California Authors



Bob Johnson | Arcadia Publishing

Book Review by Craig MacDonald

In 1969, Dionne Warwick won her first Grammy Award for singing the hit song, "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" Today, most people know how to get there but many don't realize the town's historic significance.

Fortunately, Bob Johnson, a retired local history librarian, is helping change that by creating books that have been published by Arcadia. His book, "San Jose," offers an intriguing collection of postcards and text, which enable readers to catch literal glimpses of how it has evolved.

He explains the evolution, from the "oldest civilian settlement" in California (founded in 1777 by the Spanish to provide food for the military settlements in San Francisco and Monterey) to California's first State Capitol (1850) and later an agricultural heavyweight. The, orchards and fields gave way to houses and freeways and the eventual growth of high tech companies that helped it become "the Capitol of Silicon Valley."

San Jose is now the 10th largest city in the nation, the 3rd biggest in California and the dominant town in the Bay Area, with more than 1 million residents.

Many of the photos Johnson features in his book, including a bunch from downtown and other areas, came from the San Jose Public Library's California Room and the Sourisseau Academy for State and Local History. They show such interesting things as the 207-foot tall Electric Light Tower, built to illuminate the city in 1881. It apparently was so bright that a farmer in the town of Los Gatos claimed the light was keeping his chickens awake. A storm, with 56 mph winds, caused the spectacle to collapse.

Johnson assembled photos of the Bank of Italy's first branch outside San Francisco. San Jose was the birthplace of its founder, Amadeo P. Giannini. In 1927, this well-regarded financial institution built a 13-story building that was the tallest structure in San Jose for 61 years! In 1930, it changed its name to Bank of America.

Readers will marvel at some fascinating, rare pictures of Frontier Village, a popular amusement park from 1961 to 1980, when its land became condos; the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum (1932), Spanish-styled Civic Auditorium (built in 1936); Alum Rock Park (400 acres, with mineral springs, a playground for children and much more); Municipal Rose Garden (dates from 1937), and the Institute of Pantherapy (which, in 1902, began offering wholefoods, including a combination grain, made from wheat, barley and rye.)

Johnson highlights some famous old hotels, no longer there, such as the Vendome (1889), a 250-room marvel that was replaced by streets and housing subdivisions. Others survived (after renovations), like Hotel Sainte Claire (1926), now The Westin San Jose, and Hotel DeAnza (1931), whose guests included Hollywood stars, Mickey Rooney and Olivia de Havilland, and is now a luxury hotel.

There are some great photos of San Jose State University, the oldest public institution of higher education in the state. In 1857, it began in San Francisco as Minn's Evening Normal School and ended up in San Jose's Washington Square Park (1871), where the first state college campus resides today.

Anyone who visits San Jose, used to live there or is just looking to learn more about this intriguing place, should read Johnson's book. It will help you better understand the architecture, culture and dynamic past of one of the state's and nation's most diverse cities.

(Editor's Note: The reviewer once had a dentist way up in San Jose's highest building—The Bank of America tower.)

Subscribe to our newsletter!

More Info