Opinion: San Jose is failing to preserve its historic downtown

Historic buildings large and small contribute to what makes San
Jose a unique and special place, a place that is distinctive from
other cities. Unfortunately, we have lost many historic buildings
to development, fire, and illegal demolition. These losses make our
remaining architectural resources that much more precious, and
therefore due for exceptional protections and extraordinary
consideration.

The rush to develop practically every square foot of downtown
San Jose has put extreme pressure on those resources. Especially
for longtime residents, preserving our historic buildings and signs
provides a comforting connection to our city’s history. Residents
deal with traffic, high cost of living, homelessness, and other
challenges. Losing our familiar and cherished vistas makes for just
another reason why folks get fed up and move elsewhere.  And these
vistas are something that new visitors and residents enjoy as much
as “old timers”.

Last year, the city approved a 22-story tower directly across
the street from our stately 1926 Bank of Italy building, obscuring
views of this treasure and impacting the Downtown Historic
Commercial District.  The city also just authorized a 19-story
tower hard against the Hotel De Anza.  An additional tower has
been proposed to cantilever and loom over the Montgomery Hotel, an
iconic city landmark.  Without intervention, a local developer
intends to build another tower immediately south of the Montgomery
as well, that combined will plunge the hotel into a valley of
darkness.

There are dozens of projects underway or planned that do not
impact San Jose’s unique historic architecture.  Residential
projects of every shape and size that respect our cultural legacy
have been built downtown, with many more in the works.  Commercial
development totaling more than 2.5 million square feet is under
construction that steers clear of historic landmarks and more than
double that is being planned.

There is no doubt San Jose needs additional residential,
commercial, and hotel units. In terms of hotel rooms, apparently
there is a shortage. However, the site of the “temporary”
Convention Center tent is more than 16 times the size of the parcel
next to the Hotel De Anza where a new tower was just approved,
totaling 272 rooms.  Imagine how many hotel rooms could be added
if the tower were instead built immediately adjacent to our
Convention Center?  And again, without historic resources close by
to consider.

Preservation Action Council San Jose supports density.  With
density comes people.  Feet on the street activate historic
buildings and bring vitality to downtown.   Instead of empty
storefronts, a vibrant 24-hour city helps create an energy that
fills underutilized spaces.  What will draw people from one block
to the next? New construction respectful in height and mass that
adds visual interest must be balanced with our beloved historic
architecture.  But if all that new residents and visitors see is
an endless repetition of modern glass towers, ones that could be
built in any city in California, then what is being built is empty,
without a soul or sense of place.  There is no connection to the
evolution of San Jose from 1777 to today.

Historic preservation is one of San Jose’s many planning
policies.  It seems that despite letters from concerned citizens,
the work of non-profit advocates like PAC*SJ, and even guidance
from its own Historic Landmarks Commission, city decision makers
are intent on destroying or disrespecting our historic cultural
heritage as quickly as possible.  Bad decisions made today will
last generations.  Just because a developer can conceive and
execute a project at the demise of San Jose’s historic
architecture does not mean that they should.  We can do
better.

André Luthard is board president of the Preservation Action
Council of San Jose.

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Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
Opinion: San Jose is failing to preserve its historic downtown