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

INTERVIEW WITH FRANK FISCALINI, GRAND MARSHAL OF WILLOW GLEN FOUNDERS’ DAY PARADE 2014, SEP 20th

LIVING THROUGH A PROLIFIC CAREER, SAN JOSE’S FORMER VICE-MAYOR — FRANK FISCALINI — HAS ALSO RECEIVED MANY HONORS; AS SUCH, IT ONLY SEEMS FITTING THAT THE ONE TIME COUNCILMEMBER FROM DISTRICT 6 IN WILLOW GLEN SHOULD BE NAMED “GRAND MARSHAL” OF THE 2014 FOUNDERS’ DAY PARADE.

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Frank Fiscalini, late August 2014

Meeting with Fiscalini was a casual and comfortable experience as he strolled off the avenue to enter the cafe for a chat.  He was perfectly relaxed, yet sharp and articulate as ever.  Anyone that knows of his lifestyle also realizes that this gentleman has remained incredibly active over the years, even during his retirement.   Fiscalini is currently age 91 and although he doesn’t care to get tangled-up in the nitty-gritty of business and politics anymore; still, he maintains a prime view of what’s going on and how we’re stationed in life.  After all, he should know because he’s had a good hand in so many things.

San Jose’s former Vice Mayor recalls how many of the newer projects in San Jose got started; whereas, that is just a side to how he’s had a role in preserving much of its legacy.   Besides his obvious role in politics, added to Ficalini’s career is his impact on local education, healthcare, cultural affairs, architecture, and planning, as well as even mentoring the personal lives of many individuals.  He’s been called a “Renaissance Man” and, as such, Fiscalini remains an inspiration to many people.

Fiscalini knows both the current day mayoral candidates for San Jose’s upcoming election in November 2014: Dave Cortese and Sam Liccardo.  Of course, he realizes they’re both Italian and alumni of Bellarmine College Preparatory; but, he leaves it at that.  He knows the individuals and their respective families, much like an old relation, added with some professional commonality.  But, beyond that, he chooses not to comment further about the contest.

Fiscalini is in fact proudly Italian, including an Advisory Board position with Little Italy San Jose and even a bestowed rank of Knight of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, as was provided ceremony by the County of Santa Clara Province of Florence Italy Sister-County Commission (July 2004).  When asked, Fiscalini did say that his own Italian heritage is from the Lombardy region of that nation.

It was long ago at Bellarmine that Fiscalini began his own career as an educator in San Jose.  To give a sense of perspective, Fiscalini is actually a Great Depression-era child; whereas, he grew up in San Bernardino and served in the US Army from the era of World War II.  That’s before he moved to San Jose to teach.   How early was that?  He pointed out that he had taught at Bellarmine as of 1948 (just three years after the end of the war).   Essentially, he had graduated from the University of Santa Clara, went down The Alameda, turned on left on Hedding Street and took a job at Bellarmine.  While at that school, Fiscalini recalled teaching both of Bing Crosby‘s twin sons — Dennis and Phillip Crosby — both of them his students at class.  Indeed, once upon a time, the popular singer of Irving Berlin‘s “White Christmas” appeared at a benefit and auction for the school.  In 1947, Bing Crosby’s most iconic American Christmas song had just been re-recorded; that’s after becoming a repeat top-of-the-chart hit and the all-time best-selling single.  Because of Crosby’s sensation, as well as his ties to Bellarmine, the celebrity appeared at the prep school’s gala in 1949, thereby helping to promote a benefit raffle for a new house in Willow Glen.

Those were post-war good times, whereas two years later, Fiscalini moved on from Bellarmine to San Jose’s East Side Union School District.  While he was teaching at Bellarmine, he was also able to get a Master of Arts degree from Stanford University (1950); thereafter making a significant career move, since it was by 1956 that he became Superintendent of the East Side district, promoted from a teaching position at James Lick High School.  He maintained his position as Superintendent until 1982.  That was a twenty-six-year commitment… Thirty-two, counting his years as a teacher.  Because of that, even though Fiscalini had worked at many professional roles; still, to this day, he believes that most people remember him more fondly as an educator, rather than as a prominent politician. He admitted that many people recall a former teacher or doctor more intimately.

At his next passage in his life, Fiscalini was also CEO at Alexian Brothers Hospital, an occupation between being an educator and later serving as a Councilmember for San Jose’s District 6 in Willow Glen (1992–2000) and Vice Mayor of the City of San Jose (1998–2000).   His admits that his role as an educator, mentor and Superintendent was one of the most significant to his life, with lasting impressions, although his role in politics is well established.

