San Jose is, indeed, an interesting place. It has had its share of events both famous and infamous. The sum total of a city, like a person, is made of many events good and bad, noteworthy and commonplace. In the book, “San Jose — and Other Famous Places,” longtime chronicler Harry Farrell has recorded many of the significant events of the last few decades; he has also given us some of the events that fail to qualify as earthshaking, but that are damned interesting nevertheless.
The chapters of the book dart in and out of local history, touching on architecture, jurisprudence, high technology, and assorted other disciplines, yet it is in the personalities that the book comes alive, Boss Higley, the ambulance tycoon and kingmaker was a wielder of great power, while William Penn Patrick was a meteoric rogue who flared briefly’ over the California political scene. Both merit attention. It is in these vignettes that a special flavor is produced.
The mention of John Fremont the Pathfinder and the story of Harry Truman’s whistle-stop visit, organized by my father, John, (and recounted quite accurately) are here, along with the tale of Eldridge Cleaver’s journey from revolutionary to librarian, Cuba to Cupertino.
If you are interested in high drama, it is here aplenty. The Slaughterhouse War where the forces of the Mercury News battled the puny array of Dutch Hamann’s City Hall minions and the Swift Empire — alas, it was a one-sided, preordained encounter, with outraged virtue (and a large circulation) winning. Or you can relive the tawdry tale of the destruction of the old City Hall and its sleight-of-hand reappearance on North First Street. Unhappily, Farrell continues to pile scorn and derision on the old Gothic monstrosity, a quarter of a century after its demolition. I halfway believe that some of those who were so anxious to see it destroyed are afraid. that somehow they might yet be charged with its murder. They need not fear for the statute of limitations has long ago run out on such official executions. The site is now occupied by a splendid piece of lawn.
San Jose has much to recall, from the graceful movements of “Joltln’ Joe” DiMaggio at old Graham Field to Jack London’s Buck, departing College Park Station for immortality (and a heavy sled) in the Klondike.
We should remember also the legendary Goose Town and Tar Flats where my grandparents lived. We all still lament the loss of the old “Quad” at San Jose State and rejoice that the Tower at least survives. Like Atlantis, most of these landmarks of yesterday have slipped beneath the waves of progress, with only an occasionally bubbly spire to let us know what passed this way only a brief time before, In recounting that past, we can in a very real sense keep it alive for a bit longer.
This book is above all else a personal history of the San Jose unknown to many, seen through the eyes of one who covered it as a professional for his newspaper. In a sense, we all share this history and all of us are influenced by the people and the events that preceded us. As Farrell says early in the book, “Growth giveth and growth taketh away.” Never were truer words spoken, an in a city where we have lost much of what once made us unique and added a creativity and energy that have made us the envy c the world, San Jose knows the irony an wisdom of those words. It has been a long trip from Graham Field to Moffett Field t the newly paved fields of Silicon Valley. The cast who traveled on the journey have been a memorable lot, bosses and ballplayers and buffoons, tycoons and tyros, crooks and cronies, sinners and an occasional saint. They might all find fault with Farrell’s rendition however, they would all recognize the landscape.
I know that I found this book readable entertaining and familiar, although I thank God that my father is not alive to heal himself mentioned as “the father of Mayor Tom.” Somehow I think that might have caused an argument. Yet, my review of this book has inspired me with the knowledge that one day I will be remembered right till there with that other great mayor of a bygone era, George D. Worswick (or is Wickswor). That thought alone can give consolation to the lonely hours of a winter evening — so, too, can a trip down the memories of “San Jose — and Other Famous Places.”