SO MANY SAN JOSE AND VALLEY RESIDENTS WILL MISS LOU’S VILLAGE RESTAURANT IN WILLOW GLEN AS IT ANNOUNCES ITS PLANS TO CLOSE THIS SUNDAY 16 AUGUST 2014 ; THAT IS, UNTIL POSSIBLE PLANS CAN BE FOUND FOR A SMALLER AND NEW LOCATION ELSEWHERE.
De·Anza Post wrote its story about Lou’s Village just ten days ago, Friday 8 August 2014; whereas, I am now sorry to see the restaurant come to such a sudden closure. I say this not just because of the fact that this restaurant is a known San Jose icon, or that so many of us have had enjoyable meals and experiences with the patrons, Tom and Tim Muller. My own reasons are much more personal, as well as profound. They are deep-rooted and complex, embedded somewhere along the inner mappings of my mind. Let me explain….
What you may not know about me, coming from my point of view as a writer, is that I originally come from a long heritage in the food and restaurant business, just like that of the Santoros and Mullers, who operate Lou’s. Myself, I have been writing off and on over the years; but my roots in the food business goes on continuously through generations. Most of my career has been in wholesale distribution of food-service supply; as well as including my culinary indoctrination (with diploma) and work as a cook. Still, within all that, my heritage includes generational friendships with the Muller family.
Lou’s was founded by Lou Santoro, who was actually a friend and customer of my great-grandfather; whereas, myself, I went to school with Tom Muller’s son, who was just a year behind me. That said, I have my own personal experience and connections, aside from that which has been told to me by my father and grandmother. The progression through these years is remarkable.
The profundity of my realization occurred years ago, one day after high school, as I drove Tom’s son over to his grandmother’s house in Willow Glen. I knew our families had long relationships; but that’s when I realized it was both literal and figurative, since my school mate’s grandmother lived just a few blocks away from my own. Like good boys, I guess we both visited “Nonna” (i.e., Italian for “grandma”) on a routine basis.
I listened and learned many valuable stories from my grandmother that I still recall vividly today. Even now, I think of her stories as I travel throughout these neighborhood blocks. Thereabouts, were many more old Italian families, like the Santoros, many of them in the food business. It’s a heritage with a tremendous legacy that still echoes today, whereas Lou’s is a part that infrastructure that remains as much a part of the streets-scape as it does our intellect.
So, when I realized that Lou’s was going to re-open at the corner of Willow Street and Lincoln Avenue, it was seemingly more than an appropriate place. It’s now known as the current-day “Willow Glen Town Square.” It’s that corner of the world where everything came together, both new and old. It’s just down the street from where our Nonna’s lived… where we still live and work today. But, coming from the other direction, it’s also just down that street from where we originated: Gardner, Washington and Alma neighborhoods; or, as we called it, “Goosetown.” Its these back streets that are the homes of our great-grandparents, along with schoolboys like A.P. Giannini, the founder of Bank of Italy, later to become Bank of America (graduate of Washington Elementary School). Current-day Lou’s is right at that crossroad from this point of our origination, marked by a quadripoint know as the new Willow Glen Town Square. It’s where we eat at Lou’s, enjoy an ice-cream, listen to a violin and toss pennies in a fountain.
On the way across Willow Street, the “old-schoolers” came upon Sacred Heart Church, Badalamente Sausage, the old Gallo Macaroni plant (now run-over by Highway-87). Both my grandfather and great-grandfather worked at warehouses in this junction between Lelong Street and Lick Avenues. But, while they often came into downtown Willow Glen, most of our families were not originally home owners at this other side of the Lincoln Avenue. Mostly, it was after World War II that we traversed down Willow Street with dreams of actually living here on this “sunny side of the street.” We came from Goosetown into central Willow Glen, where Lou’s is today.
The current site of Lou’s is where two grocery stores existed on either side. Today, people are talking about development plans for the Valero gas station that’s just across from Lou’s Village; but it was originally the site of whereNonna could buy goods at Safeway. Then, imagine the opposite side of Lou’s, where the Willow Glen Town Square ends. From that driveway along side Jamba Juice, there was Rockie’s market, which continued past Peet’s Coffee & Tea to Petroglyph shops. That was Nonna’s other choice grocer. Or she could have gone to Rockie’s additional location at Lincoln Lane market, at the corner of Coe and Lincoln Avenue, where it’s now Arteagas market. Making those round-abouts, it’s just a small world, which has changed a bit over the years. However, the patterns are there, if you still know their footprints… (see the map).