Asked whether or not he believes that San Jose should have a Mayor with direct powers in the city’s education system, Fiscalini did not believe that would be appropriate.  He feels that “the Mayor and City Council should remain autonomous from the School District.”  As Fiscalini worded it, he believes it’s better not to have “politicians muck around too much in education.”

He also thinks that we had “better schools then than now,” which he attributes such loss to 1978’s “Proposition 13,” officially known within the Constitution of the State of California as Article 13A, or more commonly referred to as the “Jarvis-Gann Amendment.”

Proposition 13 found its roots in the 1971 and 1976 California Supreme Court rulings of Serrano v. Priest, building on the premise that it’s unconstitutional to have a property-tax based finance system for public schools.  No longer would local property taxes go directly to the local school districts; whereas the State of California thereafter found itself in the middle of the contest between wealthier residents and the poor.   As Fiscalini explained, California’s quality rating went from one of the best to the near bottom in regards to education, including the spending per pupil.  He had just graduated with a Doctorate in Education Administration from the University of Northern Colorado (1976) when Proposition 13 made its impact.  Of course, years later, the proposition had lasting effects into the “taxpayer revolt,”  well beyond Ronald Reagan’s presidency of the 1980s and the expansion of San Jose’s magnet school programs in response to anti-segregation orders in 1985.  (Reagan was previously California’s governor from 1967 to 1975, preceded by Pat Brown and succeeded by Jerry Brown’s first term as Governor).

By that time, Fiscallini had left his job as Superintendant of the East Side Union; but he left behind a legacy, even though the system continued to change, of which he’s currently well aware.  For example, he began teaching at James Lick, but Fiscalini eventually oversaw the building of nine more schools in the East Side Union, aside from its district office facility.  In his time, he helped bring his district to ten traditional schools.  As of today, there are eleven of such traditional schools in the district, aside from newer forms of alternate education, charter school, and adult education facilities.  By the time Fiscalini had moved on, his career contrasted with the likes of the other well-known Superintendant,  Ramon Cortines, who oversaw the alternate San Jose Unified School District at the west side of the city, from  1984-86.

It’s in that memory that Fiscalini was asked about the overall structure of the school system within the city; whereas, he then said that he believes that a city’s mayor should best “act as a pulpit, but have no direct power” over the school system.  That’s very different from the kind of battle of which Ramon Cortines became entangled, such as when he became New York City Schools Chancellor and feuded with much-shared tenure against Mayor Giuliani in the early to mid-1990s.   Fiscalini didn’t take that path, instead weaving out from the school system, then back into San Jose’s civic life as a politician.   In that experience, he recognized that unlike New York City and some other large metropolitan centers, San Jose’s Mayor and City Council do not appoint Superintendents, which he thinks is probably for the better.  He demonstrated that San Jose and Santa Clara County, overall, has quite a few Superintendents.

Fiscalini felt that perhaps the system could be more efficient, but he insists that the “grass is not always greener on the other side,” pointing to the “different needs” of various neighborhoods and districts, including those aspects that are financial and ethnicity driven.  For example, today’s school system includes Montessori programs, dual language immersion and more.  Yet, regarding the building and development of today’s schools, Fiscalini said that “every development school impact fee should be allocated and set aside” for such use.  He believes the big changes and reforms have to come from the State Board of Education and LAFCO (the county’s  Local Agency Formation Commission).

Fiscalini seemed to hold that all the controversies surrounding charter schools, parks, public libraries, private developments and so on, all find their roots in the earlier legislation, as said with Proposition 13 and so on; therefore, reforming it must come from outer bodies.  That outlook carries on to other regards, too; as certainly, he’s had a prolific career in both the public and private sectors; so, when he looks back on everything from the early start of Communications Hill, Tamien Station, Santana Row and more, thusly it fits together in that timeline and progression.   In all that, he recognizes the struggle to meet the needs of San Jose residents and improve its civic life.  Life goes on…

IMG_0775Fiscalini managed to work between new development while preserving the old.  Recalling the formation of projects like Santana Row in San Jose, he also points out that historic preservation is equally important to cities and their old “main streets.”   For instance, once upon a time, Fiscalini’s kept an office just behind the old-school La Villa Delicatessen, situated on Willow Glen’s Lincoln Avenue.  Now, as he is sitting in the center of Campbell’s Orchard Valley Coffee cafe, he turns to look outside the huge bay windows and points out that such initiatives at the main street have also “preserved the avenue here in downtown Campbell.”

