Willow Glen Library; which, by contrast, totally replaced the older library building at its same site.  The location of the new Library is just a short way from Lincoln Avenue, found at a place down Minnesota Avenue (southwest bound towards Newport and Hicks Avenues).

The primary main street “corridor” of Lincoln Avenue that’s been concerned by WGBA, has traditionally stretched across the avenue, starting from the intersections of Broadway and traversing out to Minnesota Avenues.  (By contrast, WGNA’s area of concern has included more of the greater breadth of the Willow Glen Planning Area for the City of San Jose.)

WGBA (the business association) originally kept an office on Lincoln Avenue, which was at the building that was once known as the Stevens Music Center, a site that later took the name “Music Entertainment Business Center.”  (This building is situated at 1202 Lincoln Avenue, perpendicular to and on end of Meredith Avenue.)  But, WGBA (the business association) was eventually asked to vacate along with several other tenants, when redevelopment plans for the Music Center were announced back in late September 2013.  By the 25th day of that month, it looked as though a change was inevitable; whereas, a closer look at this building revealed years of damage by termites, among other things.  A stripping away of the outer surface of the building had made bare the problem to anyone walking street-side.

Now gone from the Music Center were many old tenants, including Open Path Studio productions, which was once hailed as the best recording studio in the South Bay.   Many CD’s were produced here.  Tec Productions, aka “The Entertainment Connection,” producers of Dancin’ on the Avenue and many other major events, were based here.  For many years this building was the office for the WGBA (aka WGPA or “Downtown Willow Glen”), Vivace Youth Chorus of San Jose and Stevens Violin Shop and others.  Back in its original heyday, during the 1950’s, a major tenant was Figone Accordion Studios. 

Flash back to the last year or two, whereas change has been most evident at the corner of  “main street” downtown Willow Glen; but, beyond Lincoln Avenue & Willow Street, there’s still many issues across the avenue that remain questionable and unresolved.  For example, despite all these major capital improvements, Willow Glen has yet to update its Fire Station.

It was back on 5 March 2002 that 71.7% voters approved City of San Jose Measure O, “911, Fire, Police Paramedic, and Neighborhood Security Act.”  At that time, the measure gave power “To improve San Jose’s fire, police, and paramedic response times by: adding and improving fire stations and police stations, training facilities, and creating state of the art 911 communications facilities…”  

The Neighborhood Security Act authorized the City to issue general obligation bonds up to $159 million to fund public safety projects for the Police and Fire Department.

That was followed by another election as of 4 November 2008, wherein City of San Jose Measure L, “Fire Station Construction,” passed with 64.53% Yes votes.  That measure read:

“To improve fire suppression, emergency medical services and increase essential emergency facilities available for disaster response within the Willow Glen area, shall the City be authorized to construct a single-company fire station on up to ¾ of an acre on a portion of the Lincoln Glen Park parking lot?”

In other words, Willow Glen residents are supposed to get a new fire station — on Lincoln Avenue.  This would be adjacent to the Willow Glen Community Center.  It would also be the first time that a Willow Glen Fire Department has been situated on Lincoln Avenue since it’s more formative days.  Willow Glen’s original Fire Station was actually located in the same building as the current-day Vin Santo Restaurant (not too far from Minnesota Avenue).

But, to this day, the proposed San Jose Fire Station 37 at Lincoln Glen Park has yet to be built; whereas, the neighborhood still relies on Station 6 that operates with only one fire engine and its crew from Cherry & Minnesota Avenues.  Station 6 was built over 50 years ago in the year 1963.

This July will be the 51st anniversary of Station 6 and its opening to service; according to Fire historian and author, Richard L. Nailen.  The station at 1386 Cherry Avenue was opened and dedicated to service on July 28, 1963.  At that time, Station 6 cost $108,000 and the building was placed on a property that was acquired for the widening of Minnesota Avenue.  A week long celebration was sponsored by Willow Glen business owners and civic leaders and San Jose held its first real Fire Parade on July 26, just days before its official dedication.

(The story of Willow Glen Fire Department is covered in the book “Guardians of the Garden City: The History of The San Jose Fire Department,” by Richard L. Nailen; Smith & McKay Printing Co., San Jose, CA; printed, 1972; see pages 120, as well as 208 to 211.)

Just recently, it was on 10 June 2014 that San Jose City Council Agenda included item 2.24 “Report on Bids and Award of Contract for the Fire Station No. 21 Project.”  Part two of that  recommendation asked:

“Adopt the following Appropriation Ordinance amendments in the Neighborhood Security Bond Fund:

  1. Increase the Fire Station 21 – Relocation (White Road) appropriation to the Fire Department by $350,000; and
  2. Decrease the Fire Station 37 (Willow Glen) Reserve by $350,000.”

This contrast between commercial and public development may not be as visible an issue when looking plainly at the downtown Willow Glen street-scape; but, this July 2014, it is ironically a fiscal point at which the Willow Glen Planning Area considers its past and future; that is, in terms of both its commercial success and its public safety issues.



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