Therein, is the imagination that Lou’s has captured, as we all take that serendipitous journey in life. All those years doing our errands and business, while meeting friends. It’s like a trip on our city streets, to which we all hope is a safe and livable experience. After all, you never know what’s going to happen along the way. For example, as we travel across Lincoln to Auzerais, its hard to forget that child who belonged to a family friend, but who lost here life during an auto and pedestrian related accident. That indelible spirit remains, like the ghosts that travel with us along the crossroads of our eternal city. The memories become multi-layered. We pause to take food and conversation — the sustenance of this life that makes us live — whereas, it connects us to a past, as much as a future.
Years ago, Lou’s was originally around the corner from Meridian Avenue on San Carlos Street; that’s before it came to Lincoln Avenue. Out there, it was nearby the very old site of O’Connor Hospital (later Sears and now Safeway) where many of our family members were born. Then, too, opposite was old Silva’s Appliance Shop (now Midtown at Meridian development) and Joe’s Pick-A-Rib (now Walgreen’s). These are old friends… Of which I just saw Richard Silva last month, helping clean-up the streets as a volunteer. All these businesses were at separate corners, but making a neighborhood. Indeed, we’re still making these streets “bright” today.
This above said intersection of San Carlos Street and Meridian Avenue has changed considerably, before Lou’s Village retired from its site itself, sometime around the year 2005. Just when you thought it was gone for good, it re-emerged at Lincoln Avenue. When Lou’s re-opened as of October 2012 at downtown Willow Glen; I featured it at the Facebook Page of Willow Glen Neighborhood Association. That was along with the grand opening of the Willow Glen Town Square itself.
Then and now, life goes on… and those old pictures of Lou Santoro and Lucille Ball get packed in the memory chest and carried down the road with us to another home. That’s even though I still recall walking into Lou’s at San Carlos to meet Tom Muller, as I had lunch and a reunion with his son. Of course, there in the lobby of the restaurant were pictures of all the entertainers that came through the restaurant over the years…. like Lucy, who happens to share my own birthday. Strangely enough, Lucy and I are both born on the same day. That day is also marked by the event when the United States dropped the bomb Hiroshima (August 6).
It was just about the time of Lucy’s Birthday (and my own) — ten days ago — that I learned of Lou’s closing… again. Flashes of Lucy’s picture hit my mind, like that sitting in Lou’s Restaurant years ago. Add to that, Lucy was born in my mother’s hometown of Jamestown, New York… so it just had explosive and cosmic repercussions. It’s like images and echoes of Lucy’s husband, Desi, as he makes pounding drum beats and wails out, “Babalu!” (as often seen from the I Love Lucy Show).
These senses forever imprint my mind… the sight, sound, smell and taste of it, as we touch its corners. The faces and places are always in my mind. Its evidence of how we survive.
In that sense, it seems like only yesterday that Lucy sat in the banquet hall at Lou’s, opposite the corner of San Carlos Street and Meridian Avenue, where a McDonald’s now stands. It’s that sense of contrast: once this was the site of Miss Willow Glen beauty pageant; whereas, now its a the home of a Big Mac hamburger. Years ago, Miss Willow Glen would go on to compete for “Miss San Jose,” then to the Santa Clara County Fair to take title for Miss Santa Clara County. If she was successful, she could make it to Santa Cruz for Miss California. In those times, Miss Willow Glen had dreams of becoming a movie star, like Rosemary LaPlanche or Lucille Ball. But, before that, Miss Willow Glen and Miss San Jose appeared at the county fair, next prize-winning Hereford cattle, the kind of which were slaughtered for the hamburger you ate at McDonald’s and the beef steaks you at Lou’s.
Miss Willow Glen was there at the County Fair, with my own grandfather, who was a judge of said cattle; i.e,, the kind of which was slaughtered, fabricated and purveyed to Lou Santoro, just across the street. In fact, my father delivered beef and other goods to my classmate’s grandmother, Mrs. Santoro. She sat behind a counter, received and weighed all the goods and then inspected the invoice.
So… there you go, history comes together just like that. If Miss Willow Glen worked hard enough, she could become Miss America, like California’s Miss LaPlanche, who eventually became a film actress that campaigned in the War Bond Tour of the Hollywood Cavalcade… which included Lucille Ball and others.
The tour reached across the USA and around the world… It made its connection, right here, at the corner of our hometown, as seen at Lou’s Village.