What is more, realizing the recent 6.0 earthquake near old downtown Napa this last August 2014, Fiscalini reflected on the importance of retrofitting many of our landmarks, much like that in his work coordinating the restoration of San Jose’s Cathedra Basilica of St. Joseph.  That project had started as early as 1985 and continued through downtown San Jose’s renaissance, coming to completion in 1990.  Luckily, the preservation process was started and the church survived the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.  San Jose’s St. Joseph church had been impacted over several generations by quakes; but, once completely restored as of 1990, it had been elevated to Cathedral status; then later, again, as a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1997.  Nowadays, St. Joseph’s is esteemed as both a California Historical Landmark, as well as it is included in the National Register of Historic Places.

That’s not the extent of Fiscalini’s participation in preservation projects and cultural affairs; to which should be added his friendship with Irene Dalis and Opera San Jose.  Both Fiscalini and Dalis are now “retired,” although Fiscalini remains on the Board, an involvement he has kept with the opera company since it began as the “Opera Workshop” in 1977.  Back then, Irene Dalis was searching for a permanent new home for what later became “Opera San Jose.”  Fiscalini was still at the East Side Union school district when they decided that the Opera Workshop would temporarily rehearse at the new Independence High school’s theater; which, of course, was under Fiscalini’s oversight.

Years later, Fiscalini and Dalis remained on the board at the opera company and guided it into finding an altogether new home, which eventually led to its current place at downtown’s historic California Theater, its rightful home since September 2004.  Because of its restoration, the California Theater can be used for live stage performances and for motion pictures; whereas, it is currently the home of Opera San Jose and Symphony Silicon Valley.   As for Irene Dalis, it’s been said that building the opera house was her so-called retirement endeavor, after a successful career as a stellar performer.   Now, she’s retired from retirement, per se; while both Fiscalini and Dalis remain on San Jose Opera’s Board, even in these latest years.

Considering Fiscalini’s work within education, cultural affairs, and historic preservation, he was recently honored by History of San Jose, just this last March 2014.

Indeed, it has been a good “opera” for Fiscalini himself.  The very root of the word — opera — is from the Italian.  It literally translates as work, if not also labor or career… to which Fiscalini has had excellent practice and many contributions.

As the San Jose Opera opens with new leadership from Larry Hancock and Joe Marcheso, it would also seem very appropriate that we remember Fiscalini’s contributions to the arts, buildings and life of this city.  That’s either in its newest or oldest forms and structures; but, also including the life in its neighborhoods and surrounding cultural entities.

This year’s 2014 WILLOW GLEN FOUNDERS’ DAY PARADE is Saturday, September 20th at 10:30 am at Lincoln Avenue.

SIDE STORY: THE BELLARMINE-BING CROSBY “WHITE CHRISTMAS” HOUSE 

 

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The house situated at 1995 Meridian and Campbell Avenues was built ca. 1949 and can be thought of as the Bellarmine-Bing Crosby “White Christmas” House.

It was back on 4 September 1949 that the San Jose Mercury News wrote, “Ground Broken For Bellarmine Drive House” — Progressing on schedule, at the site of the Bellarmine College Preparatory, originally known as the Cherry-Wood house.

Address: 1995 Meridian Avenue at Campbell Avenue. (ca. 1949)
Description: Cherry-Wood- house, Original Color Pink.
Citation: San Jose Mercury News September 4, 1949
Researched by: California Room, Martin Luther King Library (San Jose, CA)

“Thursday 1 September 1949: Ground breaking ceremonies were held at the site of the Bellarmine Drive House. Members of the Bellarmine Dads Club were sponsors of the house. In December 1949 the house will be open for public inspection until April 1950. Combining the most modern ideas in design, construction and materials. Plans have been drawn by San Jose archetict Harry Lincoln, and S.J. Archetect W.J. Nicholson. The ultimate goal of the Dads Club is to pay off the $496,000 loan.

“Bing Crosby of Hollywood, his brother Bob Crosby will be in San Jose Saturday and Sunday as one of the highlights of the Bellarmine two day event. The Festival will begin Saturday and through the dance Saturday night and resuming again Sunday at 1p.m. One-thousand tickets were sold at $100 each. The Bellarmine House will be delivered to the winner Sunday evening. The center of attraction was the crooner Bing Crosby, opened the festivities by a swim in the school pool with his three sons Gary 15, Phillip 14, and Dennis 14. The crooner then returned to reappear in one of his famous violent red sport shirts. After sampling the fiesta’s barbecue, he appeared at a informal show in the Bellarmine gymnasium singing many of the songs that have helped make him famous. The Bellarmine/Crosby house will be awarded Sunday.”

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This entry was posted on Saturday 6 September 2014 by in San Jose.

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