Showing posts with label Santa Clara history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Santa Clara history. Show all posts

Friday, August 31, 2007

Carmelite Convent - Santa Clara's Oasis of Tranquility

A few days ago, someone told our Weekly photographer Christy Kinney that he was delighted to read this week's cover story about the Carmelite Monastery on Benton St. The reason was that he had just visited it for the first time and found a wonderful tranquility in the grounds and the church.

That's what makes our efforts worthwhile.

The convent is one of my favorite spots around Santa Clara. I discovered it shortly after moving here in 1983 and often went there on Sunday afternoon for vespers. It was very healing for me at a time when I often felt disoriented after moving from upstate New York to work for a now long-defunct Silicon Valley startup.

The Carmelite convent was also a favorite of my mother's. When she visited, we often walked in the olive orchard and sat by the shady, secluded shrine of Virgin Mary. Afterwards we would ride out to Alviso for a light supper at Val's and a walk past the now "high and dry" early 20th century yacht club.

As soon as we crossed the border into Alviso, my mother would announce, "Well now we're in John Steinbeck's California." She liked that California better than Silicon Valley. She would be sad to see relentless gentrification pushing ever deeper into the faded, sleepy little town at the tip of the Bay.

Alviso has a close connection with Santa Clara history.

Santa Clara pioneer Harry Wade built a wharf in Alviso to accommodate freight shipping from South Bay locations to San Francisco. Harry's son Charles married Estafina Alviso, daughter of Ygnacio Alviso, majordomo fo the Santa Clara Mission and grantee of the Rancho Rincon de los Estros — where today's Alviso stands.

We don't do the best job in Santa Clara of promoting the historic charms of our city. One of the few times they get in the spotlight is the Historic Home Tour in December. I'd love to see a Santa Clara history and neighborhood tour. What are your favorite spots around town? Maybe we can talk it over some time over a cup of coffee at Val's.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Santa Clara Politics Deja Vu

I was amused to hear the Santa Clara Gardens [BAREC] project described as "the Summerhill Gillmor development project" by an opponent at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.

That's what a large footprint Gary Gillmor, mayor in the 1960s, has in Santa Clara. People blame him for everything, things that happened a decade before he was mayor and things that happened long after he left office.

When I interviewed Gillmor in 2005, when I asked about the downtown redevelopment debacle, he told me," I get blamed for the urban renewal – or the wrecking of the downtown. I hate to tell them that was in 1958, I wasn’t even in office then. But people still think that I did it. [they say] 'Look what he did to the downtown.' "

Sort of a local pro-development boogeyman: You better behave or Gary Gillmor will develop the backyard.

It's a reflection of his importance to the City's history.

It's not an exaggeration to say that the City very likely wouldn't be the place it is today without Gillmor, who was Santa Clara's first elected mayor. Certainly, Santa Clara's municipal power company owes a significant part of its enormous success to his personal charisma and outsize confidence in his own vision.

"We were in a constant struggle with PG&E," he told me in our 2005 interview. "I was elected chairman of the Northern California Power Agency, which was the benefit of having a mayor with continuity because.. our power agency was a new agency at the time. We were in a constant struggle with PG&E who wanted us not to be successful. I would go all the time, representing 15 cities. I was their chairperson for five, six, seven years. And Donald Von Raesfield was key to our successes. We were a team.

"In government you have to have knowledge. Knowledge is power. We went into geothermal power, hydro plants. It wasn’t a new utility, but we expanded it.

At one point Gillmor had the audacity to advise the San Francisco Board of Supervisors that they should create a municipal power company. No doubt today they regret not listening to the brash young mayor from the cow town to the south.

"Another thing was the planning. We had a lot of pressure on us for north of the Bayshore at that time to allow housing. All the housing developers were after us, but we said ‘no’ and we kept that area for our industrial base. Why even during one of my years in office we lowered taxes, which was unheard of."

He's an interesting guy to talk to, with a kind of free-wheeling style that you don't see in politicians any more – for good or bad.

In 2004 there was a lot of talk about contributions from Gillmor and his family to candidates in local races. The Mercury News weighed in with a highly critical editorial. I asked him if he thought his political contributions have influenced races in Santa Clara.

"Well, sure. Your paper influences it. The unions influence it, environmental groups influence it. All these things influence. Does money talk in politics? Sure."

When was the last time you heard a politician speak that directly? Compared to today's focus-group-tested, homogenized politicians, talking to Gillmor is refreshing.

"I know what the Mercury calls me – old guard, kingmaker, whatever they want to call me. I can’t remember the last time I asked anything from the city council. I probably haven’t talked to them in a decade but I’m blamed."

No doubt Gillmor did things in his time that might not pass muster these days. But I don't know that today's politicians could do what he did. His bold opposition to the trends of his time — refusing to sell utility assets to PG&E and develop housing on the north side — took a larger-than-life personality.

"This is great city. You can’t find a better run city. I think Santa Clara is one of the finest cities around. Every city has its own personality. The personality of Santa Clara is a true middle class community. [We created] the transportation, Central Expressway. Lawrence expressway. We created jobs. We created a tax base."

It’s something to think about it the next time you turn the lights on.